A VIEW FROM HELL
He drank and drank, swallowing truth straight out of the bottle…
I was a newly returned missionary, but when I came over to my uncle's house that afternoon I felt my confidence in faith beginning to seem grim. I watched from a safe distance across the room as he exclaimed, "Listen! I have received a view from Hell."
He was my uncle. His name was Nephi: a traditional name for our church. Nephi is the name of the first book of The Book of Mormon, titled for the man who wrote it. You might know us better as Mormons, but we call ourselves LDS, which is short for Latter Day Saints. The full name of our church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
I digress. The point is that his name was Nephi, which was in no way unusual in our church. In fact, my uncle and I shared the name. That perilous day when he hadn't answered his phone I let myself in through the front door, which was never locked. It was odd to call out my own name as I entered, but that entire visit ended up being out of the ordinary
The thing you have to understand about LDS is that when we go on missions, we are Elders. They called us Elder and follow it with our last name. For example, I would be called Elder Shipley. That means that for 2 years, the typical mission length for men, I was not called by my first name. Nephi. It felt foreign, but I was adjusting to recognizing the name as my own. Now I'd have to call another that name too? It all felt a bit surreal. Perhaps I was just having an off day. Whatever the reason, I was distracted walking across the threshold.
Upon entering his cozy, red living room, I clearly saw him stooped in his recliner. Nephi's eyes were glazed. When he told me to sit it was as if he'd been expecting me or as if I had just momentarily stepped out of the room. Without the formality of even a hello, I found myself listening to his story.
As he spoke Nephi's face alternated between indifference and animalistic rage. He may have claimed to have seen Hell, but I claim I saw the devil. It was within him and had driven him mad. My uncle began, "I have seen Hell and it is a mirror in which we have to look forever. I didn't need Virgil to guide me; I didn't see demon-faced creatures. I saw me. It's a perdition no one should have to live with. Actually, the primary shock of finding what it's like reminds me of the first time I had sex. She was an older woman that whispered to me things I couldn't have known I'd want to hear. I wished I'd have had time to be nervous about inevitably getting fucked, fucked hard. Well, there was no god damn time."
I hadn't heard a curse word or vulgarity in my 2 years away on my mission. Additionally, this wasn't the uncle I knew. He had a tendency to be grumpy, but somehow I had always seen him as a depiction of faith. At least I think I did. It was hard to think of details, but I knew he had a rough time when he and my dad moved out. His membership with the church had been a miracle. My uncle was a man who once had a testimony, but that wasn't evident now. He cursed. He drank. A stench rolled off of him; I noticed his clothes looked like they'd been worn for weeks. He ambitiously looked to play the role of both sloth and glutton simultaneously.
He motioned with his rum bottle, which seemed a natural extension of him. "Satan obediently left me the mirror. 'Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven?' From below Satan serves God more than he ever did above" he chuckled. I told him I was going to leave, but I'd be back. Truthfully, I wanted to run to the Bishop and suggest an exorcism. There was a heavy anger dripped onto his word. He was so furious that he spit as he spoke, "Let me finish! Again and again I have expended so much time listening to you. It's my turn."
His eyes watched me intently. I searched the room, looking for a distraction because the truth was that I had a panging ache in my stomach that I knew came from my suppression of outward fear. I said a silent prayer and asked the spirit to stay with me so I'd know what to do. It always led me in times before.
You see, the spirit was a gift. I was given to me in the traditional way: in front of the congregation after my baptism at age 8. It is given by men laying their hands on you, telling you to try to keep this gift close for the spirit may not always dwell with you. The Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples (Hel. 4:24 of the Book of Mormon). From that time forth I have fought to keep my temple holy. I've kept it from men like this.
"I'm trying to help you, Nephi. I went to Hell. I was instructed to spend eternity with each cell of my body screaming out in denial of what I was." I saw he really thought he had transcended and it made no sense to me. Afterlife was a simple lesson any LDS missionary would have given hundreds of times by the end of his 2 year service. After we die, we are placed behind a spiritual veil. Everyone goes to the same place; some of us will teach and the rest will listen and be given the chance to convert. I suppose at that point you would examine yourself, but even if you deny the Gospel you don't go to Hell--- not the red, flaming Hell one man dreamed up.
God isn't about condemning.
