Where do we go now but nowhere?
one more doomed time and without much hope
going round and around to nowhere - Nick Cave
The genius of the Christian Hell isn't the suffering; it's the suffering in perpetuity.
Most faiths that incorporate into their theologies a place of punishment make it a way station where the souls can be purged of wickedness or impurities or bad karma before they can resume their progress, not a place of torment for the eternally damned. In such underworld afterlifes, the suffering may be great but it has an end and a rehabilitative purpose. In the Christian Hell, the suffering is without end and wholly punitive. Think of it as differing philosophies of incarceration. If nobody gets out of here alive, nobody gets out of there dead or alive.
I can't help it. Hell is what I think about when I think about the Iowa Caucuses. When I think of Hillary or Obama and Mitt or Huck I see only Titanic's deck chairs being rearranged on the bottom of the ocean. The familiar vain hope of another election cycle has turned desperate and evangelical, as though Hell were still only where we might end up, Ron Paul forbid. And Paul's millenarians, who regard him as America's latest last chance, keep doomsday watch against the blue helmets and detention camps of some imagined mongrel-socialist "New World Order." But that's to miss the more profound disorder, and the passing of each tipping point that locks us into its deeper circles.
It could have been another inside joke of the archly ironic universal mind that found Arlen Specter in Rawalpindi when Benazir Bhutto was struck down by her own magic bullet. If nothing else it does have good comic timing, but we've all seen its routine before and heard all the punchlines. Ever since the Roman Republic cut down the Gracchi brothers you'd think the assassination of another patrician reformer should cease to astonish, and perhaps at last it has. We've been living this hell long enough we should expect it, as Bhutto herself almost certainly did.
Our dying oceans incubate slime and bloom strange with jellyfish, North America's birds are disappearing on the order of tens of millions, and amphibians the world over are tumbling to extinction. It's 2008, the "Year of the Frog" to "generate public awareness and understanding of the amphibian extinction crisis which represents the greatest species conservation challenge in the history of humanity." But to too many, 2008 will be a triumph of sorts simply because Bush and Cheney will be out of office by its end. "Change" and "Hope" are great vote multipliers, but to imagine that merely outlasting a term limit could be something like a victory is to misunderstand the meaning of public office in a deep criminal state, and to misapprehend our intractable circumstance whose closest analogy may be damnation.