Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dante: An Alternative Interpretation

Many of you have read Dante's Inferno in school, and probably remember it as a ghastly description of ironic punishments for various sins. Of course, there are two other sections of the Divine Comedy describing purgatory and heaven, but people don't seem to talk about those as much for some reason. But what if this great work was not intended to be taken literally?

My interpretation is that hell, heaven and purgatory as described in the Divine Comedy actually refer to states of mind as opposed to physical locations. Of course, I have no way of knowing if this is what Dante really meant. I am quite sure, however, that if it was what he meant, he couldn't say so openly, at least not if he didn't want to experience a fiery death at the hands of the inquisition.

Let's start with the inferno. In my view, the inferno is life experienced by materialists and dualists, people who either believe that the material world is all that exists, or believe that the spiritual world is separate from the material world. Some of these people suffer through life as a result of their sins and desires; others live a basically good life as a result of their virtue, but their world view functions as a strict limit on their experience.

For those who believe that there is something more than atoms and energy, but that the something more is not separate from our existence, there is still the matter of getting rid of the baggage I mentioned in earlier posts. Hence, purgatory has the function of "burning" away the beliefs and concepts that prevent us from realizing the unity underlying all things.

That leaves heaven, where the unity is experienced directly in varying degrees. I have read that there have been and even now still are people who have had this experience. Our ultimate goal as recovering materialists is to experience this world for ourselves.

No comments: