[Milton-L] NY Times Op-Ed piece by Ross Douthat

Nancy Charlton nbcharlton at comcast.net
Mon Apr 25 20:41:46 EDT 2011


Ross Douthat's piece "The Case for Hell" in Sunday's NY Times 
could have been more clearly stated, but it did generate 295 
comments.  Had I seen it in time, there would have been 296.  His 
thesis is that the concept of Hell has lost currency in popular 
thought, and it just doesn't scare people as it once did.  He 
attributes this to pluralism and to feel-good evangelism. He 
makes some use of Dante's nine circles but makes little mention 
of any other literary descriptions of Hell.

The URL:  

Not once was Milton mentioned, not by Douthat nor in any of the 
comments, and I spent a couple reading them all (I excerpted some 
of them into a .doc file, if anyone would like it.) I felt that 
omission of any mention of Milton was a major omission, and I 
feel the need to discuss this issue from a Miltonic standpoint.  
Not that we haven't done so many times on Milton-L in one form or 
another, but some scrutiny of this aspect of contemporary culture 
might be worthwhile.

Anyway. I sent the following as a letter to the NYT:


Had I come upon Ross Douthat's article, "The Case for Hell" 
before the Comments were closed, I would have written at greater 
length than I'm doing here about the most cogent description of 
Hell in English literature, namely, that of Milton's "Paradise 
Lost." Several commenters came close but did not quote outright 
awell-known passage in PL: Satan's retort to Beelzebub's urging 
him to make nice with God:

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

Subjectivity and self-absorption, the "darkness visible," can so 
skew the moral sense that it is easily turned upside down.  This 
is the "hell," the real evil,  that all, regardless of religious 
opinion, can and should agree to eschew.  Though Satan gets the 
best lines, he doesn't get the last word: he and the damnèd crew 
are turned to a pit of hissing snakes and never heard from more 
while mercy and justice are meted out to Adam and Eve.

To fit the requirement of "about 150 words, I had to leave out a 
lot I would have liked to say. Milton does inspire prolixity by 
example, but it was, I admit, a nice exercise to write tight!

Nancy Charlton

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