1990s >> 1996 >> no-1098-february-1996

A Word in Your Ear: What do you do with an unemployed devil?

The news hot off the press from the Church of England that Hell, as a real place, no longer exists, is hardly the kind of startling revelation that intelligent people have been waiting to hear. Who in their right minds ever believed that an infinite afterlife of burning in flames was a realistic option? According to the clergy, such punishment was the sentence determined by the (all-loving, all-powerful) God for those of us who refused to follow him. In short, unlike more compassionate sadists like Adolf Hitlcr, God took the view that to burn someone alive a mere once was too lenient; better let them roast for eternity. Such hateful scaremongering worked wonders at keeping countless generations of peasants, and millions of wage slaves, in their places as morally submissive victims of manmade laws such as those which defend the law of property.

Although the Church of England has changed its crazy little mind on this burning issue of our time, the Church of Scotland still maintains that Hell is a real place. Which must cause no end of trouble for the Queen, who is head of both; as she travels on her parasite’s railway carriage up the track to the north of England she is God’s representative on Earth of a religion which has abolished physical Hell, whereas as soon as she arrives in Scotland she is theologically committed to a religion which believes that Hell is as fiery and torturing as ever it was. Perhaps the only way she will be able to make up her mind on the matter will be to pay a personal visit there herself—with the rest of her class, preferably.

Who the hell gives a damn about Hell? (Except for Robert Maxwell, one presumes, for whom the issue must be of some direct significance.) As an issue it is not worth the time of intelligent thinkers. The Church of England’s babble about hell now being not a place but a condition of non-being (rather like being an activist for the Labour Party) is the metaphysical ranting of ideologists who are embarrassed at the extent to which they have been able to delude people with cruel fantasies. No, the real issue is not what these useless clerics think, but how it is that people make up their minds what to think.

Illustration: David Drew

For example, most people these days find it hard to believe that an invisible power-figure above the clouds controls their life. The experience of living in an increasingly scientifically-understood universe makes it hard to sustain such a belief. If you ask people whether such a supernatural power exists a minority will say that they are sure it does and the rest will be divided between non-believers and doubters. (Agnosticism always seems a rather odd position: it’s like asking someone whether there are fairies at the end of their garden and hearing them say “I doubt whether there are, but I believe there may very well be”. What a confused way to live one’s life!) The main thing we can say about what people believe is that understanding subverts belief; once something is scientifically explicable the days for believing silly stories about it are numbered. This accounts for the slow decline of the Church of England, which is much more interested in hanging on to its property than defending the old tripe of the past. It will account in due course for the death of Islam and the rest of the bogus faiths.

All of which leads to news of an encouraging report. In November of last year Gallup published the result of a nation-wide opinion poll asking the question “Do you think there is a class struggle in this country nor not?”, 81 percent responded that there is; 12 percent said there is not; and 6 percent didn’t know. Which compares with an identical poll conducted in March 1981 in which only 66 percent said there was a class struggle, 25 percent said there wasn’t and 9 percent didn’t know. Proof perhaps that experience has left workers less removed from the socialist analysis than pessimists might believe. And when those four out of five people get themselves organised to end the class struggle by ending class society, may we suggest that the millionaires and billionaires who currently monopolise the Earth and its riches prepare themselves for an age of non-being? (In short, they can go to hell).

Steve Coleman