Don’t give me that innocent look. You’re guilty, guilty as sin. Oh, stop with the stammered explanations, the redirection, the “swearing to God.” You have to actually have a relationship with God to sell that one. And with your misdeeds, my friend, you have clearly severed all ties.
What is it I think you’ve done? I don’t know, the specifics aren’t important. I just want you to know that I know a sinner when I see one. Oh, is that your “shocked” face? Come off it. You are a hive of sin. Your soul looks like Jabba the Hutt, its fat, pink tongue constantly licking its lips at the prospect of fresh sin. Num-num, good sin.
I know you’ve been worrying about the afterlife, as sinners do. Wondering what your painful reward for a sinful life might be. You’ve probably been thinking of my friend Dante. Alighieri. You know, the Divine Comedy? That Dante. Yes, the “circles of Hell” guy. Our concept of the underworld owes much to him, no doubt. But here’s what most people don’t realize: Some of those circles aren’t so bad.
Sin is like air for you. You can’t and won’t stop sinning outright. But maybe, with apologies to Beckett, you can sin better? See, Dante believed Hell was divvied up very specifically. Certain sinners get certain punishments. You can tailor your sin so it goes down easier when they open the books on ol’ Jabba. Let’s face it, Purgatory is a long shot for you, let alone Heaven. Don’t abandon all hope. Just wait ‘til you hear the things you can get away with in the Inferno.
Let’s skip Circle One. It’s still too nice for you. Circle Two is where the line of real sinners starts.
The lustful must spend eternity in a violent storm. Yep, that’s it. Caught in a storm for eternity. Your damnation is to be rained upon, and the wind might hurt your ears. Think you can hack it? Then lust away.
Gluttons will be buried in mud and showered with cold rain and hail, which is a bit worse, and yes, the hail will probably sting. But just dig yourself in a little deeper—the mud will soften the blows. Oh, and Cerberus will be guarding you, but are you stupid enough to piss off a three-headed hellhound? Just relax in the soothing, skin-rejuvenating mud and do some thinking about all the great meals you had. This is as close as you’ll come to a spa in Hell.
The greedy and the wasteful are pitted against each other, pushing enormous weights back and forth. This could be a hassle and most certainly a constant strain. Besides exhaustion, though, there’s no physical pain.
If you were wrathful, you get to stay wrathful. You’ll find yourself fighting others for eternity. Is this even a punishment? Too bad they don’t punish lust with endless sex, you know? The biggest drawback to circles four and five are tedium, unless you enjoy coming up with new battle strategies—and whose tactical skills couldn’t use sharpening?
Circles Six and Seven
Heretics are encased in flaming tombs. Murderers are dropped in a river of boiling blood. Sinners against God are banished to a desert of fire where the only rain is—fire. It had to come up sooner or later. You can’t get away with everything. But here’s a strange footnote: If you kill yourself, you’ll be trapped in the trunk of a tree forever. The tree is not on fire. You make the call.
This circle is divided into 10 ditches. Here are some of the less horrible ones:
The Ditch of False Prophets: Your head is reattached facing backward. Now, this being the second-worst circle in Hell, there’s a good chance that the actual head-removal will be highly gruesome and painful, but once it’s reattached, end of punishment. OK, you’re still in Hell, but all you have to do is learn how to walk differently. It’s not worth disbanding your cult. Those things are goldmines.
The Ditch of Hypocrites: Are you ready for this? Your entire smarmy, two-faced, kiss-ass life of hypocrisy gets you the following: a brightly painted cloak. The catch? The cloak is made of lead. But come on! Understudy in the Hell Players revival of Joseph? Dante almost jumps the shark here, though he recovers later: Spread enough discord and you’ll be ripped apart bodily over and over and over. So don’t go nuts with that hypocrisy, or you could be bumped from Hell’s fashionista to Hell’s chum.
The Ditch of Thieves: Venomous snakes will chase you, and if they catch you, they will bite you, and that’s unpleasant. However, once bitten, you yourself become a snake and join the other snakes chasing thieves. Where do I sign up for thief school? Because this is a gift, people. After a few seconds of minor pain, probably in your leg, you suddenly become a feared denizen of the underworld, slithering your bad self wherever you damn well please, with nary a mongoose to trouble you. As for being chased, just fake a sprain, lie down, and wait for your poisonous fangs to grow. Almost a plea to steal.
The lowest of the low. A place of great despair, for here resides Lucifer, gusting icy winds with his wings and crying icy tears. Fire has been replaced with ice, as the souls guilty of treachery sit halfway or completely encased in a frozen lake. But when death gives you frozen lemons of despond, make slightly less-despondent lemonade. If you MUST commit perfidy against loved ones or treason against your country (Dante has a real thing about that), at least you don’t have to worry about the pain of fire. Ice is a nasty chafer, but numbness is bliss. Gazing upon Lucifer is none too pleasant, but he won’t bother with you. His three heads are too busy chewing on Brutus, Cassius, and Judas. If the Unholy One has his mind set on busting your grill, well, no advice from me is going to help. As a last resort, try this: “I hope you do a better job on me than on Judas, there. He’s barely gummed.” You might get points for being ballsy.
What say, sinner? Doesn’t Dante’s vision sound like something worth believing in? The nasty sins, those that directly harm others and that are largely unpleasant to indulge, are punished nastily. But the fun sins are punished as if Hell was a Big Ten athletics department. So carry on with your show of piety. Keep nodding and saying “amen” during those fire-and-brimstone sermons. We both know what you’re thinking: Will my soul have the same coat size as me?