Salt Lake City is hosting a conference this week on hell. (People fond of alcohol are probably thinking that Salt Lake City is always hosting hell, but that’s another issue). I know about the conference only because Ethan got to the newspaper before me yesterday and began crossing out all the “swear words” on the page, of which there were many because the article described the various perspectives on hell throughout religious history and popular culture.
This led me and Ethan into a somewhat futile discussion about how one differentiates between hell the swear word and hell the it’s okay to say it since it’s a place where bad people go (and giggle because it feels like you’re getting away with something) word.
Ethan – who is hoping for a logical hard-fast rule, and is also currently reviewing parts of speech in school – asks, “So is it swearing if you use hell as a noun but not if it’s an adjective or adverb?”
“Well, no. Because some people say hell fire! and that’s swearing.”
“Okay. How about this one – it’s not swearing if you’re talking about the place called hell.”
“Sure. That sounds reasonable.”
But then Ethan discovers the loophole: “Hey, what about when people say Go to.…!”
“Oh, right.” I am as much baffled by the policy as he is.
In the end, my less-than-brilliant explanation was that if the sentence in which you are using “hell” would end with an exclamation point, it’s probably swearing. This may not win a prize in the logic hall of fame, but it worked for us.
Speaking of hell (*tee hee*), I’m surprised that it has taken me this long to return to Bosch. Always a delightfully bizarre fellow, he ought to provide me with a lifetime of blog material. Here’s the panel depicting hell from his painting Garden of Earthly Delights. Bosch includes all the familiar images of hell – the darkened sky, the smoking fire pits, the menacing figure of Satan who sits upon a throne eating sinners for lunch, the giant severed ears, the hollow-bodied tree man with plate and bagpipe on head, the really scary bunny rabbits, the people who vomit coins into cesspools. You know, the typical Biblical stuff.
I’ve always preferred the realism of Dante’s vision of hell. He wrote about the center of hell as a frozen wasteland. The worst sinners are submerged to their necks in a pitch-black lake of ice and tormented by winds so cold that their tears freeze to their cheeks. This is an appropriate hell to Dante since at the opposite end of the universe, heaven is full of light and warmth and the kinds of indescribable beauties that only come from closeness to the presence of God. Sure, I agree with Dante’s symbolism. I also think an icy hell is far more believable than a hot one. This is because (as my husband / opponent-of-the-thermostat-wars can attest) I really hate being cold. Given a choice between playing harps in the crispy climes of high-elevation clouds and roasting for eternity in a fiery pit, I’m afraid I’d say, "Save me a spot next to the bunny. And pass the marshmallows.”
Things that burn: hell, Bosch paintings, marshmallows, Dante