18 February 2011

On Hell and Who Gets to Go There

The other day, I stumbled upon (yes, through stumble uponthis, an article about a bonus question that was given on a midterm of an engineering class at the University of Washington.

The question was this: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or Endothermic (absorbs heat)?

Naturally, most people answered the question with a simple combination of their religious beliefs and Boyle's law; however, one answered with this: "First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let us look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially.

"Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand as souls are added. This gives two possibilities:

"1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

"2. Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

"So which is it?

"If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa Banyan during my Freshman year, '...that it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you.', and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then, #2 cannot be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and will not freeze."

Receiving the only 'A' in the class, this student not only did something of reward but also opened the door to an important question: who is going to hell?

The answer to this isn't simple or rational, nor does it make any sense to try to answer it, but, after all, we are only human, and humans are stubborn--no matter how much you tell them that they can't possibly find an answer to something, they still want to believe they are right. Silly humans.

Being the bookworm I am, I immediately found a similar example of this in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In the case that you haven't read this, it goes a little like this: (*spoiler alert*) Hester comes to America a few months before her hubby. She gets knocked up by a minister, and is, thus, forced to wear a red letter 'A' on her clothing by order of the Minister who screwed her in the first place. (Minister's aren't portrayed very nicely in this novel.) So about seven years later, after Hester's husband, a physician, has badgered the Minister into trying to confess to the affair with his wife, the Minister has decided to run away to Europe with Hester, and, just as they are about to step onto the boat to freedom (cosmic irony) from judgement, the Minister is all, "hold up! I confess! I Knocked up Hester seven years ago!" Then he dies. (*End of spoiler*)

The reason I brought up the example of The Scarlet Letter is because it shows perfectly that, although most may put the blame on those who are considered socially "unholy," we are nothing more than human. The Minister, although he put all of the blame on Hester, was just as guilty.

In Steven Sondheim's Into the Woods, the witch (played by Bernadette Peters) is the obvious source of all of the discontent of the other characters, but, arguably, the only one with real perspective. Towards the climax of the musical, while the characters who managed to survive the clumsy giant from the bean stalk who keeps stepping on people are deciding who is to blame, she finally sings:

No, of course what really matters is the blame, somebody to blame. Fine, if that's the thing you enjoy, placing the blame, if that's the aim, give me the blame.

She acknowledges that people only want to find someone to blame, because, if they don't, it's safe to assume that it's their own fault, and people don't like to blame themselves. So she takes the blame.

Obviously not every person is going to hell, or there wouldn't be a heaven. Even if you don't believe that anything significant happens after death, it is mutually agreeable that people who point fingers are just as guilty as those they are blaming, (plus, they're really annoying.) 

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