Saturday, December 16, 2006

What Hell Could Be Worse than This Life?

What heaven could be better?

Forgive my lack of originality, but I am just one of a vast horde of stone-banging grunts crawling toward enlightenment.

This time of year stimulates religious contemplation. The vocal adherents of a certain strain of Christian piety can't lay off the brimstone even now. They can't hide their glee at every event that seems to bring a fiery day of judgement closer to the social elements of which they disapprove. So I have to think ahead to where I might fetch up.

Start with the premise that Hell is eternal agony and Heaven is eternal bliss. Does the crucial flaw leap out at you the way it does at me? Agony and bliss are both relative states. So for them to have eternal impact, they have to fluctuate constantly. Otherwise, the subject of either one goes numb and perceives nothing.

Pain has two components, Now and Later. Undergoing a serious injury, whether by accident, warfare or torture, you feel the initial pain, but you also can anticipate what life will be like afterwards, dealing with the effects. Have you been maimed, or might you heal back to something like full strength? If you know you're dead, the whole thing becomes rather academic. Pains we suffer now include that component of the future. How will this inhibit me? How long will it go on? If you know you're condemned to endless torment, you have your answer and can settle into the rhythm of endurance. Will you live through it? Of ourse not. You're already dead.

If you're capable of caring enough about another person that you can be tormented by the knowledge that they are suffering, you probably don't qualify for Hell. Pass Go, collect a halo and get the Heaven out of here. So that brings us back to you and your personal relationship with Satan. If you were bad enough to end up in Hell, you're probably pretty jacked to be there. Sure, you might get shafted by the Boss on a regular basis down there, but you knew the occupational hazards before you signed on.

This whole eternal agony thing is crumbling.

Bliss is equally unsustainable. What makes good good? The fact that it isn't bad. If you know it will never be bad, good loses its shine.

You can see where the idea of reincarnation came from. Don't some people just seem to have things going their way all the time? Sometimes they get there from a less enviable state. Other people you observe may have landed in bliss and ridden it to ecstasy.

Or maybe it's all just random. Work hard, get a few good breaks, reach a secure and happy place, live out a prosperous life and die of something quick and painless at the point when pleasure is finally truly out of reach. Maybe you burn out your last taste bud at a delicious breakfast and have a nice quick stroke by noon. But wait, you might strive virtuously, trust a few too many of the wrong people and end up bitter, sick, crippled and friendless. Or a meteorite could hit your car. Your kids could get horrible diseases. Does some fair-minded intelligence guide any of this?

Cause and effect wheel along. What looks like chaos is just the variables we haven't learned to detect and measure yet. It's the eternal "yes, but" that tosses our hopes into a bucket of crap and makes us beseech or berate an omniscient being.

I feel safe in saying that at least half the shit we suffer in this world we make up by ourselves. Actually, the percentage is probably much higher now that most of us don't have to go forage in the wilderness alongside large predators that challenge us for the position at the top of the food chain. Major storms and epidemics are all that remain of the destructive forces we don't generate all by ourselves. Everything else is just made-up horseshit.

Isn't that just like Hell?

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