who the hell knows

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;”

I got into a very interesting conversation with a friend on the topic of all things unknowable. It came at the right time, as I am attempting to read some of my husbands articles on Michael Polanyi, whom of which his thesis is focused on. Polanyi was a philosopher who dealt mainly in answering the question: how do we know anything? One of the things our conversation ended on–which I would like to try and flesh out more–was on the topic of hell.

Most people can agree that hell is a place of punishment, but I think that it gets a little more blurry when we try and lay out the ground rules for who is deserving of hell and why. He shared an interesting perspective to this question which suggested that those deserving of punishment are those who have broken the social/moral/ethical norms of their culture. Each person is different, just as each culture is different. There is no right and wrong–only abiding by your culture as it changes and adapts.

I tried to have him expound on this idea further in instances of what we may feel is socially acceptable but could be just disgraceful, possibly in the eyes of God. For example, capitalism is socially acceptable in American culture, it is even encouraged. What happens when the effects of capitalism drive people into poverty for the sake of a business expanding, or others may see as selfishness. We accept it and certainly do not frown upon it as a culture, but we see the effects it causes first hand and just wonder… He responded by saying that everyone has their limits as individuals, much like cultural norms, we should abide by our own personal norms as well.

Where does forgiveness come into play? We did not have time to thoroughly flesh out this discussion, but I want to raise this question in a general sense. Is forgiveness some arbitrary idea that makes us feel better for the time we are on this earth but doesn’t really take away any of our overall responsibilities as a human?

I think there is a desire in humans for justice to be served for those who have done the unspeakable–but what if it was us who have done the unspeakable? Would we be so quick in offering ourselves as sacrifices for the the sake of justice? It’s quite possible that many of us would if we believed that death alone or prison on Earth was the punishment, but what if we believed in an eternal life after this one? What would our idea of justice be then? In that case, I tend to think that we would fall to our feet asking for mercy.

What do you think?

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