Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cast Out Of Heaven

There is a depiction of Hell in which the damned sit at a banquet table laden with wonderful food, but cannot eat it. Their hands are in fingerless gloves, wrapped around the handles of long spoons—too long to allow them to get their spoons to their own mouths. The damned, selfish and self-centered, suffer in torment.

Heaven, it turns out, is no different. The difference is only that the denizens of heaven are happily feeding each other.

My guess is that they’re not even two different places; the damned are so self-absorbed that they don’t even notice that others are getting fed. Or, if they do, the idea that someone would just feed them is so outlandish and unthinkable that they’re baffled at how those folks are managing to get food.

It’s an attractive notion—that hell is something that we do to ourselves and to each other.

Mohandas K.Gandhi—that Gandhi, the Mahatma guy—wouldn’t sit still for that. Nor would Martin Luther King, Jr. Then there’s that John Murray character, who’s remembered most often for this;

You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not Hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.

Murray (and I’ll bet the others, too) wouldn’t just be feeding each other. They’d be stepping over the line and nudging full spoons to the lips of the tormented. “Here, taste it,” you can hear them saying. “Take a bite. You look famished.”

I have no doubt of it. Each of them knew full well that they could pour out hope and bring something to those mired in hunger and hopelessness. Each of them knew that it was an uphill struggle all the way. They would happily feed the damned and each other, as well, for as long as it took to save every last one of those lost souls. Sooner or later, they’ll open their mouths—maybe to complain or whine—and in they’ll pop a spoonful of something delectable.

They’d smile, laugh and take delight in the look of shock on the face of that poor soul, and keep at it. Sooner or later, they’ll get the idea.

Of course, folks like Murray and Gandhi and King would utterly screw up that Calvinist idea of Heaven and Hell. If the damned were suffering among the saved, they’d be busy saving them. Damned troublemakers. If the damned and the saved were separated—that classic Heaven above and Hell below idea—they’d be militating to be let out of Heaven, to be allowed to go and evangelized Hell, to preach hope to the damned and to demons. They’d be stirring up sit-ins and protests in Heaven, or stirring up the damned to rise up and help each other; persuading devils to use those pitchforks to pull people out of flames.

Of course, if you believe in the kind of afterlife where the good are rewarded and the evil are punished, you have to wonder what would get done with saints like these folk (and all the others like them—it’s easy to make a long list of people who would not bat an eye but would dig in to do the work of ending the suffering of other souls). They’re too good to put up with in Heaven, and too much trouble to let loose in Hell.

That god? He’d have to evict them. No Heaven for them, and certainly no Hell. They’d be shipped back to the only place left—Earth. That leads one to wonder if the Buddha wasn’t on to something.

Take up your spoons; you have nothing to lose but Heaven and Hell—and if you’ll just start feeding each other, dammit, you can make heaven on earth.


Robin Edgar said...

Did I hear you say that the damend are self-absorbed? ;-)

Robin Edgar said...

Of course I meant to say the damned. . .

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I don't know that I'll ever hear that allegory the same. Of course they will be in the same room. And of course someone will risk banishment to help others.