Today is National Prayer Day and I’m feeling a little left out.
I haven’t prayed or believed in anything to pray to since I was 10 (though I do some hoping here and there.)
But rather than joining my fellow Americans in beseeching the God who ignored the prayers of New Orleans residents, World Trade Center workers, and a century of Cub fans , I decided to map out a place many a believer has told me to visit.
I’m talking about hell – only the hell I’m imagining might just make sense to atheists or anyone else not inclined to believe in a more traditional hell.
Atheist Hell is inspired by Dante Alighieri who outlined his own version in his poem Inferno in the early 14 th Century.
In the Inferno , Dante takes the reader through the 9 Circles of punishment which begin in Limbo (1 st Circle) where virtuous pagans and the unbaptized suffer never-ending grief, past the 6 th Circle where heretics are locked in burning stone coffins, all the way down to the 9 th Circle (The Pit of Hell) where people like Judas Iscariot are chewed endlessly in the jaws of Lucifer. (ow, Ow, OW!)
My Atheist Hell lands a little closer to home for those who question the red-guy-with-horns story. Hell for me (as a boy) always meant being trapped in church on Sunday morning while I knew someone was out playing somewhere.
So each level of hell in my imagination is a location that has to do with being forced to participate in religion. (Ironic, ain’t it?)
Underdown’s Hell for Atheists
An American Buddhist temple overlooking the ocean somewhere. "American" means there are Saabs in the parking lot and you won’t find anyone inside who’s prostrated himself 300 miles to get there. You can show up when you like, but you are sentenced to meditate, and do some kind of whacked out yoga that only a car crash could twist me into. But you can still make happy hour if you let go of wanting to…
A Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday morning. It’s not a hard-core service with a lot of pushy beliefs, but your Sunday’s still ruined and you still had to get up, shower and shave. Here you’re sentenced to drinking see-through coffee and manning the syrup and butter table at a never-ending pancake breakfast meant to raise money to fix the leaky roof.
A small synagogue somewhere in the bible-belt. You are sentenced to attend a Passover meal which the local Rabbi insists on being a full-blown traditional Seder. (You have to sneak to over to it for fear of being seen by one of your redneck customers.) A late afternoon argument about whether God prefers doctors or lawyers ends when the pre-dinner singing begins. (Huh? I thought we were going to eat?)You’re starving , and when the food finally comes, you are served pickled herring and a big gelatinous slab of Gefilte fish. Oy vey!
A run-down mosque in Detroit. You are sentenced to come here 5 times a day to face Mecca and pray on mostly musty, paper-thin prayer mats that never quite dried out after the last rain. The only dry mats are from a craft project from the neighboring madrasah and are made from old pencils. The vocals coming over the tinny sound system sounds like a goat being run over by a snowmobile. You are overweight and have bad knees.
Any Catholic church in August in Chicago. You are sentenced to a perpetual wedding mass which includes taking communion, doing all the Stations of the Cross, and having gone to confession beforehand. You were at the groom’s bachelor party last night where you timed each other drinking juice glasses full of warm Southern Comfort. In church you notice grass stains on your suit. You don’t know whether to puke or pass out.
The L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibit on Hollywood Blvd. You are sentenced to an eternity of talking tourists from Des Moines into forsaking the religion they grew up with by trying to convince them that aliens landed on earth 75 million years ago on modified DC 9 airplanes. When Tom Cruise arrives to inspire the workers, you are punished for laughing at his height.
An Evangelical mega-church in Colorado Springs. Your punishment is for all eternity to procure methamphetamine and gay sex for Ted Haggard. He grabs your neck and gives you two creepy squeezes to thank you.
A Pentecostal revival tent just outside of Tulsa. You just left a Drinking Skeptically gathering and you have to piss like an incontinent at a kegger. You keep asking where the bathroom is, but the whole goddamn church is speaking in tongues and you can’t understand a word they’re saying. You finally figure out where the can is only to find it guarded by one of the rattlesnakes they used in the service. You decide to piss on the rattlesnake and it bites your penis.
The real Hell. Shit! Lake of fire, guys in hoofs,gnashing of teeth – the whole shot. God’s there with (red, horned) Satan and they’re both shaking their heads with raised eyebrows saying, "We tried to warn you…"
What a nightmare…