Sayers on Hell

If we refuse assent to reality: if we rebel against the nature of things and choose to think that what we at the moment want is the centre of the universe to which everything else ought to accommodate itself, the first effect on us will be that the whole universe will seem to be filled with an inexplicable hostility. We shall begin to feel that everything has a down on us, and that, being so badly treated, we have a just grievance against things in general. That is the knowledge of good and evil and the fall into illusion. If we cherish and fondle that grievance, and would rather wallow in it and vent our irritation in spite and malice than humbly admit we are in the wrong and try to amend our behaviour so as to get back to reality, that is, while it lasts, the deliberate choice, and a foretaste of the experience of Hell.

—Dorothy L. Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante


  1. An interesting notion, this corresponds with the way that CS Lewis thought about Hell. In The Great Divorce particularly Hell was essentially a refusal to face reality.

  2. Stephen J. says

    A worthwhile point, but simply accepting reality as it is without complaint is not necessarily Christian either. “Christianity is a fighting religion,” Lewis said in Mere Christianity: “[it] thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.”

    Perhaps a more nuanced way to phrase it is, it’s not so much a “refusal to face reality” as a refusal to understand reality correctly — to recognize which parts of it are licitly under our authority and which are not, and what methods of altering reality are licit and which are not. It may also be a refusal to apply that understanding consistently: the licitness of a desire is not altered by realizing that one possesses that desire oneself.

    • simply accepting reality as it is without complaint is not necessarily Christian either.

      False dichotomy. If there were no other choices but (1) to reject reality altogether in favour of our own desires, or (2) to reject our desires and simply accede to reality as it happens to be at the moment, we should all die in very short order. When we were hungry, we would have either to (1) pretend that we were full, or (2) resign ourselves to starvation. In fact there generally happens to be an alternative (3), namely, to recognize that we are hungry, and then go and get food, and eat it.

      You can alter reality, within the scope of your licit powers; what you can’t do is argue with it. Until you accept that A is A, you can’t even frame in your mind the actions necessary to turn it into B.

  3. Nothing in that Sayers quote endorses apathy. Indeed, the first thing that you need before attempting to solve any problem is to identify what is going on.

    The whole point of her quote is that refusing to accept reality creates another set of problems. How or even whether someone attempts to solve them is not discussed.

  4. That’s the most concise summary of the difference between conservatives and liberals I’ve ever seen.


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