Hell and god

Maybe we’ve all been thinking about hell a bit more this past week. Here’s an excerpt from The Book that I read at Hugo House’s Works in Progress last Monday night.

Hell and god

“Can you believe in hell if you don’t believe in God?” While she was working up her courage to call Jack, Louie remembered when she’d had this conversation with him, typing her question into the Skype chat box, trying yet again to avoid work she’d rather not do. Despite the nine-hour time difference, it wasn’t too long before her Skype icon had flashed with his reply.

“Why, don’t you believe in God, Louie?”

“Well, I’ve had experiences that are sort of spiritual, I guess. Once when I was in college I was listening to a talk about some priests and their housekeeper who had been murdered in El Salvador. It was the usual terrible story meant to rouse us students to a semblance of involvement in political action, you know, the way our profs in the 80’s kept trying to get us to act like they did in the 60’s, or really like they wanted us to believe they did in the 60’s, but probably didn’t. Anyway, I was listening to the horror story about the murders, and all of a sudden I was taken by this feeling.”

“Feeling? Like what kind of feeling?”

“This  – feeling –  that even though I couldn’t forgive the murderers, there was something bigger, something that could forgive them.”

“Something like God?”

“I don’t know, just something that was bigger than me.”

“So, do you believe in God, Lou?”

“I don’t think there is a God like a person, like God the father or mother or whatever. Not a God who alternates between watching out for us and punishing us for breaking his rules. Not a God who is a who, you know?”

“So what do you believe in?”

“That’s harder.”

“It usually is. It’s usually harder to know what to believe in than what not to believe in. It’s easy to rule stuff out. Tougher to rule stuff in.”

“Oh, like the null hypothesis.”

“Right. But, Lou, you still haven’t answered the question. What do you believe in?”

“I believe in two things, Jack. One of them is love.”

“Some people say God is love.”

“I don’t need love to be God. I just need love to be there.”

“Lou, do you really think love is possible?”

“I think love is necessary. Love is the Great Spirit. Love is bigger than any single one of us. You can’t love by yourself, you know. There has to be someone or something else to love.”

“Oh, I can love myself…”

“Stop it, Jack. That’s disgusting.”

“Not the way I do it…it’s really a beautiful thing.”

“Well, that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“Why you have to wear those glasses. You’re slowly going blind.”

“Not so slowly, let me tell you. And I’m having a great time destroying my eyesight.”

“Okay, okay, I give. You win this round of the Completely Inappropriate Conversation Olympics.”

“That’s all I ask – just to win one round, occasionally. So Lou, what’s the other thing you believe in, Lou?”


“Wait. Don’t you have to believe in God to believe in hell?”


“They just seem to go together, you know, like peanut butter and jelly, milk and Oreos, pickles and ice cream.”

“Pickles and ice cream?”

“If you’re pregnant.”

“Or in hell.”

“Good point. But you’re dodging the question again, Louie. How can you believe in hell but not believe in God?”

“I don’t know, Jack, but I can. I think hell is the place we make when we deny love.”

“Oh, you mean hell on earth.”

“Hell wherever we are, whenever we decide something else is more important or more real than love.”

“I like that.”

“You like hell?”

“No, I like the idea that nothing is more important or more real than love.”

“Me too, Jack. Me too.”

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