No one can even agree on what Hell is. They’re happy to threaten you with it, but they’re all over the place when it comes to explaining it. You know, a real place usually has a pretty consistent description. Take Chicago. We know where it is. Right there in Illinois, can’t miss it.
(Where is Hell? Can anyone reliably tell you where it’s located? Nope.)
Sure, we may disagree about what Chicago’s like: I think it’s the best damned city in the Midwest, other people think it’s a shithole. But we can all agree it’s got nice areas and run-down ones. It’s got a dazzling downtown. And everybody can agree on what’s there. You don’t have arguments over whether, say, it’s got a library or not. You can verify.
So what is hell?
Hmm. Hot place where fire’s are unquenchable, worm dieth not, wailing and gnashing of teeth, etc. Yuck.
No, it’s got all these levels, and where you end up depends on how bad you were.
Wait, no, those aren’t levels, they’re circles!
Hell is eternal torment! No, wait, you’re just there for a while, then destroyed forever. No, wait, you’re not destroyed, you go to Heaven afterward!
Hell is the presence of God! No, wait, it’s the absence of God!
Hell is a real place! No, wait, it’s just a state of being!
Hell is other people (and Second Empire furniture)! No, wait, Hell is being alone!
Hell is Satan’s domain! No, wait, it belongs to God!
Okay, no, really, this is what Hell is: it’s exactly like Heaven. Everyone’s at this absolutely incredible feast. Only they’ve got forks three feet long strapped to their hands, so they can’t feed themselves (No, wait, it was chopsticks! Or maybe spoons!). In Heaven, the people feed each other. In Hell, everybody starves because they don’t.
No, wait, that’s backwards: the Libertarians know Hell is where people feed each other (which is hideous icky socialism and lets the moochers take advantage of the producers). Heaven is where you feed yourself, because it’s right that everyone should do for themselves.
Who goes there?
Everyone who doesn’t worship God the right way!
No, wait, just bad people like homosexuals and liberals.
No, wait, just really horrid people like serial killers and politicians.
No, wait, nobody goes because God’s a big ol’ softie and would never ever create such an awful place.
Etc. etc. Peter Cetera etc. But that’s quite enough of that. No one can agree on where and what Hell is and who made it, who runs it, how long you’re there, what it’s for, and who ends up there, if anyone. All evidence people are making this shit up.
But they believe it.
But they say it’s God’s word. They heard, they saw, they got it from the Almighty.
They’re so detailed! Convincing.
Yes, indeedy. But you know what? I can do that. Let me consult one of my fictional characters, say, one of the Eternal – having been here since the beginning, they should know Hell, right? People, I can hear their voice! I can see what they saw! I can describe it all down to the last detail, down to the exact temperature of the Lake of Fire (5,869°F or 3243°C), the color of the buttons on Satan’s shirt (a deep reddish-black, nearly the exact color of a large clot of dried blood), and the name and address of his tailor (Guillermo Sarto, Via dei Condotti 61, Rome, Italy. Likes to keep his look updated, our Satan). I can point out the location of the place if you give me a map of the universe. I can tell you who’s going there, and why, and how.
But it’s totes not me making things up! I’m getting it from an authority, and if you lie awake tonight and picture that being and beg for an audience, you’ll be able to consult the very same source. Trust but verify, amirite? Fuck, I could pass a polygraph, because I believe.
I’m (sometimes) a fiction writer, folks. I know how to put myself in that headspace. I’ve been convinced I’m not the one creating those details, because it feels so damned much like I’m just taking dictation. And yes, I’m so very good at it that I’ve convinced others my story people are really real, to the point where they can describe them to the cut of their coat without me saying a thing about their appearance. But when all is said and done, I will be placing my novels in the Science Fiction section, because I made this shit up.
That gun that was pointed at your head? The one that was so real you could hear the safety click off and feel the cold circle of steel touch your temple and smell the metal and a trace of oil, that gun never existed. That’s why the people who’ve aimed it at you over the years can’t agree on it’s color and caliber, the make and model, whether the clip is full or not, what kind of bullets are in it, how much damage it can do… it doesn’t exist, but they swear it does, because it feels so very real.
Do you know what Hell really is?
It’s a story. A work of fiction. An empty threat. Myth, legend, fantasy, product of the human imagination. That’s all. That’s all it ever was. A story.
You don’t have to fear it. Not now. Not ever again.