Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Really, is Hell for real?

The cover story for The Economist's year-end double issue is Hell (see illustration above).

Hell: Into everlasting fire

For hundreds of years, Hell has been the most fearful place in the human imagination. It is also the most absurd

TO MANY in the West, Hell is just a medieval relic. It went out with ducking stools and witchcraft ... Hell hardly hurts any more. In everyday parlance (“What the hell are you doing?”), it is merely a bark, not a place ... The devils and pitchforks, the brimstone clouds and wailing souls, have been cleared away, rather as a mad aunt might be shut up in the attic.

But hold on. For many people in the world, Hell still exists; not just as a concept, but as a place on the map. “Hell is Real,” declare the billboards across the American South: as real as the next town. To make it an abstraction is comforting and tidy, but doesn’t work. Religion thrives on fear, as well as hope: without fear, bad behaviour has no sanction and clerical authority wins scant respect.

Having surveyed the conceptual history of this unprovable notion, the newspaper offers a lighthearted tourist brochure.

Hell: A very rough guide

Hell is steadily losing adherents. The Infernal Tourist Board (chief field-researchers Dante Alighieri and John Milton) has therefore produced a promotional flyer

... Time stands still here, as the ocean boils and the great abyss yawns before you. Feel the hot sand under your feet, watch the chimeras and gorgons frolic, take a trip on a demon’s back, smell the brimstone on the breeze! You know how you always hope holidays will never end? This one never will.

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