In today’s New York Times, Ross Douthat makes ‘a case for Hell.’ This is what we are offered as the intellectual ballast of the ‘conservative’ political movement today: a shallow exercise in theology.
One sentence in his screed stood out for me, emphasis added:
As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death … salvation or damnation.”
Using GoogleBooks, I read through the introduction that Douthat cites: some pages were left out. Maybe they were the ones where Esolen makes this rather astounding argument about a poem that is often considered a literary summa of the medieval world-view, but I doubt it. More likely, Douthat is not interested in what the terms Christian, Humanist, and Medieval actually mean, at least in literary terms.
The list of attributes he gives above are not normally associated with humanism, even in the simple version I recall from grade school textbooks, i.e: man the measure of all things; skepticism; finding truth with reason; lack of dogma; joy in daily experience, etc. They are associated with the medieval, Christian-allegorical way of seeing the world. But for Ross, that is the only way, I suppose.
Douthat is the clever catechist: He concludes by asking
Is Gandhi in hell? It’s a question that should puncture religious chauvinism and unsettle fundamentalists of every stripe. But there’s a question that should be asked in turn: Is Tony Soprano really in heaven?
If he had read The Inferno, he would know that Gandhi is certainly in hell, down on the First Circle, with all the righteous gentiles and unbaptized infants who died too soon. They just sigh a lot – no torture – lamenting their missed chance at salvation. All those intelligent B.C.E. philosphers are there too! As for Tony Soprano, if there is no hell, there is no heaven. I doubt any theologian really thinks what Douthat claims they think.
It would seem that the entire intellectual concept is rife with contradictions…