19 March 2012

Do Something! - (Inferno Meditation 2)

“And he replied: ‘The dismal company
Of wretched spirits thus find their guerdon due
Whose lives knew neither praise nor infamy;

They’re mingled with that caitiff angle-crew
Who against God rebelled not, nor to Him
Were faithful, but to self alone were true;

Heaven cast them forth – their presence there would dim
The light; deep Hell rejects so base a herd,
Lest sin should boast itself because of them.”
Inferno, Canto III, lines 34-42

Life is not a video game. If you make a decision and don't like the direction things are going, you cannot go back to your last save point and try the alternate decision. Real decisions in real life have real consequences. However, in our culture today, the very fact that we have only one life and can't experience everything the world has to offer is unthinkable to many, and so we avoid making decisions that may in any way diminish our options. We want the benefits of marriage with none of the responsibility or commitment, which is why the number of cohabiting, unmarried couples increased by 88% between 1990 and 2007 according to the US Census Bureau. Many women want to invest their lives in rewarding professional careers, but also want the benefit of children, which is why more than a third of first time moms in the US today are over 30 years old according to NCH statistics.

This trend is also seen in the rapidity with which people today adopt a host of new causes, hobbies, diets, trends, and religions. We're all afraid that we may be missing out on something in life. In the Christian realm, this often leads to well-meaning and earnest people jumping from denomination to denomination lest they should miss some vital part of Christian experience tucked away in some other place. I've seen a family jump from Pentecostal to Baptist to Presbyterian to Roman Catholic, experiencing all the flavors so to speak. This had little to do with conviction and more to do with the desire not to miss out on anything.

In The Inferno, all of these traits are characteristics of what Dante calls "the futile". The futile exist in the Vestibule of Hell, cut off from Heaven and Hell proper by the fact that they never made a firm decision in life. They simply flip-flopped back and forth for their entire lives without ever settling on anything. Here is Dante's description of the futile. Remember that Dante's depictions of punishment in hell are really allegorical depictions of the state of the soul in this life.

"So I beheld, and lo! an ensign borne
Whirling, that span and ran, as in disdain
Of any rest; and there the folk forlorn

Rushed after it, in such an endless train,
It never would have entered in my head
There were so many men whom death had slain.”
Inferno, Canto III, lines 52-57

This is a great description of the mass of overgrown adolescents in our culture today who refuse to make decisions in life, but rather eternally chase the whirling banner of trends and experiences, being blown about by every passing wind rather than taking root and growing. Let this be an exhortation for all of us. Go do something with your life! Go live for something other than yourself! In Hamlet, Polonius gives his son the advice, "This above all: to thine own self be true." However, Dante shows us that the Vestibule of Hell is populated by people "Who against God rebelled not, nor to Him were faithful, but to self alone were true..."

2 comments:

Kayleigh S. said...

Wow, Mr. Davis! This is powerful. I never thought about that quote from the Inferno that way before.

Rick said...

Thanks, Kayleigh.