The Kingdom of Hell Is Within You Too

Last night I dreamed about Hell. Here’s what it looked like.

It was a hilly region filled with big boulders that people were pushing, at great effort, in big circles. There were two groups of people in this version of hell–Mormons and ex-Mormons–and they were pushing the rocks in opposite, though circular, directions. Boulder pushing took most of their effort, but, when they passed each other on their circular paths, they summoned all of their remaining strength to shout accusations at each other in the form of two rhetorical questions. The Mormons shouted, “Why did you leave?” and the ex-Mormons shouted “Why do you stay?”

In my dreams, you see, Hell is not unlike the comments section of a typical BCC post.

The image comes from Canto VII of Dante’s Inferno, which I taught every semester for twelve years and, therefore, could easily recognize even when asleep. In Dante, of course, they are not the Mormons and the ex-Mormons. They are the hoarders and the wasters who push boulders and shout, “Why do you hoard?” and “Why do you waste?” This is the scene illustrated by Gustave Doré in the picture at the top of this post.

I don’t believe much in the significance of dreams. But I do believe in the significance of Dante, and in this particular scene he teaches us a lot of valuable things about Hell–most of which, I think, apply perfectly well to comments sections and many other human endeavors. For some reason, my subconscious wanted to remind me of these things.

First–and this is one of the keys to understanding the Inferno–nobody is making the hoarders and the wasters push the rocks. There aren’t any demons prodding them with pitchforks or infernal bureaucrats establishing production quotas. At any moment, they could all stop, lean against the rocks, and spend eternity in pleasant conversation.

But they don’t because it is not in their nature. The rocks are the only material things that they can possess, and it is in their nature to want to possess things, so they spend eternity trying to own the rocks by pushing them continually in a circle. God does not create a Hell to punish them. He simply leaves them alone, and they create their own Hell to punish themselves.

Second, from the divine perspective, there is no difference between the hoarders and the wasters. They are both people who are entirely defined by a single idea–the idea of possessing material things. That some of them are defined one iteration of this idea (hoarding stuff ) and the other by another iteration (consuming stuff) is a distinction that exists only in their own minds. In God’s mind (and, if Dante is doing his job right, the reader’s mind as well) they are people with the same obsession with stuff.

And just about any obsession can work like this. For example, one can be consumed by sexuality in different ways: one can be lead about by one’s passions in a way that devalues other people and subordinates them to one’s sexual desires. Or one can see other people’s sexual expression as an existential threat and warp all of the powers of law and religion to try to control them. Those who spend all of their time thinking about sex–either positively or negatively–are in the thrall of an obsession. And it is ultimately the same obsession.

If my dream is to be believed, the same goes for those for those who spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about whether other people should, or should not, be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And this leads to Dante’s third point: that (as Sarte put it in his play No Exit), “Hell is other people.” The essence of Dante’s Inferno is that the greatest punishment that an unrepentant sinner can have is to spend an eternity with other unrepentant sinners. You put angry people together, and they fight with each other; you put thieves together, and they steal from each other; you put traitors together, and they betray each other. Hell, too, has a Golden Rule–people do unto you as you would like to do unto them.

And here is the thing: none of this requires anyone to die. Just as we can build the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, we can Build the Kingdom of Hell. We have all the tools we need for either kingdom. As Milton said, through the voice of his Satan, The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

So, too, the comments section.

Comments

  1. I’m pretty sure that if you put a bunch of angry people together, they love it; so long as they can call it a Trump Rally.

  2. As opposed to those pushing in the opposite direction and in their own self-righteous anger pointing their finger at the Trump supporters.

    You entirely gave a fantastic real world example of this post! With your comment you proved that you are one pushing your rock in the opposite direction.

  3. I rather enjoyed this article. It has given me some great food for thought and invites me to evaluate myself.

  4. Ann Porter says:

    This was a wonderful post, Michael. Maybe it would be best to just let it stand on it’s own and turn off the comments.

  5. I’ve had a different interpretation of “hell is other people” in mind. Thanks for expanding my vision.

  6. Paul, Alma, and Ammon spent quite a bit of time thinking about other people being members of the church. I’ll gladly push rocks with them, wherever it is.

  7. It always comes down to ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ Which is a mentality and way of going through life that is so un-Christlike. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t have opinions and beliefs, but how we use them towards other people says less about our opinions/beliefs and more about ourselves.

  8. Jared Livesey says:

    Luke 6:20-26
    20 And having looked up at his students he was saying:
    Blessed are you who are beggared, because God’s kingdom is yours!
    21 Blessed are you who are now hungering, because you will be filled!
    Blessed are you who are now crying, because you will laugh!
    22 Blessed are you whenever the people hate you, and whenever they separate you from them, and insultingly accuse you, and entirely expel you as though you were evil, because of the Son of man!
    23 Be glad and leap on that day, because look! You have lots of reward in heaven, because this is exactly how their fathers treated the prophets!

