Lesson 18- Getting Out Of Gehenna
At the beginning of the my last program I said that I was preparing my listeners for a quantum leap in their understanding and at the end of the same program, after quoting Helen Kellers piece on what it was like to live for seven years without language, I concluded that if Hell is the Gehenna of the Old Testament of the Bible and Gehenna means "empty thought" then Helen, before she acquired language was in Gehenna and that there are a number of logical conclusions which follow from this.
First, since language and consciousness are connected, then animals, lacking a left hemisphere to their brain that has the power of language, must live in a world of unconsciousness or "empty thought." Therefore, animals naturally live in the Kingdom of Mental Darkness or hell.
Second, that all of us, as infants, started out in hell and would have remained there if we did not have the Logos that resided in the left side of our brain which, though it power of logic and language, brings us out of the Kingdom of Darkness and leads us into the Kingdom of Light.
Third, that Gehenna or hell is not a place that we are going to, it is a place where we already are and thus the major issue in every human life is how to get out of it not how to avoid getting into it.
Now lets look at each one of these conclusions more closely.
I know that the possibility that animals live in hell must be upsetting to animal lovers, of which I am one, but that is what the facts and logic indicate. Part of the problem is that we traditionally think of Hell as being a place of punishment rather than a condition of being. Because of this, we find it hard to understand why dumb animals are being punished by God. They arent because hell, it appears, is a "state of being" rather than a vindictive punishment created by God to torture His enemies. In fact, the idea that God is vindictive at all doesnt seem to "wash." In psychological terms, the words "Vindictive God" like the statement "dry water" creates a problem of "cognitive dissonance." In other words, a "vindictive God" who tortures His enemies when they dont do what He wants is an oxymoron because it contradicts itself. If God is Love, and the scriptures say that He is, and if love, according to St. Paul, is "patient and kind and never seeks Its own way" then it would be a contradiction of His own nature to vindictively torture those who didnt do His will. Yet the same scriptures say that there is a hell and that we should do everything within our power to avoid it. Obviously this means that we have to rethink how an all-loving God and hell could be compatible because, scripturally speaking, both are true. How they are true is the problem that we must solve and the answer depends on whether one believes that hell is a punishment or whether it is a "state of being" which logically results from the consequences of our behavior.
As Christians, we believe that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son into the world so that anyone who believed in Him would be saved from this "state of being", known as hell. For fundamentalist Protestants, this leads to the simple formulae that "if you accept Jesus, the man-God who lived over two thousand years ago, as your Savior, you will be saved from hell, which our hedonistic animal nature thinks of as burning fire while our intellectual rational nature thinks of as Gehenna, or empty thought. Either way, from their perspective, salvation is a passive state which requires nothing of us. Just say the words and you are saved and you can never lose it.
The Catholic position is a bit different and more active because it requires a continuous response on our part. Salvation to the Protestant is an automatic accomplished fact while to the Catholic it is a process or road which we must continuously follow because, as Jesus has said, "If you want life and want it fully, then pick up your Cross and follow Me." This suggests a continuous process rather than a one-time fact. What exactly does it mean to "pick up your Cross" and what does it mean to "follow Jesus." The Cross has become a symbol in Western culture for the difficulties and problems of life. And Jesus, as I have already mentioned, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, is Gods Wisdom, which is Gods Truth, which is Gods Logic, which is, according to St. John, found in every human being. So we could say that if you want to be saved from the Kingdom of Mental Darkness, which is Gehenna or "empty thought", then we must follow God's Wisdom, or Truth, or Logic and, if salvation is a process, then so long as we stay on this road, we will continue to emerge from the mental darkness of Gehenna. However, if we should get off it or turn back the other way, then we will sink back into the Mental Darkness from which we emerged.
Listen to the Prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 18:21-28:
"Thus says the Lord God: If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced. Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? Says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?
And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live? None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die.
You say, "The Lords way is not fair!" Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if the wicked, turning from wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die."
Notice the two lines: "he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced", and "it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die." Both lines suggest that the consequences flow logically from the behavior and that it is not an afterthought where God decides to reward the good for being good or punish the bad for being bad.
Therefore, the basic difference between the Protestant and Catholic position is that the Protestant position is that salvation is being saved by faith in Jesus "from the punishment" for our sins. Thus, Luther, the first Protestant, once said that one could essentially rob, rape, and murder but if he believed more firmly, he would be saved. The Catholic position, on the other hand, is that salvation is being saved from the "doing of our sins" by following the Light of Wisdom and Truth from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light. However, to do this we must receive the power of grace that is released through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. This is because the natural man is incapable of following Gods laws because his natural inclinations, which are related to the animalistic natural world based on hedonism, are at war with these laws. Thus, according to the Church, we are saved by grace. Grace, according to the Church, is a supernatural energy which God gives us to assist us in overcoming "the world, the flesh, and the devil", the unholy Trinity that pulls us towards Gehenna. In the natural world, the "strong dominate the weak"; in the supernatural world "the strong help the weak." In the natural world "might makes right"; in the supernatural world "truth makes right." The natural world is full of violence, jealousy, and conflict while the supernatural world is full of peace, love and harmony. In the natural world, impulses are followed without reflection; in the supernatural world impulses are brought under the control of rational thought.