There is a Judgment where we are placed in one of the three kingdoms and it is true that some of us will not reside in the highest Celestial Kingdom with our Father. My uncle Nephi was not married, a mandatory sealing that we needed to partake in, so he was perhaps worried he'd end up in the secondary Terrestrial Kingdom. That didn't make total sense either though. Even if he ended up in the lowest Telestial Kingdom, who'd ever heard of it being a place of mirrors?
He waited for me to say something. Talking as quick as I thought, I asked how he got to his Hell. "I fell asleep drunk, dying of alcohol poisoning." Continuing as if he knew my thoughts he said, "You are right about Judgment coming before placement, but let me paint a more accurate illustration of how it goes: I saw God. He was young, maybe your age, early 20's. He was sitting at a small table directly in the center of a black marble room. God was relaxed. He was in slacks and a button up shirt, top button undone.
"The second I uttered who I knew him to be he followed with, 'Hello, Nephi. Let's play.'
"God motioned for me to sit so I did so quickly. It wasn't until I was sitting that I saw he held a gun in one hand and a bullet in the other.
" 'Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Which of us will the gun be pointed at? Your choice,' God uttered with a smile. I could not decide at first, but he told me 'Choose or I will shoot you before you have even a moment to blink.'
"I said, 'It will be facing at me, Lord.'
"God nodded and said, 'Good choice. I'd have shot you if you said otherwise. Now, put the bullet in the gun.' He handed me the pieces, being careful not to touch me. I was shaking as I loaded it.
" 'Do you know how to play Russian roulette? I know all so I know that you do. Spin the cylinder, Nephi.'
" 'Yes, Lord.' I said. I spun it and then tried to hand the gun back to God.
" He threw his hand up saying, 'No, you will do it yourself. Point the gun at your head and pull the trigger.'
"I did. I pulled and there was nothing in the chamber. 'Again,' God urged.
"I pulled the trigger another 4 times. The only chamber left inevitably held the bullet.
" 'Please!' I cried out. 'I played the game; I've won again and again. Please let me go.'
" He got very cross. 'If you insist on leaving my presence then I must insist the same. Do you see the door behind you?' When I turned around there was a door. I nodded as I admired the intricate carvings of the wooden door. 'You may go back to your living room and live within the Hell of your mind.' I thanked God and ran quickly for the door.
" 'Oh, and Nephi!' God yelled after me. I paused right as I had my hand on the doorknob.
"Turning around slowly, I asked cautiously, 'Yes, Lord?'
" 'You've bored me.'
"I heard a noise that mimicked a gavel. The sound bellowed from all the black marble walls of the Judgment room. God had fired the gun at me, killing me abruptly and violently.
"There was a shattering sound that I realized was coming from within me--- it was my faith. It was crumbled, leaving my insides to decry their maker. I shut my eyes and screamed with no sound. When I opened my eyes again I was stark naked in a place with no floors or walls. It was incomprehensible. Satan emerged as an angel of light. I didn't feel any fear seeing his ethereal face. He bowed his head like he was praying and then the mirror appeared. Satan vanished, leaving me to see only myself in front of the mirror."
The Hell of his mind--- it was all starting to make sense.
"You know what I realized? God is a cheat--- his compassion is trickery. You are permitted to do whatever you want. However, you must live with the consequences. This is not merciful; it is a perverted justice. Let's think about the root of that word, just. Can't we say in modern times that the word just is often showing of limitation? That's just how it is."
I felt myself nodding in agreement as he asked, "Now, isn't that a guile bitch?"
I stopped myself mid-nod to pray once more. What was wrong with me? The spirit inside me told me it was time to leave. Conviction told me it was time to preach. The latter escaped in a quiet voice that told Nephi what he said was blasphemy. Nephi shook his impious head and clenched the chair. "This is nothing."
Why had conviction won out? I felt the spirit leave me as I began to think no prayer could help me if he wanted to hurt me. Nephi had not vocalized any threat of physical violence, but he snorted as he exhaled and I began to picture a bull ready to charge.
My uncle's gray eyes looked black and piercing. "What are you looking so hard at?" he asked. He swung his arm so that some of his rum flew across the room and I felt drops of it splash my face. It was the equivalent of throwing holy water on a demon, only I was the holy and Nephi the demon.
I started to feel anger well up within me. He shouldn't be so fucking surprised he ended up in hell with his behavior being what it is, I said. He laughed a booming laugh and puffed out his chest. Actually, it would be more accurate to say it looked like something was pulling his upper torso out of the chair. He moved unnaturally as he laughed. I couldn't be scared of him in that moment though. I was too busy trying to remember ever cursing before just then.
