It is now March and the days are swiftly spinning away from me. This next month is chock full of activities, from formals to sorority events to several late night paper writing sessions that have yet to come and I am unsure of how to react. Part of me feels compelled to pity myself and my fellow students because no matter what way we slice it something is going to be sacrificed during March be it our souls, our sleep, or our sensitivity. You would be surprised by how many people take on a sarcastic edge when they are placed under a large amount of stress (NB: I am one of those people). I also feel for our professors and our administrative staff because they are going to have to put up with all of us throughout the next month. However, on the other hand I feel compelled to congratulate all of us because we’ve made it! or at the very least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Winter academic term is almost over and soon we will all scatter, some will return home, others will devote all of their spare time to work, while still others will actually take the summertime as a chance to relax.
But more will be said about summer when it arrives, for now there is still work to be done. In my core course for humanities we are now studying Dante’s The Divine Comedy and I could not be happier or more confused about life than I am right now. I realize that that is quite the statement as I seem to have cultivated a following for this blog based upon my general confusion regarding life but I feel that as of this moment I am truly confused. I am loving Dante – reading the introduction was one of the highlights of my weekend, next to shopping with one of my Littles and seeing my friend Sam of course. There is a simplicity and complexity to Dante that both appeals to me and makes me hesitant to express my appreciation for the text. For starters we are currently progressing through Inferno, which is about Hell and that subject itself can be the topic of burning debate when broached in casual conversation. How can you go around telling people that you think the versions of justice portrayed in Dante’s Inferno are both accurate and terrifying? And how can you get past the idea of Hell itself existing?
Throughout this entire year several of my friends have broached the topic of religion and how it plays into what we learn in humanities. Our religious beliefs are at times sorely tested by the texts we read and the theories we encounter. But no author has evoked quite the reaction that Dante has, within hours of our first lecture we were debating and dissecting our personal feelings regarding the text. The hottest topic seems to be reconciling the image of Hell created by Dante with people’s personal beliefs of God. Many of us put forward the idea that while we may have struggled with our faith in the past the philosophy that we have been studying over these past two semesters has truly spoken to us. It’s surprising how philosophy, specifically studying through a Neo-Platonic lens, has helped me understand Christianity. I feel more connected to God and my faith this year than I ever have before in my life. Philosophy helps me to make sense of the incomprehensible and puts me at ease with the idea that no, I can never truly understand God but that’s how it is supposed to be.
But back to Dante, you see we have been taught through the wisdom of medieval philosophers that evil is non-being hence it does not exist. So, I wonder, how is Hell possible? The conclusion I came to when a friend queried me about my feelings regarding Dante is that Hell may very well be a creative construct, a man-made torture device for the mind created by an authority to terrify adherents into obedience. I am unsure as to whether I truly believe in Hell; I am more inclined to believe in Purgatory.
We are not meant to be able to understand the total and unconditional forgiveness of God. If he/she/it can forgive anything why would there be a Hell? Where is the forgiveness in Hell? However, humans have trouble comprehending the incomprehensible, which is understandable but dangerous too. Through our incomprehension we create standards and rules that are not necessarily real in order to impose human order and human structure onto something that we ultimately have no control over.
I also find The Divine Comedy itself to be dangerous because it is written by a human, ergo it is inherently flawed. We are perfectly imperfect for a reason. Only through imperfection can we appreciate true perfection. But there is more to it than that, through Inferno specifically we are confronted by ourselves and our own humanity. There is great truth in the suffering and punishment of humanity, no matter how unsettling the idea, murderers, lovers, prideful poets, and the indecisive exist among us. Dante exposes the raw underbelly of humanity in an effort to explain divinity and showcase its perfection when what he really accomplishes is to put humanity on display. Seeing ourselves, our flaws and shortcomings written on a page in black and white is disarming. I think I am enjoying Dante because he is in touch with humanity and yet he is still hopeful, he sees something worth saving. The idea of saving us is dangerous because who knows where it will lead, then again if we do not try we will most certainly die, so why not try?