    24 However, woe to those of you who have wealth, because you are avoiding your calling.
    25 Woe to you who are now full, because you will be needy.
    Woe to you who are now laughing, because you will wail and cry.
    26 Woe whenever all the people speak well about you, because this is exactly how their fathers treated the false prophets.

    =====

    I wonder – how may one identify which side of these things oneself is on? If we dox, ostracize, and ban those we consider trolls, are we playing the role of the faithful disciples, as in verse 23, or have we chosen the role of the false prophets, as shown in verse 26?

    Do we lose anything by tolerating others’ intolerance? Verse 23 suggests we gain. Do we gain anything by eliminating others’ ability to express their intolerance within our hearing? Verse 26 suggests we lose by so doing.

    =====

    Luke 6:39-42
    39 Then he also told them a parable: A blind person cannot guide a blind person upon the path; will not both of them fall into a pit?
    40 A student is not beyond the teacher, but everyone that is perfected shall be exactly like their teacher.
    41 And why do you look at the splinter that is in your brother’s eye and not pay attention to the beam that is in your own eye?
    42 How can you say to your brother, Brother, allow me to throw out the splinter in your eye, when you do not see the beam in your own eye?
    Stage-actor, first throw out the beam that is in your own eye!
    Then you will clearly see in your brother’s eye the splinter to throw out.

    =====

    The desire to correct the way others see things is a touchy thing to indulge in, with rather dire potential consequences. If someone oblivious to a beam in their eye was offering to dig in your eye to remove an alleged splinter that they could see, how would you respond? And what if they insisted, how would you respond then? On the other hand, what happens when we take seriously the injunction of removing the beam from our own eye whenever we feel the need to correct others’ viewpoints? What kind of society might we build then?

  9. Sandy from Sandy says:

    And what do you get when you place all the adulterers together?

  10. “God does not create a Hell to punish them. He simply leaves them alone, and they create their own Hell to punish themselves.“ It’s time to evaluate the boulders in my life. Thank you for your essay.

  11. This is excellent. Thank you, Michael.

  12. Another Roy says:

    I am a very frugal person that could be described as a hoarder. For me, whatever I buy with my money will almost never be worth the trade off of forgoing the opportunity of being able to buy something different. Thus the “Opportunity Cost” plays an oversized role in my calculation. I also am aware that experiences, like vacations or cruises, are said to be some of the best purchases in regards to quality of life and general happiness. Yet, I cannot bring myself to do it. I fear that I would be stuck on a cruise, lamenting to myself how much money it was costing me.
    Ultimately, I realize that my frugality is a compulsion born of a combination of nature and nurture and that I have but limited choice in the matter. Therefor, my financial decisions do not make me better or worse than others that choose differently (so long as they can still meet their obligations). We are each just doing what comes naturally to us.
    I will need to ponder further the application to Mormon apologetic and ex-Mormon circles.

  13. True. Here’s another perspective on this subject of hell being in us: “If only, there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”

    But let’s be clear. Those who justify sin to the extent they call what is light dark, and dark light are just wrong. There are certainly some members who may not get “it” or be overzealous in judging or applying one commandment while ignoring another. They are wrong too.

    But the Lord’s servants and those who faithfully keep their covenants and magnify their calling are in neither of those groups. They still must be vigilant and always strive to endure to the end as the above quote in this comment makes clear.

  14. “I feared the defining point of this Hell was its unrelenting uniformity, its lack of variation from type. If there was a heaven at the end of this, it must be filled with great variety, perhaps a multiplicity of intelligent species spread across universes. Yes, heaven would be as full of difference as Hell was of sameness.”
    ― Steven L. Peck, A Short Stay in Hell

  15. Fashion Chavez says:

    It’s so interesting how much pride, selfishness and arrogance frequently color our intent to do good. The word overzealous comes to mind. Your post is a great reminder of the essential application of both meekness and humility when attempting to take, what we perceive to be, correct action, or even God’s will.

  16. cjonesey1981 says:

    Hey Guys, I was about to mock this post relentlessly but decided to leave it alone. I’m sorry for my unkind comments the other day. (Not that I believe this “dream” actually happened… It seems more like a tactic to make me feel bad and that I’m going to burn, or push rocks around, in hell. Whatever. That’s really not important.) I hope I didn’t damage anyone’s testimony. I gospel really is true.

  17. Wonderfully put, Michael. It’s so easy to see the negative in other people, and similarly easy to ignore it in ourselves.

  18. Now I don’t dare comment . . .

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