Booked up – Alison Healy on people who want to reserve a special place in hell for vast swathes of the population

A warm welcome

And now for some breaking news. Hell is completely booked up. Surprising, I know, but there was a recent upsurge in bookings from people who wanted to reserve a special place in hell for vast swathes of the population.

I blame Madeleine Albright. Back in 2016, the former US secretary of state was addressing a campaign rally for US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when she said there was a special place in hell reserved for women who did not help other women. It wasn’t her first time to trot out this line but it has been adopted with gusto since then.

Every minor slight now causes people to clamour for a special place in hell for the perceived transgressor.

A cursory online search finds that a special place in hell has been reserved for:

*Inventors of poorly-designed toilet paper dispensers

*People whose online reviews contain spoilers and no spoiler warnings

*Customers who are rude to food service workers

*People who leave toast crumbs in the butter

*Commuters who don’t use earphones when they scroll through social media videos

*Manufacturers of price tags that leave a sticky residue when you remove them

I could list 100 more examples, but you see where this is going. Yes, these people are undoubtedly a major blight on society, but we need to exercise some caution when relegating people to suffer eternal damnation. Otherwise, if you look sideways at someone, you could be the beneficiary of a special place in hell. And if we keep a special place in hell for these scoundrels, how are we going to squeeze in all the war criminals and other hell-deserving deviants?

Is the woman who won’t allow a car to merge into her traffic lane going to find herself cheek by jowl with Hitler? Is Mao Zedong going to be breathing down the neck of the man who blocks the supermarket aisle with his trolley while he searches for cereal? Is Stalin going to be sharing his circle of hell with the woman who says, “how and ever” when she means “however”?

Of course, Madeleine Albright didn’t invent the idea of reserving a place in hell for people we despise. Another famous Democrat, John F Kennedy, was fond of deploying the idea. He liked to cite Dante’s Inferno when he was criticising those who remained neutral at times of great injustice. “Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality,” he declared in 1956.

His brother Robert said it was his favourite quote. But the Italian writer said no such thing. In Inferno, Dante and his guide Virgil are on their way to hell when they pass a group of tortured souls in the vestibule, at the mouth of hell. He learns that, because they sat on the fence at a time of great moral decision, they cannot enter either heaven or hell.

They are condemned to an eternity of being bitten by wasps and hornets and having their blood and tears sucked up by the sickening worms at their feet. A bit harsh, you might think, but not as bad as the river of boiling blood and fire that has been laid on for the murderers. And wait until you see what he does with the traitors.

Dante famously used the writing of Inferno to punish his real-life enemies. He dispatched them to various circles of hell, depending on their misdeeds. It brings to mind that Christmas episode of Father Ted when Ted Crilly won a Golden Cleric award for averting a scandal. He had taken charge of a group of panicked priests when they lost their way in what I understand was Ireland’s largest lingerie section. Just like Dante’s epic poem, Ted Crilly’s award acceptance speech was extremely long and just like Dante, he used it to settle old scores. The priest devised columns to cater for liars, twats and the other assorted enemies he had amassed.

But that’s not where the similarities end between Dante and Father Ted. Inferno is just part one of Dante’s three-part epic, The Divine Comedy. Purgatory is the second poem, and can you think of a better description of Purgatory than Craggy Island? The three priests must serve their time there as punishment for their failings. When it appears that Ted is going to America, we are left wondering if he is destined for heaven or hell. And of course, there is one more, very obvious link between Father Ted and Dante’s masterpiece. The theme tune of Father Ted is written by The Divine Comedy. And that concludes my Ted Talk.

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