We may be unaware that there are people among us who have, in this life, in a certain sense “fallen to hell”. Sometimes they are quite hard to spot, at least early enough to help them.
In his influential little book “Paradise Lost”, John Milton does a new and disturbing thing: Making Satan understandable, a person one might sympathize with. I believe his purpose was not to spread goodwill for Satan, but rather to make us recognize the part of ourselves that is similar. By far the most famous line from this book is the statement from the fallen Satan: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Many young men in particular quote this as if they agree with it.
I will hold up the opinion that a lot of us have chosen to reign in Hell without knowing it, not in any literal sense (if there even is a literal sense, I do not know) but in a sense proportionate to our nature and abilities. This is something that I just now saw more clearly, although I have mentioned related topics over the years.
When I was around 19 years old, I had an idea for a novel and it would not let go of me. Months turned to years, I prayed but did not get rid of it. It bothered me for a number of reasons that would be ironic to bring up now. It was basically a science-fiction story, and I saw it as nothing more at the time.
In this story, our world was one of several worlds, not just side by side, but also vertically. The world right up from ours would be similar, with life and a breathable atmosphere, but not identical. More importantly, the higher world is more real, more solid, more energetic. It is more “dense”, less “porous” in all aspects. When a man from this world arrives in that higher world, he finds himself in a world of pain: The light of the sun sears him, the cold of the night freezes him, gravity sends him crawling on his belly; even the air burns in his lungs with each breath, and water seems to etch him like acid. This is not because these elements are particularly intense – the temperature is the same as on our earth – but because they are more real, and he is less. He is reduced to a fraction of his strength and solidity in every way. Like a snail trying to cross a road on a sunny day. At first he is only able to survive in this higher world for minutes at most before he has to crawl back to the alien mechanism that transports him between worlds. But gradually he becomes able to tolerate it, as each breath he takes replaces some of his low-reality atoms with high-reality atoms from the higher world. As he begins to adapt a little to this new world, he discovers that he is becoming inhumanly strong and durable in the normal world.
Conversely, there is a world below ours. A man who finds the same alien means of traveling between worlds, chooses to instead descend to the lower world. In it, he suddenly all at once finds himself extremely powerful, able to jump buildings in a single leap and resist damage that would kill a normal man. He thoroughly enjoys his newfound abilities, impresses the locals and becomes a hero and an influential person. Unfortunately after a while he discovers that his newfound strength slowly evaporates. And returning to his own world, he finds himself weak and sick, to the point where he returns to the lower world to recover. But the longer he stays there, the more he exchanges matter with that world, and becomes a normal person there. By now he is unable to safely return to his birth world, and he fears revenge now that he is vulnerable. He starts searching for a similar device to descend to the next world down, resolving to be more careful this time. But on his descent to the next lower world, he notices that each world down is uglier and more chaotic than the one above. Unable to return safely even to the first “underworld”, he is trapped in a disturbing world where even his strength cannot bring him happiness, even as it slowly leaks from him and he faces the prospect of having to descend into pure chaos or else live as an ordinary man in an inferior world.
Looking back at this peculiar “science fiction” story, I am surprised that it took me decades to realize that it was a parable of the worlds of the mind. I live in Norway and had never read or heard of C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, which has a similar theme but is straightforward allegorical.
The lower worlds should be familiar for any even partly neurotypical man, for the world of daydreams is just such a place. This world is less real than ours, and therefore it is easily malleable. We have the power to shape and rearrange things just as we like them. In the world of daydreams we can suddenly be rich, or powerful, or beautiful. We can go anywhere we want, have anything we want … and anyone we want, if we so decide. There is nothing and no one except our conscience (if any) to keep us from exercising godlike powers in an ungodly manner – in other words, to reign (rule) in Hell.
For Hell it is: Not when we first arrive, but when we find ourselves trapped there. I have mention the Japanese phenomenon of the “hikikomori”, young men (and occasionally women) who confine themselves to their room in their parents’ house and emerge only briefly at night to buy food, or not at all if their family feeds them. These started as ordinary “otaku”, nerds obsessed with anime, manga and games. But at some point they became unable to live in the ordinary world. They sleep during the day and watch anime through the night, seeking refuge in a 2-dimensional world, unable to bear the hardness of the ordinary world. (Admittedly the ordinary world for adult Japanese is somewhat harder than here in the west.)
If we think of such a thing as computer games, they often fall in the category of “the world just below ours”, in the sense that they are less real and bestow greater power on us, but still have rules. If you play World of Warcraft, you have to start at level 1 and work your way up, and you cannot be a great sword fighter and wizard at the same time. But in daydreams, there is nothing you can’t do. But there is also nothing that does not turn to dust and blow away on the wind.
Conversely, there are higher worlds also in this life. The worlds of mathematics, for example, are such worlds. Math is hard, which is why so few people study it, despite its obvious usefulness. The prosperity of a nation is tied closely to the number of engineers. The more engineers a nation has, the more other people can it also employ. But physics and math are higher realms, in which the human mind finds itself weak and struggling against hard and unyielding realities. Vague ideas and approximate guesses will not let you survive long in these worlds, and so you quit and begin studying psychology or feminism or some other topic that does not make your mind bleed if you collide with it.
In this same category is traditional religion, although today there are many forms of religion that are soft and woolly and require very little from us. But the traditional worlds of religion required a lifetime of discipline, denying oneself not just outward luxuries such as delicious food or various sexual experiences, but even “inward luxuries” of being allowed to think whatever we want. Naturally most people find this hard. They do not realize that when they conform to a higher reality, they become personally more real as well, and this carries over to whichever world they may be in. They also do not realize that when the pain fades, they notice that the higher world is amazingly beautiful, larger than life, shining with an inner glory that captivates the soul’s eye.
Or so I’ve heard, when I’m not busy playing The Sims 3. ^_^