Therefore, to be saved, we, who are born on the natural level, must be "born again" to a supernatural level, which means above "nature", where we begins to lose our animalistic tendencies and begins to replace them with the insights of a rational being made in the "image and likeness of God."
Thus, hell, instead of being a vindictive punishment invented by a vindictive God, must be a consequence that naturally flows from being trapped in the natural world where mental darkness reigns and the result of our animalistic behavior rather than some sadistic scheme dreamed up by God in a fit of rage and vengeance.
The Bible is full of reference to the fact that, from Gods point of view, whatever happens to us is the logical consequence of whatever flows from our own behavior. For example, it says that "we will reap what we sow" or "as we measure so shall it be measured" out to us. The first statement means that whatever we plant is what will grow. If we plant lying, stealing, hatred, envy, injustice, ignorance etc. then the world that we live in will contain these qualities and we will have no one to blame but ourselves for the hellish conditions in which we, and our children, must live. The second statement means that God, who respect our right to choose, must give us the logical consequences of the premises contained in our own hearts. If we say that people who sin against us should never be shown mercy or forgiveness, then logic says that we should never be shown mercy or forgiveness when we sin against others. Thus, in the Beatitudes, Jesus says "Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy" and, of course, His parable about the unjust steward, who was forgiven his debt by his master but refused to forgive his fellow steward, makes the same point. If we say that it is all right for us to steal what belongs to others, then logic says then it must be all right for others to steal what belongs to us. If we say that it is all right for us to cheat on our wives, then logic says then it must be all right for them to cheat on us. In other words, whatever we agree is acceptable for us to do, by logical implication, we must agree that it is all right for others to do the same thing to us. That is why the basic moral principle is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" because, it appears, that is exactly what will happen when God metes out His justice. Otherwise, we would be hypocrites who would be saying "Do what I say, not what I do" and we know from the Gospels how Jesus felt about hypocrites. Thus, God, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is not the cause of hell. We are. His agenda is not to throw us into hell but to get us out of it and that is why He sent His Son, the Light of the world, to lead us out of the Kingdom of Darkness.
Often we fail to see the hell that confronts us every day in the world around us or, if we do see it, we dont see it as a reflection of hell. Recently my wife brought to my attention an article is our local paper that, as soon as I read it, I knew that it was about hell. It was the hell that flowed from the spirit of the people involved that was being reflected upon the outside environment in which they lived. The article was about a family that neighbors were constantly complaining about to City officials. The article says:
"For three years (the people in) the block deluged 911 with complaints about (a family that was constantly) screaming, cursing, and fighting. They complained to the Health Department about trash, dog messes, and feces-filled diapers littering the homes yard. But things got really bad when the cockroaches came.
(a City official said) 'We had a pest-control gentleman explain to us that when he went in there, he felt something on his shoulder'. He thought it was a cat that jumped on him. It was a clump of roaches that had dropped from the ceiling.
The infestation was so massive that neighbors' homes were invaded by the six-legged pests. The (next door neighbors) teen-age daughter moved out and a TV cameraman was afraid to take pictures. The family includes a mother, an 18- or 19-year-old daughter, two teen-age boys, a girl around 6 years old, a boy about 3 or 4, and a newborn.
(A) License and Inspection housing inspector testified that "Roaches crawled in the couches. Roaches lived behind the paneling. Roaches filled the toilet, the tub, and the sink. Everywhere the people lived, the roaches lived." They were all in their clothing (which) was scattered everywhere. The roaches were so terrible that they even bit one of the children."
Eventually, according to the article, Licenses and Inspection got the house fumigated a few times and the roaches were removed but the children in the family were not. Which means that they continued to grow up in this confused and hellish environment. Maybe this is what the Bible means when it says that the sins of the parents are passed on to the children to the fifth generation. We all pass on to our children our conceptions or misconceptions of life.
The article concludes by saying:
"The roaches are gone, but the cursing, yelling and fighting continues. (One neighbor said) "This is a form of mental abuse for the whole block. Neighbors cant even sit out on their front step and enjoy a nice evening because of the intimidation and the cussing and the hollering and the screaming and the fighting."
This is interesting because Jesus described hell as the Darkness where there will be "weeping and the gnashing of teeth." Can you imagine being trapped in a world where the total population would be made up of people who shared this type of heart? Boy, that would be enough to make you weep and gnash your teeth.
