The problem with death, really, is that it is pretty much the end as far as those of us not dead are concerned. (The dead guy isn't worried about it.) So, for instance, if someone is a really bad person, once they are dead, they are pretty much beyond justice. The fact that we have prison doctors who attend to criminals on death row attests to our dissatisfaction at punishment being taken out of our hands.
Luckily for us, we have an afterlife. Whether or not it is real or simply wishful thinking I'm not going to deal with here. I feel secure that you have already made up your mind on that point anyways. And by 'we' here I am including people who aren't Christian but partake of the European cultural tradition - even if you are Jewish, by living in Western Civilization you are aware of the whole idea of Hell. I'm discussing the concept of life after death, here, not the reality of it.
Now, in the afterlife, those deserving of punishment GET IT. It's a great solution. Whoever was a right bastard in life and yet enjoyed themselves and died rich surrounded by sycophants is burning in eternal misery in the fiery pits. Of course, the more demanding among us aren't satisfied with a general hand-wavey sort of 'burning in the pits' - we want more precise information on where these bastards are and how they are being tormented, including timetables and road maps.
And the best, in terms of popularity over time, road map to Hell is still Dante Alighieri's. It's ordererly but at the same time flexible enough to fit most any sinner you want to send there. Of course, it's a bit dated by now. Much more egregiously, it doesn't suit my particular needs for an infernal region. It's got people who I don't think really should be there, and is missing whole categories of people who desperately need to burn forever and ever. Like meter maids. So, in the interest of updating Hell, giving it a 'fresh new look', I present the following revision:
The First Circle
Dante: Virtuous pagans
Sun Ra: People who annoy me, but are otherwise good people
As even Dante realized, having good people who by historical circumstance lived before Jesus was around be in Hell is silly. So I'm letting them head on up to the Pearly Gates. Bon Voyage, Ovid! And, since this is my revision of Hell, I'm replacing them with all the people who ever annoyed me but otherwise were pretty good people. Obviously, a large new freeway will need to be installed for everyone who ever cut in front of me and then drove twenty-five, so that they may be stuck in traffic for all eternity. Other people who will wind up here are people who shout at their friends across the street when I am standing next to them, people in lines in front of me who dawdle, and telemarketers. Basically, anyone who has the bad judgement to make their sole interaction with me one that annoys me.
The Second Circle
Dante: the Carnal
Sun Ra: Whiners
Frankly, there is little wrong with enjoying life, so all the fornicators Dante put here get to be re-assigned according to things they did aside from knocking boots. In their place will be the Whiners, people who feel it is their mission to inform me of how bad things are ad naseum. People who bitch when it is not really bad at all get sent here immediately, stuffed with hot coals and their mouths sewn shut, but people for whom it is bad but attempt to milk all the sympathy they can anyways are also sent here, put in small restaurant booths with the coal-stuffed people and instructed to whine at them. If they ever stop, they are stuffed with hot coals, their mouths sewn shut, and a new whiner is added to the restaurant booth. These booths will become quite crowded.
The Third Circle
Sun Ra: Republicans
Gluttony is like lust, really. Too much is definitely a bad thing, but it's really only sinful if it leads you to do things that are actually bad for others. So the Gluttons are also going off to be re-filed, and this circle will be used for Republicans. Not all of them, mind you, but the really hard-core American Taliban sorts. Who, by the way, will also be here. In fact, this is really now the Social Conservative circle, where people who feel that it is their right to enjoy life and everyone else can go to Hell, well, this is where they go to Hell. Here they get to move around a freezing cityscape in rags, never allowed indoors, while inside pictures of people enjoying themselves in Heaven are played on all the ground-floor windows.