I took a deep breath and wondered if this vision was perhaps a warning. I thought maybe he should pray and ask for revelation. Maybe we both should! I would pray with him. "I know your mind. I know your thoughts," he said. "You think I should cry out, 'O Lord.' It was no vision! I was in Hell and God is the reason I was there. He gave up on me! In Hell, you realize that is why you're there and why all of us will end up there. That is why we are offered up to Hell--- given over to the fallen one. Lucifer, Satan, Devil: just names to take detest. Who put us into circumstances that we cannot help and gave us feelings we cannot change? We are expected to get through existence with only a book and people, which constantly fail us. We are given a direct number to God, yet all I ever got was "NO SIGNAL" flashing before me. There is no calling God for help. You're stuck.
"I know you truly believe I deserve Hell, as you start to admit there is such a thing. Well, I argue that anyone that deserves Hell was blameless until God fucked him over. I say fuck God back!" I felt my soul start to be attacked by doubt and it panicked me. I suddenly began to lose memory of how I even ended up in this living room. No, I said. What was happening?
Not caring about my struggle, my uncle continued, "You are given one freedom in Hell: to move within your mind. It is your ability to reflect in a way more intense than you were allowed while living. The demons in Hell are the ones in your mind. They are the personas you find nestled within. If it's there in your mind, you'll find it. You can see everything. You are forever in the mirror.
"I've played back my time moment by moment as if outside my body. Indeed, some of the actions I took trying to figure out my life were disappointing. However, I ask you where was God to assist when I sought him out? God has no intention of bringing anyone salvation.
"When my father came into our childhood room each night to touch and then beat us, I prayed with my brother. That's right. It happened to my brother, your father, too. To this day I think your dad is just a queer that chooses to be blinded by faith because he can't handle the reality of what was done to him. That shit didn't stop until the day we moved out. What, you thought our family was perfect because we go back generations as members? Maybe you can't handle the truth either, Nephi. Maybe you're just as big a pussy as your fag father."
He took a big swig from his bottle then held it out to offer me some. I shook my head. My hands were in fists. I wanted to punch him again and again until he shut up.
"God let that happen. And I'm the one with problems? I must be a real ignominy. Yes, I guess I was such a letdown for not playing along with God's personal porno that he finished with me early. He said, 'It is finished,' and breathed Hell unto me. Well guess what, God? I know your secrets!" Nephi stood up and began to dance with the rum bottle in his hand. I'd had enough. I got up to leave, but he ran quickly towards me saying, "Leave if you must, but I told you the truth, son." Something irrevocable had occurred in him. It was the Devil who spoke from my uncle's mouth. He suddenly looked years older than the man I'd first came upon in that room.
The animalistic rage came back across his face. He pushed me against a wall and placed his forearm against my throat. "You, Missionary/Bishop/Prophet/Whatever-You-Presume-To-Be, will spend forever waiting on a celestial being that doesn't give a shit about you. You satisfy people in this life by promising a better next. You make the letdown of afterlife that much greater by spreading the Gospel. You'll end up in Hell too, you know!"
Startled yet furious, I managed to grab the bottle in his hand and chuck it into his fireplace. It shattered; I thought I also heard a gavel in the distance as my body started to go limp. "There is no weeping, no gnashing, and no grinding of teeth. Just forever seeing this mirror and being forced to examine your God-given right to opprobrium." He let me fall to the floor. I coughed and heaved. Tears were rushing down my face. Something inside me felt like it was undone. Nephi went into the kitchen and came back out with two cups and a new bottle, which he then filled in front of me. I took the glass. My throat burned, but I drank it in one gulp.
"Good boy. At least you know now that there is indeed a God. I am not so obdurate that I won't admit man has a father. He resides far from here, above us, looking down. He sends people to be dealt with after condemning them from the start. God is like the children they say grow up to be serial killers, killing small animals for fun."
At last I closed my eyes as my head began to rush.
"I think we're done for today, Nephi."
I opened my eyes and found them looking into a mirror. In the mirror was my uncle's room, but I wasn't in it. My uncle was lying on the floor, with my glass, in the same spot I'd just been in. Before I could realize I wasn't real, only a perverted persona of the man he once killed, the missionary was gone.
Nephi looked at his own reflection as he sat alone in his red living room, the Hell of his mind. He nodded saying, "He is that he is."