The First Fairy Tale
Dale K. Brown
"HEAVEN AND HELL"
Hell: that's the final destination for all bad guys. And since the vast majority of the human race seems to regard themselves as intrinsically evil, many people secretly suspect that, whatever else their problems in the afterlife, the unavailability of central heating won't be one of them.
Venerable Catholic theologians recognized early on, however, that most of their parishioners were neither of the totally good nor entirely evil variety but, rather, a divergent mixture of the two. They couldn't very well be sent to heaven in this tainted condition, that, was a given. But neither did it seem fair to send them all to hell for a handful of minor character defects. So, intermediate way stations were developed; places to go to for the vast majority of people who had merely been obnoxious little bastards, and not deliberately downright evil.
One of these places was Purgatory. Now, Purgatory, to hear official reports on the subject, definitely resembles hell but, once there, one was roasted slowly; under controlled conditions; microwaved, perhaps. "One soul, medium rare, please!" And only over whatever period of time was judged consistent with the seriousness of the indiscretions.
The Catholic Hell, however, was left intact and it was just as grim a place as the eternally saved could ever hope for or the eternally damned dread. A choking sulfurous inferno, gleefully presided over by pitchfork wielding demons whose sole task it is to torture sinners forever and ever, amen, while a merciful and loving God grins down from the lofty plains of heaven on this eternal barbecue and yells, "More picante sauce!"
This timeless doctrine of shake and bake was by no means a Judeao-Christian concept. At least, they had only one or, at the most, two bottomless pits at their disposal. Other religions have a regular smorgasbord of hells, some with even hot and cold running brimstone. Buddhism has seven hot hells, each nesting comfortably in a much larger and extremely nebulous area called the "land of no return." Buddhist Hell number one is Sanjavia, where the damned are, in time, reincarnated by the power of the four winds of heaven.
This, most could live with but in number two (which is what most people would do when faced with it), the unredeemable are slowly sliced to (no doubt very thin) ribbons for all eternity, while their obese patriarch grins on. Those relegated to hell number three, Sanghata, are dashed to pieces between two large and rocky mountains. Hell number four is a more or less muted place where the condemned sob quietly for all eternity. Number five is the Hell of Great Weeping, filled with eternal shrieks of the souls sentenced to wail on forever at the top of their lungs. Hell number six is uncomfortably hot and sticky with, one might presume, a severe shortage of Rightguard, but in Hell number seven, it's a regular scorcher year around and not a drop of ice water in sight.
Each of these cozy retreats is flanked by four torture chambers which include a pit full of run of the mill fire and brimstone surrounded by reeking quagmires. Although Buddhist hells sound like an unpleasant way to squander the golden years, there are worse ways to spend eternity. Despite the fact that the practical Moslems have invented one of the most interesting heavens, they've also invented seven of the more damnable hells, none of which is appealing to any friend of Smokey's.
They start off with Gehenna, a ho hum kind of place where the fires are more or less typical for a midsummer's day in the nether regions. Next comes the Flaming Fire Hell. Number three, the Raging Fire Hell, is apparently for those who deserve a bit more in the way of eternal punishment, while number four, the Blazing Fire Hell, is for those who deserve a lot more. Number five, the Scorching Fire Hell, is hotter yet, and those consigned to number six, the Fierce Fire Hell, really get the shit burned out of them. Number seven is for those so evil that even their continuous torment is of no further amusement to Allah. It's simply called the Abyss and no one knows for sure what goes on down there.
According to Moslem theology, these hells are not assigned arbitrarily either, but rather on the basis of race, creed, and national origin. In point of fact, their hells are segregated so that Moslems, Christians, Jews, Sabbean Idolaters, Persian Magi, all heretics in general and infidels in particular, are assigned a final place of lasting torture with their own kind. Perhaps in a way, this is charitable; after all, it would be tough enough for Moslems to have to spend all eternity in hell, but to roast there forever with Christians or Jews, that would be uncivilized!
In Hindu beliefs, heaven and hell are so difficult to define that sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Reincarnation is the spiritual medium of exchange here. The precise nature and environment of ones future existence is predicated upon the balance of deeds both good and bad committed in previous incarnations. For those whose prior conduct was mediocre, instant replays are the order of the day, as they are forced to relive life all over again, an unappealing prospect for most people. Those who were a real pain in Buddha's rump are usually sent back in less than human form; as a rat, perhaps, or a snake.
The final abode for the naughty, the proud, and the incredibly fucked, in Protestant mythology is Hell American Style. Like all other hells, it reflects the values of the culture which generated it. No segregation is permitted, no frills are allowed, and there are no extra-curricular torments; victims just broil away forever, flat out, and that's that. This is Christianity's version of the final solution, with no possibility of reprieve. There is the usual gaggle of demons, well armed with a primitive array of basic barnyard implements, and a hoofed and horned overseer which presides over the eternal torment.
Since religions have, over the centuries, made such a hell out of living, it's no wonder a heaven had to be invented. After all, there had to be SOME reward worth all the trouble one was put through on this fucking planet.
But not all heavens are created equal. When shopping around for a palatable belief, the smart consumer will look closely at the entire menu. Some of the harshest religions in the world offer far more appetizing afterlife fare than the lukewarm pablum dished out at Sunday School.
Those lucky enough to be martyred for Islam immediately enter a Middle Eastern version of Valhalla, where all the pleasures allegedly denied them on earth, such as "pretty boys" and "pretty girls" are theirs for the plucking. And while these erstwhile heroes of the ages feast upon the fatted calves and sup the choicest of wines, they'll be constantly attended and catered to by bevies of beautiful Islamic virgins. Now, just how these demure damsels retain their blessed virginity, while at the constant beck and call of a bunch of dirty old men, has never been satisfactorily explained, but they will be there. We have the Ayatollah's word on it.
Of all the places one might go, Paradise, as laid out in Christian travel brochures is obviously nobody's first choice of an eternal vacation spot. The sad truth is, it's such a sterile and thoroughly boring place many of the allegedly righteous openly admit, given a choice, they'd volunteer for the nether regions, if for no other reason than out of a very real need for some simple human companionship. In short, they are of the opinion that, since so many of their former friends and relatives are already DOWN BELOW anyway, heaven would be exceedingly lonely. Add to that, no rock and roll, no beer, no sex, just harp music forever, and the whole damned place begins to sound less than appealing.
At least in Hell one could keep in shape. There's coal or, for the slightly more salacious, other stuff to shovel. And although their official workout video has yet to be released rumor has it that they have a devilishly good aerobics program down there; but in Heaven...nothing; just wealth that can't be spent, on beauty which can't be touched, in an eternal life without purpose. And preachers insist this is worth being good for? Fuck it! Where did these ghastly stories come from anyway?
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