The hottest places in hell . . .

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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by skip » Tue Jul 10, 2007 12:51 am

Still, Dante did say something like this about moral cowards.

In Canto III of Inferno, Dante and Virgil just pass the gate of Hell when they see a horde swatting at wasps and flies, their faces streaming with the blood of stings. Virgil explains (in Longfellow's translation) that these are the "sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise" -- those who did not take a side in some great moral conflict. Some are people who stayed neutral or otherwise abdicated responsibility for choice (one may in fact be a pope who abdicated); some are angels who refused to take a side in the war in Heaven and have been cast out.

It's not a "hot" place; heat in Dante is about passion, and these folks exactly lack passion.

It could be argued that, though not hot, theirs is an especially ignoble situation in Hell. Virgil tells Dante that the damned long to cross the river, even though it leads to their torment, because they have just enough divinity left in them to long for divine justice. These cowardly neutrals don't even get justice. They are barely inside Hell, and not allowed justice; their stings are like anticipation unanswered.
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by russcable » Tue Jul 10, 2007 7:40 am

skip wrote:In Canto III of Inferno, Dante and Virgil just pass the gate of Hell when they see a horde swatting at wasps and flies, their faces streaming with the blood of stings. Virgil explains (in Longfellow's translation) that these are the "sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise"
This site says it's Longfellow's translation:
http://www.everypoet.com/archive/poetry ... e_i_03.htm
This miserable mode
Maintain the melancholy souls of those
Who lived withouten infamy or praise
...further down the page...
By gadflies and by hornets that were there.
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Jul 10, 2007 9:00 am

It can be amusing, or mildly cathartic, to fantasise that one's enemies, opponents, or merely those of whom one disapproves, will ultimately be punished after death through some kind of divine retribution or withholding of divine grace, especially if their power or position has made them otherwise untouchable in life.

Let us assume for now the highly improbable existence of the immortality of the soul, a hell (or hells), and divine retribution, in order to explore the significance of this kind of punishment.

I see at least two problems with it.

The first is that if it is to be anything more than an excuse for simple vengeance and the unleashing of base instincts untrammelled by restraint or good judgment, punishment, especially judicially-imposed punishment, should aim at dissuading the perpetrator of a misdeed from repeating it, ideally under a system that encourages the development of a capacity for reflectiveness and compassion which gradually replaces a tendency towards egocentricity and amorality -- the development of maturity, if you will.

Excepting those cases in which a miscreant is deemed (and preferably demonstrated) to be so dangerous and incorrigible that he can never safely be released back into society, this implies an anticipation that the perpetrator will once more be in the position, at some point, to make significant moral decisions that will affect others, based on his/her exercise of free will, reason, and a moral conscience. To remain in perpetuity in some kind of hell or purgatory makes this impossible, hence punishment that takes place there has no redemptive value. Instead, such punishment would appear to be centred purely around vengeance and torment, which are the motivations of a thoroughgoing sadist rather than a compassionate and merciful God.

A second problem centres around the mutual interaction of individual points of view; the capacity to develop both morally and intellectually; the existence of social and legal norms; the inherent complexity of some decisions; and the degree to which relevant knowledge and information is available when making a decision: in other words, the way that the elements which feed into any decision of importance end up being considered and prioritised.

Now, we have all had the experience of doing something that we thought at the time was the right thing, but which had disastrous consequences, and may also have been illegal; and conversely, of doing what turned out to be the right thing for a wrong, or even evil, reason.

The notion that it would be possible for some divinity, presumably deriving his authority from himself alone, to sit and make irreproachably perfect judgments about our post-mortal fates based on our lifetimes' actions in what were frequently difficult and dilemma-laden situations is perverse, not to say laughable.

Systems of human justice are always imperfect, but divine justice could be no less so. The concept belongs to a bygone era of feudal relationships, rigid hierarchy, and the arbitrary exercise of power in the hands of the few -- in other words, to a pre-democratic and intolerable form of governance. The fact that even today many people appear to still believe not only in divine retribution but in the allied notion of "God's will", is both an anachronism and a deplorable encumbrance that continues to distort discourse in a number of important public policy areas, especially in the USA (e.g. stem-cell research; the teaching of science, and evolution in particular; assisted suicide for the terminally ill; and some of the implicit assumptions of US foreign policy).

Depending on the individual country, the situation is likely to be worse still in a number of those nations that are governed as theocracies or that have adopted a theocratically-based legal system, such as some form of Sharia law.
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by gdwdwrkr » Tue Jul 10, 2007 10:20 am

Erik_Kowal wrote: It can be amusing, or mildly cathartic, to fantasise that one's enemies, opponents, or merely those of whom one disapproves, will ultimately be punished after death through some kind of divine retribution or withholding of divine grace, especially if their power or position has made them otherwise untouchable in life.

