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To Hell or not

by on April 25, 2011

I write here about some of the hardest aspects of our society, writing to produce a social commentary true to our stated interest in egalitarianism, in equality.  Nonetheless, I’ve hardly touched the most inflammatory subject of society, religion. It’s time to do so.  Passover is nearing its end; Easter has begun.  Neither politics nor religion is inherently violent, though there is violence in both.  Somehow, though, religion tends to incite more violence than politics.

In usual religious terms, especially Christianity, there is a heaven and a hell, a good versus evil dichotomy.  I suppose in usual hippie terms, “Imagine there’s no Heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us /Above us only sky.”  The Cathars viewed all material, including existence, as evil.  Terribilis est locust iste.  This place is terrible.  Good versus evil, or the choice to be good or the opposite of good.

In current American Christian terms, Christians believe in heaven but much less in hell.  This has to do with globalization, on an international level and on a communal level.  If you’re Christian and your good neighbor is Hindu/Jewish/Buddhist, you begin to think that person should not be damned for eternity.  On a personal level, this means that you don’t believe in hell anymore, so your own actions won’t get you damned for eternity if you do something wrong.  What incentive is left to be good if hell isn’t there waiting for you?

In political terms, this has some meaning.  Church and state are much less separate than we like to think, for we political animals are surrounded by religion, and both are part of our being.  If you don’t believe in hell – I don’t; it has never been part of my religion – why do things well, as opposed to not well?  It means you have to have empathy; it means you have to be part of the here-and-now and not only the afterlife.  What’s this going to do to American politics?  We’ll have to wait and see.

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