Earthly and Infernal Judges

Justice Scalia has caused quite a stir by confessing to the New York Magazine that he believes in hell. I suppose that belief in heaven is deemed somewhat less distressing today, though perhaps just as off the wall. Hell is very unfashionable–indeed, tiresomely obsolete.

The reporter in this Huffington Post story wonders how belief in heaven Minos the Judgeand hell affects Justice Scalia’s judgment on the Supreme Court. But of course, if hell exists, that’s a perfectly trivial matter. What he ought to be asking about is the far more relevant and important question of how judgment is meted out in hell.

As to that issue, fortunately we have an unimpeachable authority:

There stands Minos horribly, and snarls;
Examines the transgressions at the entrance;
Judges, and sends according as he girds him.
I say, that when an evil spirit
Comes before him, wholly it confesses;
And this discriminator of transgressions
Sees what place in Hell is meet for it;
Girds himself with his tail as many times
As grades he wishes it should be thrust down.
Always before him many of them stand;
They go by turns each one unto the judgment;
They speak, and hear, and then are downward hurled.

Dante, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto V.

Infernal Obsolescence

This is an interesting piece by J. Peter Nixon about how traditional views of hell are increasingly seen as tiresome, motivationally inefficacious, and generally outré.  The story neglects an important piece of the banalization of hell, of course.  From Sartre’s No Exit — as you remember, the scene is a drawing room decorated in Second Empire furnishings (which I’ve always kind of liked, though to Sartre’s modernist taste, it looked “rather like a dentist’s waiting room”) in which three people are trapped with nothing but each other.  — MOD

Garcin: Will night never come?

Inez: Never.

Garcin: You will always see me?

Inez: Always.

Garcin: This bronze.  Yes, now’s the moment; I’m looking at this thing on the mantelpiece, and I understand that I’m in hell.  I tell you, everything’s been thought out beforehand.  They knew I’d stand at the fireplace stroking this thing of bronze, with all those eyes intent on me.  Devouring me.  What?  Only two of you?  I thought there were more; many more.  So this is hell.  I’d never have believed it.  You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.”  Old-wives’ tales!  There’s no need for red-hot pokers.  Hell is — other people!