Let us assume for now the highly improbable existence of the immortality of the soul, a hell (or hells), and divine retribution, in order to explore the significance of this kind of punishment.

I see at least two problems with it.

The first is that if it is to be anything more than an excuse for simple vengeance and the unleashing of base instincts untrammelled by restraint or good judgment, punishment, especially judicially-imposed punishment, should aim at dissuading the perpetrator of a misdeed from repeating it, ideally under a system that encourages the development of a capacity for reflectiveness and compassion which gradually replaces a tendency towards egocentricity and amorality -- the development of maturity, if you will.

Excepting those cases in which a miscreant is deemed (and preferably demonstrated) to be so dangerous and incorrigible that he can never safely be released back into society, this implies an anticipation that the perpetrator will once more be in the position, at some point, to make significant moral decisions that will affect others, based on his/her exercise of free will, reason, and a moral conscience. To remain in perpetuity in some kind of hell or purgatory makes this impossible, hence punishment that takes place there has no redemptive value. Instead, such punishment would appear to be centred purely around vengeance and torment, which are the motivations of a thoroughgoing sadist rather than a compassionate and merciful God.

A second problem centres around the mutual interaction of individual points of view; the capacity to develop both morally and intellectually; the existence of social and legal norms; the inherent complexity of some decisions; and the degree to which relevant knowledge and information is available when making a decision: in other words, the way that the elements which feed into any decision of importance end up being considered and prioritised.

Now, we have all had the experience of doing something that we thought at the time was the right thing, but which had disastrous consequences, and may also have been illegal; and conversely, of doing what turned out to be the right thing for a wrong, or even evil, reason.

The notion that it would be possible for some divinity, presumably deriving his authority from himself alone, to sit and make irreproachably perfect judgments about our post-mortal fates based on our lifetimes' actions in what were frequently difficult and dilemma-laden situations is perverse, not to say laughable.

Systems of human justice are always imperfect, but divine justice could be no less so. The concept belongs to a bygone era of feudal relationships, rigid hierarchy, and the arbitrary exercise of power in the hands of the few -- in other words, to a pre-democratic and intolerable form of governance. The fact that even today many people appear to still believe not only in divine retribution but in the allied notion of "God's will", is both an anachronism and a deplorable encumbrance that continues to distort discourse in a number of important public policy areas, especially in the USA (e.g. stem-cell research; the teaching of science, and evolution in particular; assisted suicide for the terminally ill; and some of the implicit assumptions of US foreign policy).

Depending on the individual country, the situation is likely to be worse still in a number of those nations that are governed as theocracies or that have adopted a theocratically-based legal system, such as some form of Sharia law.

I am replying with quote here, because Erik has the ability to edit and change his postings without the "edited by...." bit at the bottom. two problems:

"redemptive value"....self-redemption, 'works-based salvation'...that set of rules by which I know I'm ok (and you're not).

"perpetuity" and "anachronism", an understanding of eternity as linear infinite time.

Current popular religion allows for you to write the things you have written, while at the same time disallowing me to write the following: the Blood of Jesus is redemption, saving me from my sin into an eternity of glorious freedom, the right to which has been bought and paid-for.
I respectfully request that this post be allowed to remain. I accept that it will offend most, that many will not care, that some will understand, and that few will wish they had the guts to say such an anachronistic and deplorable truth.
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by MamaPapa » Tue Jul 10, 2007 6:07 pm

gdwdwrkr wrote: Current popular religion allows for you to write the things you have written, while at the same time disallowing me to write the following: the Blood of Jesus is redemption, saving me from my sin into an eternity of glorious freedom, the right to which has been bought and paid-for.
I respectfully request that this post be allowed to remain. I accept that it will offend most, that many will not care, that some will understand, and that few will wish they had the guts to say such an anachronistic and deplorable truth.
Amen, James!
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by Meirav Micklem » Tue Jul 10, 2007 7:08 pm

Erik, can you imagine for a moment how it would feel if someone took the person you love most and tortured them, raped them, killed them, mutilated their body and peed on them. Would you not feel that justice should be done, that the perpetrator of this act should be punished, whether or not there is a chance that he would learn from it?

I'd say we all have an intuitive understanding of the concept of justice, and it would be hard to respect a god who does not punish those who deserve it.

The fantastic thing about my God is that he dishes out not only justice but mercy, to the extent that he took my punishment, which considering all the evil things I've done is an excellent deal for me.
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Jul 10, 2007 7:54 pm

Meirav, you misinterpret me. I did not say that punishment should contain no element of retribution, or that people should be free to abuse others with impunity -- on the contrary, I believe that we should be held accountable for our actions -- but I do think that punishment for its own sake alone, especially physical punishment, is just a form of sadism.
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by Meirav Micklem » Wed Jul 11, 2007 12:25 am

My question remains whether you would think it wrong to punish someone when there is no chance of redemption, i.e. when the only purpose served by the punishment is retribution. You were talking about people in hell being punished and it seemed to me that you were saying this is wrong as it serves no redemptive purpose; whereas for me this is the answer to the very natural human cry for justice when we see people do evil and get away with it in this life. Why should, say, Hitler be able to just pull the trigger on himself and escape punishment after all he's done?
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jul 11, 2007 3:37 am

Although it is clear that we will have to agree to differ in relation to our religious views, I think this discussion is still worth having.

