Somewhere out there in a singularity before the big bang or the poof-and-it’s-there—depending upon one’s persuasion–a “typical” family gathers for dinner and has an unusual discussion.
Dad: Do you think it is about time to share the good life with a new species? We have been by ourselves for what seems like an eternity. Please pass the caviar.
Junior: Chomp, munch, chomp [as he gnaws on a rack of lamb rib]. Might not be a bad idea, as it’s been getting a little boring here over the last trillion years or so. What kind of life do you have in mind, and where?
Dad: Possibly a human, quasi-intelligent life-form, along with several kinds of plants and animals. This would require creating a planet with a sun to light the day and keep it warm and also possibly a nightlight. We could name the planet “Earth” or something or other.
Junior: Sounds complicated. How will we keep this quasi-intelligent life-form in line? What if they go astray and don’t follow the rules that we dictate, assuming that we give them free will? Please pass the pinot noir.
Dad: Naturally, we would have to develop some kind of reward and punishment system, sort of a carrot-and-stick approach. Speaking of carrots, I think that I’ll have another helping of the rabbit stew.
Casper: Hey, I’m part of this dynamic trio! What am I, chopped liver? Don’t you want my opinion here?
Dad: Not especially. What, if anything, do you have to add?
Casper: Well, we could establish a holiday with ghosts and goblins to scare them if they have been unfaithful to us. Please pass the paté and Alka-Seltzer.
Junior: I think the carrot approach has more merit. We could offer an eternity of watching us live the good life as their reward. Possibly also give them a few bennies if they were especially faithful. A little more cabernet sauvignon, anyone?
Dad: I think a reward system has merit, but I think that a form of punishment would be more effective than a promised reward to keep the masses in line. And I think that ghosts and goblins fall far short of a suitable punishment.
Casper: We could have something like a giant pumpkin that jumps out of a pumpkin patch and really scares the bejeezus out of those who have been bad. The giant pumpkin could yell “Boo!” really, really loudly!
Dad: Are you sure you weren’t dropped on your head as a baby? Giant pumpkins yelling “Boo.” Good grief!!!!
Junior: We could send Casper to Earth to live there for a short while. He could be crucified to atone for the sins of man. That would generate a huge sympathy effect!
Casper: Why me!!!?? It’s your idea, so you should go. Besides, I like my pumpkin idea better.
Dad: I think we are getting off the track here. We need to establish a harsh punishment, or this new life-form, which we might call “man,” will continually go further and further astray and not follow our edicts.
Junior: How about a form of torture, like waterboarding?
Dad: Too wimpy.
Casper: How about sending them to bed without supper for a whole week? That should do the trick. Also, withhold their treats!
Dad: I’m sticking with the “you being dropped on your head” scenario. To get things rolling here, let’s think hypothetically of the worst forms of torture possible, not that we would use these, of course–just consider them hypothetically.
Junior: Well, instead of waterboarding them, we could actually drown them, possibly over and over for a whole week!
Casper: (Trying to get back in Dad’s good graces.) Yeah, probably for a whole month!
Dad: [Sighs.] Rather than water torture, I’m thinking more along the lines of fire. What is the worst torture that you can think of involving fire?
Casper: Have them run though a really, really hot fire–over burning coals—in their bare feet–and send them to bed without supper for a whole year!
Junior: Hypothetically of course, have them run through this fire and hot coals for a whole year, without them dying!
Dad: Not long enough! After all, this is punishment for them disobeying us. Please pour me a little more brandy.
Casper: Two years then?
Junior: Ten years!
Casper: One hundred years!
Junior: One thousand years!
Casper: One million years!
Junior: One billion years!
Casper: One trillion years!
Junior: One sextillion years! No, make that one septillion years!
Casper: One septillion and one years, and one week without dessert! Remember, we’re talking hypothetically here, of course.
Dad: Still too wimpy! How about forever and ever, for all eternity?
Junior: Speaking hypothetically of course, how could we pull off the “God is good and merciful bit” if we did that? Might be hard to sell to the masses, don’t you think?
Casper: Yeah, how could we possibly pull that one off? You thought my pumpkin idea was dumb!
Dad: Indoctrinate! Teach them from day one, over and over. Tell them that if they don’t believe, then they will be subject to this punishment. No one would want to take the chance that this was not true and would believe whatever we’re shoveling–I mean preaching. We could have sort of a good cop/bad cop scenario. Junior could be the good and merciful cop, and I could be the bad – I mean merciful, loving, strict cop. Casper could hang out in the pumpkin patch, keeping his opinions to himself, we hope.
Junior: How could we slide this past the priest, rabbis, and imams who might actually read about our rules and such, once the good book is written?
Dad: Two words. Job security. The clergy would not want to lose their jobs and their obedient sheep, I mean flock, along with the shearing, I mean tithing.
Junior: How about the masses? A few of them with the ability to reason and think for themselves might also read the good book. They may even have the audacity to question its authenticity!
Dad: The vast majority will believe. The rest will mainly keep their opinions to themselves. You can’t fight city hall. The dying-for-their-sins bit will be a huge help here. Great idea, Junior! Since it was your idea, you’re elected. It will only be about a thirty-three year gig, so shouldn’t be that bad.
Casper: How about a short reprieve from this eternal fire several times a week. I once burnt my finger when I was lighting a candle in a pumpkin. It was really, really painful. I had blisters for a whole week!
Dad: No way!
Junior: How about a reprieve once every thousand years?
Dad: No way!
Casper: How about a short reprieve every trillion, trillion years. [Offered with a slight hint of sarcasm.]
Dad: Enough already!!! Fire and brimstone for all eternity with no let up. My mercy an
d goodness go only goes so far!! Pass the filet mignon.
[Dad chews his filet thoughtfully, then speaks again.] We will now have a secret vote on a for-all-eternity, fire-and-brimstone hell for future millions and millions of unrepentant sinners. Fortunately, there is/are three of me, so I/we won’t have a tie vote.
Dad: [After the secret vote tally.]) The vote was 2 to 1 in favor. The motion passes.
Casper: I demand a recount!
Junior: Please pass the disgusting pork.
Dad: Next order of business, writing the book of rules. How about we start with “In the beginning was the word, and . . . ” By the way, do you think we really need to include women?
And so, children, either there is not an eternal hell, or if there is, the only one that may qualify for being there is a god who supposedly created it. However, it appears more likely that the hell concept was created by man.
￼Dennis E. Erickson is retired from a career in the chemical industry and now enjoys writing, among other pursuits.