Of course our normal response on the human level to problems like this is, "There ought to be a law." And, of course, there ought to be. The problem is that the law, which can change the outward effects in the environment through threats of fines and punishment, is only a temporary fix because it cant change the inward attitudes from which those effects flow. And as soon as the laws are removed or relaxed, the conditions will return to the previous state. As one sage once put it: "Slums and ghettos will not disappear from the earth until slums and ghettos disappear from the hearts of men." Or we could also say " hellish conditions will not disappear from the human condition, either here or in eternity, until the hellish attitudes which create them disappear from the hearts of men." The outward chaos on this earth and in hell is just a reflection of the inward chaos and inner darkness in the beings who live there. Perhaps that is why Gods ultimate goal is to take us beyond law by changing our hearts. As the scriptures say, "I will write my laws on your heart."
Thus, when the scripture say that we will "reap what we sow", they are just saying that we will get the consequences of our behavior. This being true, then the only thing that could save us from these consequences is to change the behavior by repenting and reforming. And that occurs when we decide to follow the Logos or Light of Reason within ourselves by turning chaos and confusion into beauty and order. But to do that we would have to be "born again" from the natural, arational level to the supernatural, rational level: from the world of Mental Darkness to the world of Mental Light. However, the problem remains, says St. John, because "even though the Light of Gods Wisdom came into the world" God still has to condemn many of us because we continue to love Darkness. Is it really possible that we are capable of loving Darkness even though God offers us Light?
Its an interesting question which Eric Fromm, a noted psychologist, addressed in his book, "The Sane Society." He asked, "If you were born in an insane asylum, grew up in an insane asylum, and never left it, would you know that you were insane?" This suggests another question, "if you were born in hell, grew up in hell, and never left hell, would you know that you were in hell?" Obviously, the answer to both questions is "No!" because, as children and as people, we accept what we see around us as being normal. I was born in the Great Depression and was, by todays standards, very poor. My family couldnt even afford to buy me tomato juice. Yet, when everybody is poor, nobody is poor because it just seems to be the normal state of affairs. In like manner, perhaps when everybody lives in hell, nobody knows that it is hell because hell has become the normal state. Only when we see that there is a better alternative do we begin to hope that things can change and be different. Therefore, the people in Darkness are dependent on the people in Light to inform them of the other option. But even this is useless unless there is openness on the part of those in darkness to receive what is being offered.
The Third World is an example of this. For centuries people there have lived in conditions, which to us, would seem unbearable. And we project on to them our dissatisfaction. Yet, the evidence seems to indicate that they have become resigned to their fate and accept it as the normal course for life. It isnt until they become aware that there are other alternatives that they become dissatisfied and begin to hope for something else, and sometimes, even when they know there are other alternatives, the existing system is too deeply embedded in their hearts to give it up.
I spoke earlier of primitive people in New Guinea known as the Wittai and Kurulus who are still living in the Stone Age. Each day they fight territorial battles which are designed to allow the men to establish a ranking order based on the bravery they display in battle. The women of the tribe are attracted to these men, just as the females in herd animals are attracted to dominant males for mating purposes. A mans rank is established by the number of pigs and wives that he has and, weak men, who are unable to defend themselves, lose the pigs they have and their wives are constantly raped or stolen by stronger men. When a warrior is killed in battle, the culture requires that other families send a severed finger from one of their little daughters as a sign of condolences to the family of the dead warrior. Little girls, three or four years of age, have a string tied tightly around their finger to cut off the blood supply and numb it and then a stone axe is used to cut it off. The finger is dried and sent to the bereaved family. Since warriors are being killed all the time, most of the women in these tribes grow up with a stump for a left hand.
Another group, known as the Yanamamas, who live in the Brazilian jungles are also living in the Stone Age. Like the Kurulus, they are constantly conducting raids on neighboring tribes in which no distinction is made between killing men and adults or women and children. Also, any women in the tribe who wanders outside of the boundaries of the village without a protective male is fair game for "gang rape." An anthropologist who was studying the group, decided to marry one of the women. In order to get her a visa and passport to travel to the United States, he had to travel to the nearest city. While he was gone, his wife-to-be, being without his protection, was constantly gang-raped by the men of the village and nobody saw any reason to protect her. He eventually took her to New York where they had two children. When the children were around six and seven, they went back to visit the village. Upon returning to New York, his wife decided to leave him and the children and to return to the village. The culture was so deeply embedded in her heart that she couldnt adjust to the benefits of modern civilization. Our hearts, it appears, are capable of growing fond of hell.
