In his narrative poem, Dante reveals that the journey to God is the journey into reality. He moves from one circle to another with the help of Beatrice, who is a symbolic representation of theology. Dante descends into Purgatory, travels through Inferno, and reaches Paradise. The poem has attracted millions of readers worldwide because both atheists and religious people believe that there is heaven.
The Reasons Why People Believe in Heaven
Many atheists believe in the afterlife but do not practice religion at all. A study conducted by Phil Zuckerman and Dr. Nigel Barber showed that when a country supports capitalism and is politically, economically, and existentially stable, then atheism blossoms, but at the same time, most people believe in heaven (Zuckerman et al.). A good example of such country is Japan. According to Dante, this reality exists because the truth is neither a set of ideas nor a set of beliefs (Durling 95). He believes that the truth goes beyond a language, history, and even facts; otherwise, it would be not the truth but a contingency and subjective view on ideas. Thus, the existence of heaven is self-subsistent but not contingent (Moevs 3).
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Aristotle noticed that Dante’s description of the places that he visited is similar to the scientific description of the universe. However, in The Divine Comedy, the earth is the center (Durling 23). During his pilgrimage, Dante finds himself lost in the woods. Being scared, he wanders in the forest and meets Virgil. Dante’s journey is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise (Paradiso). The first part is Hell or Inferno. Dante goes through nine circles of hell, where different sinners are punished. He first enters the Ante-Inferno occupied by those people who are torn between good and bad. The last circle is closest to Lucifer, and it is inhabited by the worst sinners. Dante and the ghost of Virgil go to Purgatory and meet Lucifer. The main character crosses the river of forgetfulness; therefore, it is hard for him to remember his pilgrimage. Dante travels through Inferno from Good Friday to Easter Monday. After Inferno, Dante goes through Paradise with the help of Beatrice.
During his pilgrimage, Dante moves from the physical world to the Empyrean or true Heaven. Beatrice is the personification of theology. She is one of the three women who guide Dante through Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Heaven is difficult to describe because it is not a place. It does not get old with time because there is no time in it (Durling 27). It is divine and dimensionless. However, it has one characteristic it moves so fast. The other planets are motionless stars, and the Earth is its axis. Dante’s poem is a comedy and not a tragedy because the main character reaches heaven and divine love. Dante focuses on the seriousness of his thoughts even if they represent danger. For instance, the mortal threats of hounds, as well as lamb and the does, which he feels are misjudged, are mortal. The hound and murderers are a representation of predators or deadly threats.
Although Dante vividly describes Purgatory, the poem still remains a comedy and not a tragedy (Durling 267). The poem has a happy ending as Dante sees Paradise and meets famous saints. According to Dante, the existence of heaven is one of an experience. Most people believe in life after death. In the poem, Timaeus says that the soul returns to its star, believing that it had fallen down from there when Nature gave it to be a form” (Durling 87). Therefore, almost everyone believes that there is a heaven or place where souls go to after physical death. This is why people feel that there is life after death even if they are not religious.
Why Does Everyone Seem to Go to Heaven?
Everyone, including sinners, will go to heaven. This is Dante’s allegory. There exist several places with different types of punishment. Everyone will be sent to a specific place according to his or her sins. The main thing is which place a person will go to and not whether he/she will go to heaven or not. Everyone is sinful, and no one but God is good. Consequently, most people, apart from saints, are sent to different circles in order to get punishment for their sins. For example, Circle I is occupied by virtuous pagans who died before the birth of Christ (Angliss). Circles II and III are inhabited by gluttons and people who are overcome with lust. In Circle VII, people are punished with the rain of fire. This circle is for those who were violent to others; blasphemers are forced to lie upon the sand, while loan sharks walk with a heavy bag of money on their necks.
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What Would Dante Say About All of This?
In his 11th Canto, Dante says that God created humanity and gave it the power of choice (Durling 298). However, a person chooses to sin; therefore, his/her offspring are damned (Durling 149). Dante is a strict judge because God made a sacrifice after the first sin of people. Although those who repent of their sins can be saved, he feels that humanity will never be the same as it was before the first sin. When Dante travels through Hell, he sometimes becomes sympathetic to those who are not on the righteous path because he was also lost and trapped in limbo. Dante had been frightened until Virgil arrived and showed him the right path. His emotions towards sinners change, and he feels pity when he approaches the last circles.
During his pilgrimage, Dante is stern in judgment and believes that humankind will never be the same after the fall of man (Holloway 164). However, Dante feels that through the love of God and real sacrifice, people can cleanse their souls. In Hell, Dante meets his acquaintance Ciacco. At first, he is strict with him but remembers that he was a good man in the physical world and starts to treat him kindly. Dante chooses Ciacco to represent gluttons. Being a strict judge, he still feels sympathy for sinners and treats them with kindness. If people do good deeds on earth, they can be saved on Judgment Day. However, in some cases, Dante feels that “force become mixed with the will so that the sins cannot be excused” (Durling 89). Dante believes that people have a choice and will. Some sins are committed willfully, while others are committed unintentionally. Dante thinks that there is an afterlife, and all people will live in a specific circle according to the nature of their sins.
To conclude, even if people are not religious, they still believe that there is an afterlife. Dante goes to three different places: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. During his pilgrimage, Virgil and Beatrice help him. As Dante crosses the river of forgetfulness, he cannot remember his journey. He feels that people have a choice and will. Individuals commit sins both intentionally and unintentionally. However, through the love of God and atonement, people can cleanse and save their souls.