Well, perhaps it has started. In Vellore, south India, we learn that a man was struck dead by a meteorite on Saturday. He was a bus driver; for all we know, a rude one. Two gardeners and a student were also injured in the strike: already we discern a pattern. Officials of the Tamil Nadu government found the crater (5 feet in diameter, 2 in depth), and have recovered from it a charred stone, of some 180 grains, more or less. That would be the weight of an old silver rupee. It was glassy black, and had pockmarks — like a meteor. The size, its likely speed, and the damage fit together nicely: windows blown or cracked to a modest distance; dead leaves ignited. These officials expressed willingness to pay out one lakh of current paper rupees to the family of the deceased, as a kind of prize. Then less, proportionately, to the injured bystanders.
“Scientists,” so-called, doubt the story. They claim long odds against anyone getting hit by a meteor (“astronomical”), and insist no one had been previously so impacted in recorded history. Besides, they need those meteors themselves, for their own fond accounts of how the world came to be.
But Indian authorities reply, the scientific claims are reckless. An American woman was hit by a meteor at Sylacauga, Alabama, in November 1954. They have a back number of the National Geographic to prove it.
I shall be checking Drudge and the Times of India for further such reports, against a list of likely targets — e.g. trolley drivers in the Greater Parkdale Area; cab drivers and passengers alike; horn-blowers attempting to make heretical left turns in rush-hour traffic; errant cheesemongers in the Kensington Market; talk-show radio hosts, and so on. One expects thunderbolts, usually; but these are times when more may be required.
For it is my suspicion that things have gone too far; that we have reached a point where unambiguously cosmic interventions may be necessary. And my beloved Hilaire Belloc — a sound theological mind if anyone ever had one — did suggest that one of the pleasures of Heaven will be throwing rocks at the damned. It is a topic on which I have sometimes meditated.
A good modern mind will not see the humour here; just as he will be unable to see any of the humour in Rabelais, or in the preceding Catholic generations, back through Middle and Dark Ages — when people were often laughing, at things the modern mind has since ruled to be, “Not Funny.” For as our children are taught to think, so compassionately, today: “Oh, the poor fellow, how he hurts: all suffering is evil!”
To the victim, yes, I should think pain is evil; one might even say, pain and death are evils in themselves; but not always to the contextual observer. Rather, I am convinced that a cheap sentimental “compassion,” broadcast especially in literature and art, was among the most destructive contrivances of “The Enlightenment” — designed to make us wince at pain alone, and thus purposefully aimed at all objective moral judgement.
By strict contrast, to your mediaeval mind, or your genuinely Catholic one in all times and places, suffering has a use. That would certainly include one’s own suffering. Compassion, or “empathy” in its updated, mind-reading form, is to be engaged for the Good, and not to undermine it; satire keeps it from wandering off course. Thus, the frustration and thwartment of real evil, however brutal the means to that end, is held to have a lighter side. (So many of the oldest of the old Christian jokes mock the Devil hisself, for his little miscalculations.)
The traditional Catholic stands frequently accused of indulging “black,” or, shall we say, “sick” humour. Such as the kind spontaneously expressed by the four well-raised daughters of a household dear to me, when they discovered that the hole in the fuselage of a (safely landed) Somali airliner was created by a terrorist who managed to blow only himself out of the plane. Their response was to roll on the floor laughing. It was a classic Rabelaisian skit, in addition to being factually true.
Now, we could go into the deep argument for the necessary existence of Hell, via Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas. (Or, check out Socrates at the end of the Gorgias.) Impenitent immortal commitment to evil requires its equal and opposite, in the balance of things. And of course, Our Lord warns repeatedly of Hell in Scripture. It is not Catholic to correct Him. But a meteor could strike me before I go to the trouble of digging out all the references today. Suffice to say, the modern mind thinks sentimentally about things that are not, in their nature, sentimental. But might just possibly be funny, as the angle of reason is slightly flexed.
I have many times been called to account for snickering out of place. One does not, for instance, make a joke, even about the demise of a Saddam Hussein, or an Osama bin Laden, if one is a good liberal. It is in the poorest possible taste. (As Malcolm Muggeridge once explained, humour is by definition in bad taste.)
“No one must ever make light of a death,” the trolls advise, with their stern judgemental faces. On the other hand, when Margaret Thatcher dies of natural causes, they lighten right up. (See this excellent psychological study of the liberal mind and character in action: here.)
The Chinese Hell, or Dìyù, is much like ours in its architecture, having eighteen levels (a pair for each circle in Dante’s). The punishments get worse as one goes down: this much is in common between folk animist, Taoist, and Buddhist accounts, which vary slightly in their particulars. In all, the tortures are pretty gruesome. Not even at the top level could one wish to be.
Indeed, the modern liberal mind is unique, in doubting the existence of Hell and Heaven. For they are known, so far as I can see, to all cultures. The differences of view on fine points of layout, or on the quickest routes up and down, are quibbles in light of such general agreement.
By way of shout-out to my Chinese friends, I mention this today on their New Year’s. The year of the Fire Monkey is upon us, for a fact. Watch where ye go, while ye can, says the Monkey; and when ye can no longer, don’t bother to dodge. For we have what is coming to us, in a universe that will be proved Just, exactly; to incredible units of astronomical accuracy.