Because I find the notion of an afterlife (not to mention any kind of supernatural being) utterly implausible, it appears to me that some people do indeed do evil and get away with it absolutely. That's just life. The mere fact that we would like something to be true does not make it so, and it is ridiculous to assert that something will happen to restore the cosmic balance of right and wrong, however that might be conceived of, simply because we wish it. If a rabbit could think like a human, it might wish that the eagle which was about to devour it would be punished for killing it. However, those that harm us are not necessarily punished for their harmful actions just because we want them to be, either in nature or in the domain of human affairs, nor will they be punished after death. Similarly, those who behave well and do good will not necessarily be rewarded in life, and they will also not be rewarded after death.

Sometimes, therefore, we must live with unresolved situations that we regard as deeply unsatisfactory and which violate our sense of what ought to be, or of what justice requires. For it is in the nature of human beings for us to seek meaning in connection with our existence; the error that can arise from this consists not in the search for significance, but in the insistence of many that there must be some kind of deeper, ultimate meaning that lies beyond any individual's capacity to invent or observe, and which exists independently of ourselves.

The domain in which the concept of punishment has meaning may thus for some involve a belief in divine retribution, but the latter is not a precondition for any particular outcome, and is, in absolute terms, irrelevant as far as I am concerned: while it is no doubt tempting for many believers to hope that as redress for the vastness of all the evil he has perpetrated, G W Bush is destined to be roasted on an open fire for all eternity like a Christmas chestnut after he swallows his birth certificate, it is just not going to happen.

In my view, the process of truly growing up involves learning to acknowledge this lack of ultimate purpose and coming to terms with it. It may be cosy and comforting to believe that there exists some kind of cosmic father-figure, or a redeemer who will absolve believers from the consequences of their sins, or some sort of ultimate justice, but for as long as we keep clinging to any of these illusions we are just wallowing in a state of psychic infantilism. (I also can't help noticing the mutual contradiction between the concepts of being absolved from one's sins on the one hand, and ultimate justice/divine retribution on the other.) Things don't necessarily "happen for a reason", as so many apparently believe; they often just happen. The causality we are able to observe in action is not dependent on the existence of ultimate purposes, but on the physical laws that govern the material universe; on motivation and behaviour, especially human motivation and behaviour; and on a degree of chance. Attributing it to any form of supernatural intervention or volition amounts, in my opinion, to wishful and/or sloppy thinking.
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by Meirav Micklem » Wed Jul 11, 2007 1:01 pm

Yes, I do think it's worth having this discussion. Always helpful to sharpen one's thinking a bit by hearing other people's views. So at least we can agree on something :-)

You said: "The mere fact that we would like something to be true does not make it so, and it is ridiculous to assert that something will happen to restore the cosmic balance of right and wrong, however that might be conceived of, simply because we wish it." I was not suggesting that these things will happen just because we wish them to happen. What I was trying to say was that assuming there is a just god out there (which I know you don't believe, but this all started from your temporary 'suspension of disbelief' for the sake of this debate) then it would necessarily follow that justice will be done, somewhere somehow somewhen.

When I was talking about our desire to see justice done, I was not talking about that desire causing it to happen. I was responding to your comments about punishing people after death - you seemed to be suggesting that that would be wrong because it would serve no redemptive purpose; I was trying to point out that there is another purpose served by such punishment (call it justice or retribution).

You also say: "I also can't help noticing the mutual contradiction between the concepts of being absolved from one's sins on the one hand, and ultimate justice/divine retribution on the other." Not a contradiction at all - justice is exactly why I need absolution from my sins, and why there was a need for someone perfect to take my punishment. Justice has been served when Jesus, who had not sinned, took my punishment and everyone else's.
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The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:18 pm

There's a statement in Psalm 85:10 about punitive judgment and mercy "kissing" - we do often see them as being mutually contradictory, never meeting. There is an interesting article developing this further at http://www.ninetyandnine.com/Archives/2 ... /cover.htm .

I've been gradually convinced that my own personal judgment (evaluating) is imperfect as I've become uncomfortably aware of partiality and inconsistency. It was quite a revelation to hear our senior pastor render

"They ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil" as

"They decided that they, rather than God, were going to be the ultimate authority on deciding right and wrong."
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Re: The hottest places in hell . . .

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jul 28, 2017 6:42 pm

Today I ran across this article by Quote Investigator which attempts to track down where the quotation (if it actually was one) ultimately comes from.

The answer should come as no surprise.
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End of topic.
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