Opinion

If there’s a heaven, then must there be a hell? | Latte Guy | April 29

A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal, its throat was very small. The little girl insisted that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible.

The little girl said, “When I get to heaven, I will ask Jonah.” The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?” The little girl replied, “Then you ask him.”

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Like many islanders, I spent spring, which conveniently fell on a Saturday this year, manning the business end of first a lawnmower, then a roto-tiller, and finally an industrial sized bottle of Ibuprofen.

The yard looks much better, and I should be able to stand upright any day now.When I can, it’ll be time to plant the garden.

As you may recall, last year was not a great year for backyard gardening, unless, like me, you actually set out to grow Bonsai corn, pygmy potatoes, pint-sized pumpkins and lethargic lettuce. The only thing that really thrived in our garden last summer were bees, peas and weeds.

Easter Sunday fell on the day after our spring last weekend, and so my attention shifted from the renewal of life in the garden to a slightly more complicated incident of resurrection.

At Grace Church on Sunday morning, Father Bill’s homily was all about life, death, life after death, life after life, and hell, or more accurately, the existence or non-existence of hell as an actual destination.

Hell has been in the news a lot lately, including a cover story in last week’s Time Magazine. Hell has always been a reliable and intriguing subject for poets, artists and a certain ilk of preachers. Hell is also a ripe subject for pithy quotes.

Winston Churchill said that if you find yourself going through hell, keep going, which is pretty much the way I feel about Silverdale.

Aldous Huxley wondered if this world were actually some other planet’s hell. (Huxley, of course, was something of an expert on other worlds.)

Jean-Paul Sartre famously opined that hell is other people. Robert Frost said hell was a half-empty auditorium.

Several people have suggested hell is populated with amateur musicians.

Mark Twain advised people to go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company.

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of “Marching to the Sea” fame famously said that war is hell.

Sherman’s colleague Gen. Phil Sheridan said if he owned hell and Texas he’d rent out Texas and live in hell, which I guess is really less a comment about hell and more a comment about Texas, which is evidently the Silverdale of the Southwest.

The whole idea of a hell as a sort of divine penal colony is really pretty strange when you think about it. No less a figure than Thomas Aquinas himself claimed that “in order that the saints may enjoy their beatitudes and the grace of God more abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell.”

Seems sort of harsh, doesn’t it? What kind of a God would inflict intentional and eternal suffering on some people in order to heighten the already elevated pleasure of others? A God like that is one to be feared and dreaded, perhaps, but not one to be loved and worshipped.

I much prefer to think that there is no hell, and we all end up in the same place regardless of what we did or did not believe here on earth, a place where, in the words of Tom Waits, there’s no eye for an eye, no tooth for a tooth, where you can see Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth.

I just hope that whatever there may be beyond this earthly existence, it’s not located anywhere near Silverdale.

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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