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

Salwa Khoddam skhoddam at cox.net
Tue Apr 26 00:45:34 EDT 2011

Did you see the latest issue of Time?  There's an article titled "Is Hell Dead?" I'm afraid I haven't read it yet, but it is about rogue pastor Rob Bell--no mention of Milton, though there's a cartoon of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Salwa Khoddam, Ph.D.
Professor of English, Emerita
Oklahoma City University
2501 N. Blackwelder
OKC, OK  73106
Phone:  405-208-5127
Email:  skhoddam at cox.net
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Nancy Charlton 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Monday, April 25, 2011 7:41 PM
  Subject: [Milton-L] NY Times Op-Ed piece by Ross Douthat


  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:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/opinion/25douthat.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

  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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