Another problem that we have with the idea that animals live in hell or Gehenna is that when we think of animals, we dont think of the wild animals that live in the harsh world of nature. Rather, we think of our domestic pets with their warm eyes, soft furs, and affectionate ways. However, they are the exceptions rather than the rule and their lives have been greatly modified from the ones that they would have lived in the natural world. There is a great deal of difference between the wild dogs of the African plains which hunt their preys in packs by stalking the young and the weak and our domestic version. But even here, if our domesticated dogs were returned to the wild, their basic nature would soon emerge.
A number of years back there was a problem of wild dogs in New Jersey who had attacked and kill a young child. The dogs, it was discovered, were pets whose owners had abandoned them at the seashore after their vacation ended and they followed their natural instincts and formed hunting packs.
Another conclusion that we can draw from this new understanding of Hell as being a place of Mental Darkness or "empty thought" is that all of us, as infants, started out in hell and would have remained there if we did not have the Logos that resided in the left side of our brain which, though it power of logic and language, brings us out of the Kingdom of Darkness and leads us into the Kingdom of Light. Without it, we would remain animals and it surely is the Divine Spark that the Medieval philosophers called the Intellect which makes us rational beings made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, if we begin in hell, then the role of God, and Jesus His Logos, is not to throw us into hell but, rather, to get us out of it. In other words, His role is salvation, not condemnation.
What would it have been like if we had never emerged from the unconscious world of the right lobe into the conscious world of the left lobe. Well, lets review what Helen Keller wrote because she is one of the few people who knows because for six years, the left hemisphere of her brain which is the source of rational logical thought and the basic difference between us and animals, was inactive. In other word, she lived in the mental world of the animal kingdom.
Helen wrote: "For nearly six years I had no idea whatever of nature or mind or death or God. I literally thought with my body. Without a single exception my memories of that time are related to touch. I know I was impelled like an animal to seek food and warmth. I remember crying, but not the grief that caused the tears. I kicked, and because I recall it physically, I know I was angry. I imitated those about me when I made signs for things I wanted to eat. But there is not one spark of emotion or rational thought in these distinct yet bodily memories. I was like an unconscious clod of earth."
So what is it like to live with the mind of an animal? Well according to Helen we would have no sense of nature, or of our own mind, or that we were eventually going to die or that there was a God. Our whole awareness would be based on bodily sensations and even when our body expressed pain or pleasure through cries of anguish or the excitement of joy, we would not be aware of these emotions. What this suggests is that we misinterpret whats going on in the minds of animals when we project on to them the emotions that we experience in the same situation. There must be a significant difference between feelings, which are sensations, and emotions that have a rational component to them. The bodily expressions might be the same, but the inward awareness must be different. In other words, there is a difference between impersonal and personal pain. We see a dog hit by a car go yelping down the street and, knowing how we would feel in the same situation, we conclude that the dog is experiencing the same thing as us. Not so, says Helen Keller. She says, "I kicked, and because I recall it physically, I know I was angry... But there is not one spark of emotion or rational thought in these distinct yet bodily memories. I was like an unconscious clod of earth."
What this mean is hard for us to imagine even though, before we had language, we also lived in that world. However, let me venture an educated guess.
Because the dogs right and left lobes of his brain are duplicates, they are unable to reflect upon themselves. Therefore, that means that they are unable to view themselves objectively and consequently lack a sense of personal identity. Thus, they couldnt say, "I am feeling pain" even though their body is registering it. On the other hand, humans, having a right lobe which is reflected upon by a left lobe are able to look at themselves objectively and thereby evaluate what is happening to them. Therefore, the pain, or joy, takes on a personal dimension that animals are unable to experience despite the outward appearance of their bodies.
Listen again to Helens description of what it was like to come out of this world of Mental Darkness. She continues: "Then, suddenly, I knew not how or where or when, my brain felt the impact of anothers mind, and I awoke to language, to knowledge, to love, to the usual concept of nature, of good and evil. I was actually lifted from nothingness to human life. (Gehenna?)"
What does it mean when she says "my brain felt the impact of anothers mind?" It appears that without language there would be no way for me to share with you or anyone else the deeper things that are going inside of me. I would be limited to facial expressions and grunts, just as babies and children are limited when it comes to communicating what is happening inside of them. Every mother knows the frustration of trying to guess what a crying child is trying to communicate. Without language, we are imprisoned inside the subjective world of "Self" without any way of communicating with ourselves or with others. How do you talk to yourself without language and how do you tell other what you think without it?
Well, I see that my time is almost up. I would like to recommend to my audience the movie entitled "The Miracle Worker" which portrays Helen Kellers emergence from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light. There is a scene at the beginning of the movie where Helen wrestles with Ann in the dining room and another one at the end where the meaning of language dawns on Helen that touch me deeply every time I see them. Next week I will have a few more quotes from Helen where she explains the significance of this last scene. Heres Dom.