The Fourth Circle
Dante: Hoarders and Wasters
Sun Ra: Vandals
This circle really just gets a category shift. Instead of people who were thoughtless with their own property, now it includes people who were destructive towards other's property. And this includes that which would otherwise have gone to future generations, so the hoarders and wasters pretty much all get to stay here anyways. Litterers and polluters in particular. Everyone from assholes who throw food wrappers out their car window to company officials who turn a blind eye to their smokestacks and waste pipes get to spend eternity here, in a hellscape where everthing is almost but not quite toxic - the air, the water, the food. But this circle is also for every other waster, including graffitistas, mailbox baseball players, and especially cemetary directors who lay flat people's tombstones. They get planted ankle deep in concrete with red-hot metal grills around them, and every five minutes a demon with a pitchfork will come by and say, in a pleasant voice, "but it's so much more convenient when you are lying down" and push them over onto the hot grills. Then the demon will walk across their searing flesh to the next cemetary director, and the first one will slowly rise back up off the grill. Then another demon will come along. Forever.
The Fifth Circle
Dante: The Wrathful and the Sullen
Sun Ra: Assholes
The Wrathful and the Sullen will be re-filed; the Wrathful will almost certainly wind up here again, and the Sullen will wind up in Circle Two. This circle is for people who enjoy dicking with other people, and do it habitually. As with the first circle, there will be a large section for people who drive without thinking of others, but here the damned will be on foot on a freeway made of fire, and unable to leave unless someone allows them to merge, which will never happen. And there will be day-trippers from heaven driving along in monster trucks now and then, too. Remember, this is the circle for people who are habitual pricks - the people who sue without cause, the bad tippers, the office character assassins. Frankly, this circle won't even need demons to torture the inhabitants - they will do it themselves.
The Sixth Circle
Sun Ra: Critics
Obviously, when you are in service to a particular ideological bent, you have to have a spot in Hell for Heretics. But in the new, non-discriminatory Hell, we simply don't care. Hindu, Mormon, Buddhist - if you're a bad person, you're going to burn regardless of whose fault you think the world is. So we don't worry about Heretics. Heresy is fine. Just don't get on our shit-list for any other reason.
Such as, for instance, being a Critic. Now, having an opinion is fine. And, frankly, there is a place in a world of great supply for people who sort through and rank things by quality. If it is a bad movie/restaurant/hotel, there is nothing wrong with saying so. Hell, even if you are wrong and it is actually a good movie/restaurant/hotel, there's nothing wrong with having an honest opinion. But there are people who enjoy denigrating the work of others, especially when there is no call for it. People who, as children, tell other children that their sand castles suck. People who badmouth things for fun. If you have nothing nice to say, and say it, this is where you will wind up. There's a reason Internet harassment is called 'flaming'. It's prognostication.
The Seventh Circle
Dante: the Violent
Sun Ra: the Violent
Frankly, as far as the greatest sins go, Dante was spot on. The last three circles really need only minor refinement. Here in the seventh circle we will have more focus on murder, assault, and rape, and less focus on things like sodomy and squandering. Suicides, frankly, aren't going to be in Hell any more. They are going to be sent back to earth until they get it right (or wrong), but none of this cop-out suicide stuff. They will get reincarnated as a Third World peasant farmer again and again until they figure out that killing themselves is simply not going to work out. However, harm someone else, and you get to Burn Burn Burn in Hell Hell Hell just like you always did, right here in the seventh circle.
The Eighth Circle
Dante: the Fraudulent
Sun Ra: the Fraudulent
Oh, yeah. No torture is too foul for hypocrites, who will continue to be found here along with the flatterers, the falsifiers, the sowers of discord, the panderers, and of course the astrologists. Especially the late-night television sort. For them we have an endless field of painful hazards, and complete short-term foresight loss. They can see into the future, now, with crystal clarity. But they are unable to deal with the next two minutes in any way at all, and so will constantly be falling onto spikes and bumping their shins against rocks. Forever. And they'll know that.
The Ninth Circle
Dante: the Treacherous
Sun Ra: the Treacherous
It's like hypocrisy, but with knives. In Hell, Seven plus Eight equals Nine. Enjoy your eternity of suffering! At least you'll have Satan to talk to, or would if you could ever stop screaming.
So that's it! The new and updated Hell! I hope you found it informative and habit-changing. If you didn't like it, well, start packing your psychic bags now!
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra