What The Hell?

According to an aging Italian journalist — so take it with a grain of salt – Pope Francis has declared that there is no hell.  The Vatican has denied that he said that, exactly.  Apparently, the Vatican says he has been misquoted.  Hard to believe that any Italian would misquote the Pope, but there it is.

825150531185141541Not being a Catholic, or particularly religious, I must nevertheless admit that the Pope’s declaration is a bit of a relief.  I’ve been spending the evening listening to Beatles music, downing Lite beers, and trying to follow the Cavs game, and my understanding of Catholic theology is that my actions have probably involve a number of sins.  Like sloth, for example, or gluttony because I’ve downed a few brewskis, or maybe envy too because I’m a Cleveland sports fan and, well, envy is about all we’ve got to go on.

I’m not saying that I thought I was going to hell because I’ve downed a few beers, but it’s nice to have some reassurance from the Ultimate Authority on that front.  But having quaffed a few beers I wonder:  If you’re Catholic and you don’t have to worry about going to a fiery hell, doesn’t that cause you to revisit the very basic tenets of your faith?

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Down Into The Levels of Travel Hell

Dante’s Inferno envisioned nine levels of Hell, with the hopeless condemned being subjected to various kinds of torment depending on the nature of sins they had committed.

Any traveler knows that there are similar levels of Travel Hell.  Yesterday, Kish and I got down to about Level 5.

angerWe first crossed the river Styx when an early morning snowstorm and de-icing needs delayed our flight out of Columbus.  We abandoned all hope when our flight was late arriving in St. Louis and the airline inexplicably did not  hold the plane for only the few minutes needed for us to make our connection — leaving us winded and desolate as we stood at the gate, watching our plane move slowly away — and instead booked us for a flight to occur 11 hours later.  We then wandered like lost souls through the St. Louis airport, moving from terminal to terminal in the bitter cold, enduring the initial levels of Travel Hell and hoping in vain to find an earlier flight option.  We moved even lower when we decided to take an earlier flight, through Houston, with the thought that we could then drive to our ultimate destination of San Antonio, and learned that the flight was populated entirely by screaming, thrashing children and inattentive parents.

We reached our final depth when we arrived in Houston, found the rental car counters in the terminal were closed, checked to make sure that their signs indicated they had cars available, then went to a rental car area only to learn that notwithstanding the freaking sign, they had no cars, and we therefore had to return to the terminal and board another bus to get to another rental car outlet.  The final indignity came when, after waiting patiently in the line at the rental car counter and finally securing a vehicle, we were directed to a car, got in, drove to the exit, and were told that we were in the wrong kind of car and needed to return it and get another one.  After that piece de resistance, the three-hour drive through the rain from Houston to San Antonio, with oversized pick-ups with their brights on powering up right behind us, seemed like a walk in the park.

Fortunately, we didn’t reach the lowest levels of Travel Hell — which involve things like being physically ill, getting food poisoning at an airport terminal food court, and then having to spend the night in an airport in the company of fellow travelers who won’t shut up — but Level 5 was bad enough.  After 14 hours, we emerged from the pits into the friendly environs of San Antonio, and the air never smelled so sweet.

Heaven Or Hell

Yesterday Kish and I were walking home after watching a movie.  As we passed the Ohio Statehouse, an earnest young man wearing a coat and tie handed us a small pamphlet entitled Heaven or Hell — Which One Will You Choose?

img_2904I don’t think I’ve ever actually read a religious tract handed out by a street corner Bible thumper.  This time, though, rather than immediately toss the pamphlet into the trash — which is what the woman walking directly in front of us did — I decided to put it in my pocket to review later.

Admittedly, the colorful cover page is provocative, with its depiction of Earth in the balance between an ethereal heaven and a fiery-lettered hell.  Printed in nearby Lebanon, Ohio, by the Fellowship Tract League, the pamphlet clearly had some decent production values.  But, in my view, the contents weren’t exactly written to persuade the presumed audience.

The pamphlet begins with the words  “Are you going to heaven or to hell?  The Bible teaches . . . . ” and then launches into quotes about lost souls being tossed into a lake of fire and how to be saved from that grim fate.   But if you don’t already believe in heaven or hell, why would you worry about this threshold question?  And if you aren’t already a believer, why would anything written in the Bible be considered especially compelling — any more than, say, the words found in some Hindu religious treatise?  Fortunately, the publishers ask anyone who is saved by the pamphlet to write and let the publishers know, so at least there is data being gathered that will let us know whether the pamphlet is doing its job.

Well, at least now I can say that I’ve read a street corner religious tract.

One Man’s Hell

A court recently ordered the Disney Company to pay $8,000 to a patron after he was stranded on a ride at Disneyland.

The man uses a wheelchair, and the ride in question was “It’s a Small World.”  The man, who suffers from panic attacks and high blood pressure, was stuck for a half hour after the ride broke down and non-disabled patrons got up and left.  The story linked above notes — and this is, I think, the most crucial fact of all — that the “It’s a Small World” theme song played throughout the time the man was stranded.  Oh, and did I mention that the man also had a full bladder?

If you’ve visited Disneyland and been on the “It’s a Small World” ride, you know that the ride’s theme song is one of the most insipid, saccharine songs ever written and recorded.  It’s a small world after all . . . .  Once you’ve heard it, it burrows deep into the recesses of your brain and is never successfully forgotten no matter how hard you try.  It’s a small world after all . . . .  Even worse, it is sung by high-pitched, piping, aggressively chipper child voices on a continuous loop as the ride progresses.  It’s a small, small world!  After having to listen to the music for the few minutes of the ride, any reasonably sane adult is ready to run screaming from the building.

Part of the $8,000 award was for “pain and suffering.”  I’ll say!  To be left, alone, in the ride, among the mindlessly smiling, doll-faced depictions of children from around the world, desperately needing to answer the call of nature while enduring the cloying onslaught of the banal song playing over and over and over again, sounds like a particularly awful form of personal hell.

Red Bridge

There is a covered bridge spanning a rushing stream that marks the boundary between Whistler’s Upper Village and the Village itself.  The city fathers have wisely installed colored lights that change over time and that serve to make the covered bridge even more visually interesting than it would be otherwise.

Tonight when we crossed the bridge it was red, accentuating the geometric pattern of the bridge and its supports.  The red color gave the bridge a decidedly devilish appearance and made it seem like the entrance to Hell in Dante’s Inferno — except was no sign proclaiming:  “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.”

The Friendly Road To Cincinnati

Last week on the drive down to Cincinnati I passed this sign along I-71, as I always do.  There are two billboards, actually, with warnings about hell on one side and the Ten Commandments on the other.  (I’ve been doing pretty well on that graven image one, by the way.)

I always wonder what the judgmental owner of the property thinks this grim sign will accomplish.  Does he imagine a scenario where an unrepentant sinner is driving down the road, perhaps whistling in pleasant recollection of his various misdeeds?  Does he believe that the sinner will catch a glimpse of this sign as it flashes past, suddenly realize, with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, the many errors of his ways, and then decide to follow the path of righteousness?  Does he expect the driver to make both a literal and figurative U-turn and be illuminated by the Ten Commandments on his return path to redemption?

I think hell certainly can be real, and it may well be found in very close proximity to this sign.