Friday, April 6, 2018

Robinson rues so

Ok, it's adults-only swim time!
Poet Edward Arlington Robinson died on this day in 1935. He is the poet who wrote this surprise ending to one of his poems:

"And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head

Robinson also once wrote:

"There is a good deal to live for, but a man has to go through hell really to find it out."

If Hell is a great furnace or barbecue pit where us naughty mortals will roast forever for our sins here on earth, then presumably the more grievous our sins the more onerous our punishment.

You could think of as staying in a really seedy motel, and occupying a corner room near the ice machine and away from all the noise, or one next to the elevator, with stains on the bed sheets, a hissing radiator and a leaky toilet.

And Heaven, which is where we go if we repent our sins, would be a private penthouse overlooking a beach and a beautiful blue sea, so high up that it’s surrounded by clouds.

Who gets to live in the penthouse? You do! Just so long as you say you’re sorry before you die.

So Heaven is populated with the contrite, the craven, the wheedlers, the abject, not the righteous necessarily but merely the apologetic. It’s a congregation of connivers, hypocrites—or, worse yet, the genuinely reformed, living out their dreary, eternal lives in decadent splendor.    

But to formulate a real definition of Heaven and Hell we must know what goes on there. And since no one has ever returned from these regions to give us a report, how are we to know what goes on there? How?

Imagination! That’s how.

We can imagine a Heaven chock-full of our most cherished things, and a-swarm with our long-lost loved ones and former friends and pets. We can imagine it as bustling around the clock with our favorite activities, accompanied by the music we love. We can hope it’s a place with all the fun stuff we like to do on earth, multiplied to infinity—like our own personal cruise ship, perhaps, sailing to eternity.

And we can imagine Hell as its opposite—as the unending replication or prolongation of all the maddening, painful, unpleasant experiences of this life—and all that sweating, too.

But the vision of life beyond earth is clouded by the fact that we’re spectacularly unfit for it. “I’m bored” is our eternal refrain, and lacking the wherewithal to entertain ourselves for even a few hours doesn’t bode well for an endless sojourn in Heaven or Hell.

Nevertheless, we may fervently pray for it—for the Heaven outcome, that is. (Who knows? Hell may also have its aspirants, if one believes, for instance, that all the interesting people will be there.) We may be hard-pressed to know what to do with ourselves in this life—or just on a Saturday night—and yet long for another that will go on forever.

The idea is that things will be different there, no doubt. But what is the evidence for that? What if the next life is as botched and unplanned as this one? 

In short, why should we believe that God has arranged things any more competently there than He has here?