If you were going to write the inferno how would it agree and disagree with that of Dante?
The idea of making up a “Hell”, or inferno, is not an experience in which I, even in my wildest thoughts, had started to imagine. Call me an optimist, but the idea of imagining Hell never appealed to me. However, as I read through the Bible, I have come across many images of hell and will now attempt to create a partial picture.
As I sit imagining my inferno, I see that it would be significantly different from Dantes inferno. I do agree that an Inferno should have stages, or circles, but fewer than that of Dante. And I do agree that the stages should be categorized by severity of actions, or sins, but I feel it more important to look at the heart of the sins instead of trying to analyze which sins were “worse”. Because of my personal study, I find my worldview strikingly different then that of Dante.
In my inferno I would only have three rings set up in a similar manner to Dante’s. (The outer rings being that of lesser magnitude than that of the center ring.) Unknowing would be the first and outer circle. In this area we would find people who did not get to hear the good news, and so, because not knowing is no excuse, they were condemned to Hell. (Based on Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.)An example might be an African who has never heard of Christ and followed a false religion not knowing any other way.
Second, I would place those who knew yet did not follow; those that refused belief or those that only pretended to believe for their own benefit. In this place we would see both the hypocritical Christians as well as the atheists. Also included would be those that consciously chose a false religion over Christianity. Many in this category are walking among us today. We might call them the unsaved, or giving them the benefit of the doubt, might consider them searching. However, if they die without embracing the true way, if their hearts have never turned to God, they are lost. And for that reason, they have been condemned to an eternal life that is deserving and seen as fit by the Lord on high. These people might be our next-door neighbors.
Third, and definitely the most devastating, is that of public transgressions against God. The criminal element, those that feed on the innocent of the earth, those that violate the precepts of the Lord are condemned to this torturous ring. Also included are those who not only don’t believe, but also find a way to take other brothers away from the truth. For instance, those who publicly spoke against Jesus teachings would be residents of this painful place. For in the inner ring we find the scum of the earth in which the evil agents of the world reside. The example of Judas comes to mind.
As far as what it would be like in the inferno I do have to say that Dante did an exceptional job of creating a world filled with pain and torture. Even so, in comparison I would create a much harsher place. Dantes place might look like the land a land of milk and honey compared to the miserable existence bestowed upon every inhabitant of my inferno. I understand for literary purposes that there were people in every circle of Dantes inferno that were able to stop and converse with travelers. My inferno would be on the opposite end of the spectrum in which it would be a stretch of the imagination to see another individual, much less have the ability to actually converse and discover information about todays current events. Darkness would prevail.
In the first ring I would adopt that of Dantes 9th circle, not for its icy coldness nor for its severity, but mostly for its isolation. The outer ring of hell is not going to be a picnic, which almost seems the case in Dantes description. On the contrary it is going to be a freezing eternal torment. As cold as ice, the souls of the sinners will be totally isolated from the world of Hell. The cold will consume them. Frostbitten black (whatever physical form they might have) they will be eternally thrust colder and colder. As soon as they think that it couldnt get worse, it does. Alone, frozen, with no hope of ever seeing another soul, no chance of escape. These have no way to compare their situations with that of the rest of the inferno, but if they could they would feel blessed. Because as tormented as it might seem, it is like the mystical world of Candy Land when compared to the torture facing those in the second ring.
In the second ring I could use Dante as a springboard as well. I believe he was on the right track as far as the cutting of flesh in Canto 28, but I believe Hell or my inferno should exert even harsher treatment on the sinners of the mortal world. In the second ring of the inferno we have the peeling of the flesh, much like a bad horror film in which they take out your organs while you sleep. The second ring of hell pushes your physical self to the limit. A peeling, tearing, scraping, cutting, slashing, hacking, carving, embalming, ripping, slicing, gashing, and every other excruciating act of pain you can do to the flesh is carried out in this circle. In Dantes account, these prisoners walked in a circle and were in communes with others. That would be a pleasantry not allowed in my inferno. For building on the misery of the first ring we still have total and complete isolation from other souls. There are no pleasantries in Hell.
To create the third, and by far most devastating part of the inferno, I refer not to any advice given by the great philosophers of the past, but instead to a childrens book of today. In the third Harry Potter book, the idea of a Dementor, a being who sucks the joy and happiness out of everything, is the scene I envision for the third ring. The souls are hopeless to the core, having to deal with the idea of losing all. It is a place of devastation because of the total absence of God. Lucifer, i.e., Satan is the great Dementor, sucking the good, the pleasant, and everything worth living for out of the souls around him. Satan is the prince of darkness. He rejoices when a soul is won to his world. The cumulative effects of the previous two stages are visible in these decrepit decaying souls. Imagine a concentration camp at the height of its killing. Even this description is insufficient to the agony in this ring. It would be like describing the Taj Mahal by calling it a building in Asia. This place is indescribable; the horrors there defy language. No one could stand to fathom the truly horrendousness that lies there.
While I agree that my personal viewpoint is not literary genius, I do, and will stand by it. For we all have a personal concept of hell, or Inferno, and this is mine. While Dante and I compare quite well at times, at others we see about as eye to eye as a liberal Catholic and a conservative Baptist. I feel as if we strive for the same goal: to define Hell in our own eyes. In the end, I hope and pray that I never discover if our perceptions are either right or wrong. Once in Heaven, I never again wish to ponder the alternative.