Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Infernova

You may have noticed (or probably not) a new blog link on the left side of the page called "Alenthony's Inferno." That's a blog site kept by one of my good friends, and I recommend it to you heartily.

Alenthony has recently published his first book, a work of epic poetry that satirizes Dante's Inferno. It's called "The Infernova."

I read it in about 24 hours. It's not long, but I couldn't put the book down. It's written in rhyming verse, and that had me nervous at first because I've read very little epic poetry in my life, and never rhyming epic poetry.

And yet, shockingly, he pulled it off. It flowed like a Homerian epic, and I mean that sincerely. As I told him, I'm no expert poet, but I do dabble in it now and then and have published some of my own poetry - and I could never pull off what he pulled off. The style fits the symbolic, dream-like state of the story, and the rhyme scheme is authentic and clean; it never distracts from the plot. I was genuinely impressed and I had no problem reading and understanding what was being said.

The book, as I said, is an epic poem that creates a symbolic satire of Dante's Inferno in reverse: instead of gays and Jews and adulterers in this new hell, it's scam artists and conspiracy theorists and scheming politicians and televangelists (among others). It's written as a sort of symbolic dream in a computerized future, so everything seen is not real, but a computer simulation. This is how Alenthony gets around the problem of sounding like a hell-fire and damnation preacher. It's only a symbolic hell, not a real hell. The narrator's guide through hell is none other than Mark Twain, which I thought was a really clever twist.

I would be lying if I described it as anything other than "atheist" fiction. In fact, the small publishing company that my friend set up to publish the book states, on its website, that it caters to: "...freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, pantheists, and humanists."

There is no love lost for religious thinking in this book, though I would describe the book in general as more of an apologetic for rationalism and intellectual honesty than a polemic against religion. Still, traditional believers would find much to offend them, no doubt, in this book. Alenthony doesn't pull any punches in regards to his perception of how religion has affected and continues to affect the world.

Of course, I don't agree with all the ideologies present in the story. I'm not an atheist, after all. I pointed out a few problems to him, in fact. Some of the gods and prophets in his symbolic hell are really just parodies of the original, and he seemed eager to "punish" people in his hell even if they, themselves, were okay but their ideas and teachings got used by others for evil. Be that as it may, most of his ideology is pretty well on target, and it's important to remember that this is epic poetry and satire, not biography.

The punishments he contrives for the various intellectual "crimes" match the real-world crime perfectly in dream-world symbolism. For instance, conspiracy theorists are broken down into pulp inside a paper mill, and their bodies become the tabloids they previously had published, written for, and circulated. Similarly, televangelists are encased inside tombs where they must shout and preach for eternity, and their "hot air" heats the interior of their tombs to hellish proportions.

Alenthony's "hell," like Dante's, is composed of 9 levels, with each level populated by increasingly more horrific sinners against intellect and rationalism. Some notable figures - some surprising and some not-so-surprising - show up: Nostrodamus and Joseph Smith, for instance, but also great scientists like Newton, Faraday, and even Albert Einstein.

As for ideology in specific, there were a few things that I stringently disagreed with. I have already noted how some of his prophets and gods are really just parodies of the original and how he lumps basically "good" religious people into his hell. As I said to him, one would have to wonder if Ghandi, Schweitzer, and MLK Jr. (though they are not named specifically) were also in this vision of hell, since they certainly taught and worked from within a specific religious worldview, albeit a very humanist one.

I also disagreed with his depiction (though not a caustic one) of Jesus. Jesus basically takes the fall because so many people for so many centuries have misused his teachings for evil. That doesn't seem fair.

My belief is that the historical Jesus was a radical ethicist, who certainly would have couched his beliefs in divine language, but whose primary message was one of breaking down social barriers, negating the systemic evil of the world around him, and preaching a new vision of a world without physical and emotional and cultural oppression. In that sense, he is relevant not only for his own ancient, patriarchal and imperial time period, but also for the modern world. Again, that he has been frequently misused by 2000 years of theology is not his own personal fault, nor the fault of his own vision/theology.

There was a specific comment in the text, pg 151, that I found fault with: "We've always had sadistic villains, but to cause benign and otherwise good people to be bad requires organized religion." That seems like an ad hoc fallacy.

Was it organized religion, or systemic evil and fear, that made complicit criminals out of so many Germans involved in the Holocaust? Hitler's actions can be explained as the evil of a madman - but it took thousands of regular joes to carry out the Holocaust. What led them to be complicit in that? Anti-Semitism was certainly rife within Lutheran Christianity, but even Luther himself never suggested genocide. You can think Jews are Christ-killers without actually wanting to go kill Jews. I think it was systemic evil and fear that led to the Holocaust, not organized religion.

Evil does not require religion. And mass evil also doesn't require religion. In addition to the Holocaust, consider Communist Russia and the countless leaders and military personnel complicit in Stalin's reign of terror. Clearly organized religion in that atheist government was not behind their mass complicity in systemic evil.

These really are minor quibbles with the book, however. Again, it is epic poetry with symbolic meaning, not biography or objective history. All in all, I thought the book was absolutely excellent. It was brilliantly composed with a literary style equal to any great writer; it's structure and development was clever and meaningful; and within an atheist worldview, it's ideology was consistent and poignant.

I highly recommend "The Infernova" to anyone who fancies themselves a progressive or freethinker, or any atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist who enjoys and appreciates good literature with a meaningful plot.

Here are a few links:

Blackburnian Press, my friend's small publishing company.

"The Infernova" on Barnes & Noble's website.

"The Infernova" on Amazon.

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