Pages

05 January 2012

Thoughts on Hell

I spent most of my evening reading Diary of a Country Priest by Bernanos in our chapel.  


In a (or is it the? I won't be certain until the end of the book) climatic scene, the priest-diarist relates what he said to Mme. la Comtesse:


Hell is not to love any more.  As long as we remain in this life we can still deceive ourselves, think that we love by our own will, that we love independently of God.  But we're like madmen stretching our hands to clasp the moon reflected in water...


It is no longer good and proper for the clergy to speak of hell in any situation, most especially from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.  The same rule obtains for funerals, weddings, baptisms and any other large gathering of worshipers at which some type of reflection upon Holy Scripture is expected.  


I think this might be one of the greatest theological lacunae of modern age: we never really speak about hell anymore.  We've made a caricature of it in a way: devils, demons, goblins are constitutive parts of both hell and Halloween.  These inhabitants of hell also make a good mascot.  


In still other ways, we've made hell something grand and extreme: hell is genocide, catastrophic natural events taking the lives of innocent.  Poverty, we claim,  is hell -- or a mighty good indication that the residue of hell, sin, is present.  This is true indeed, at least in the purest sense of the metaphor.  In this manner, we use hell to mean a place where there seems to be an absence of God, a temporary suspension in God's outpouring of grace or a particular privation that contradicts our sense (and yes, God's sense too, if I can be so bold) of what ought to be.


And, of course, in a secular sense, hell is discomfort -- and, in the case of Sartre, other people.  Hell is something unjust that one person or another, likely through poor chance, is forced to existentially approach and overcome: an illness,  death of a loved one, losing employment.  The list can go on and on.  


  Surely all the items mentioned above are hellish -- and that includes the play of the Blue Devils last evening -- yet they do not really confront the true reality of hell.  I wonder if Bernanos' poor country curé isn't more correct that we might wish to think: hell is not to love anymore.  And by not anymore, I mean to ultimately refuse to love -- forever, never again.  We get to thinking that someone, just as Mme. la Comtesse did, that we can live in such a manner that makes our love completely self-propelling and under our own control.  Thus, it can be turned on and off as it were but an affective light switch.


And one day, after spending a long time thinking we have control over this switch, we grab for it, as one might grab for the moon reflecting in the pond, only to find that it isn't there.  


Hell.

1 comment:

Brendan said...

"It is no longer good and proper for the clergy to speak of hell in any situation, most especially from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. The same rule obtains for funerals, weddings, baptisms and any other large gathering of worshipers at which some type of reflection upon Holy Scripture is expected."

At funerals of friars it is often the case, not only that 'hell' is not mentioned but there isn't a reflection on the Holy Scripture either. Funny stories about the deceased friar seem a vital part of the (so called) homily and this is usually capped off with an assurance that the friar in question is certainly w/ God now. From this one can deduce that the only requirement for entrance into the kingdom is a good sense of humor. So... speak of hell... your joking, right? Oh, don't be so silly. Who could be bothered worrying about that? The hell with it!