Two Paths to Hell

Dear Swillpit,

The sure way to Hell is by a series of incremental adjustments so small, and seemingly innocuous, that earthlings never notice they are woefully off course until they find themselves aboard Charon’s skiff heading for the opposite shore.

A believer who turns against our Adversary in a moment of anger or doubt is just as likely to turn back when he becomes a father or is diagnosed with cancer. But the man who over years and decades has developed a thick crust of disbelief is nearly impenetrable; he’s one to dismiss a seraphic visitation as “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.” Oh, how I devoured that story until its distasteful and wholly unrealistic about-turn. The legions of “Scrooges” who have passed through our gargoyled gates are testimony against its highly mythological ending.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

Ah, but I digress!

With every victory, you should be at the ready with the next “right step.” It grieves me how many earthlings have slipped through our talons because an agent fell aswoon over his latest accomplishment. Your silence about this leads me to believe that you, too, are nodding under the stupor of success. Awake, sluggard! Back to your station!

Attend closely to my words, remain vigilant to the task at hand, and before long your pet will be slipping his head through the collar you have put before him.

Upon closer review of his dossier, I see that he is a highly empathetic sort, one who, even before his tilt to evolution, winced at squashing the smallest of insects. This sentiment for lower creatures has been instrumental in shaping his attitudes and behaviors. For example, over the years his diet has gradually shifted from anything and everything to anything save red meat, then to vegetarian, and now, vegan. Not that his dietary decisions are important in themselves, but only as they reveal something that we can exploit.

In cases like this, the notion of common descent can feed and intensify an already strong fellow-creature feeling. The evolutionary tree unites all life from the oldest bacterium to the most advanced biped in a bond more imperishable than the nuclear binding force.

Spluteen told of a rube with a refined taste for eastern philosophy and Darwinism who “found himself” when he looked at the face of a canyon wall. Surveying the stratified surface, he caught sight of a 60-million-year-old fossil and, straightaway, experienced oneness in the evolutionary flow of the cosmos.

In that golden moment, he realized that the “good life” is not about conformance to binary distinctions of right or wrong, or good or evil; it’s about being “in the flow.” He has become, I’m proud to report, a most apathetic creature who has lost interest in any objective distinction whatsoever. I’m told that, when recently pressed, the creature had a hard time articulating a coherent position about the Holocaust.

Once the unintelligent origin of animate forms is accepted, it is easy enough to expand that to inanimate forms, as well. Your man is content for the moment to permit our Adversary the role of Creator. But the more he is exposed to the “fact” of evolution with vaunted theories from every department of the Academy “explaining” how the wonders of natural selection account for everything from physiology to theology, the less content he will be with that permission.

While the originators applied evolution from a simple, primordial life form forward, latter-day popularizers extend evolution from that point back to a terrestrial life-generating cocktail; some people go all the way back to the sudden, unexpected explosion of photons and quarks when the Enemy uttered, “Let there be light.”

Your creature’s present inclination is to limit science to the physical questions of “how,” leaving the metaphysical questions of “why” to his religion. Just let him see how totalizing science can be, and watch him slide into a gut-gripping existential crisis of meaning. Once he does, you have two paths to take him down.

If he is an individualistic sap who places supreme value on courage, competency, and self-sufficiency, put him on the path of nihilism. Steer his thoughts to the vast emptiness of the universe, silent and cold save for shocking violence where, amid mate-eating insects and exploding supernovae, man is an oddity, a thinking being left alone to make sense of his existence. Feed his sense of alienation and loneliness in this hostile place by laying before him this unavoidable logic: a cosmos created from the haphazard collision of particles is a universe without purpose or meaning.

From there, you can beguile him into either life-ending despair or self-exalting pride. While the former gives us an immediate, lasting victory, the latter has proven infinitely more expedient in the long term. Throughout history, individuals who have heroically braved the uncaring cosmos—creating their own meaning of existence through an authentic (how I love that word!) journey of personal autonomy and discovery—have influenced multitudes to assume the throne of Self. Our Master is the first (and best!) example of this.

However, in your patient’s case, I strongly suspect that a spiritualistic path has the best chance of success. Remember that the Enemy fashioned them with a spiritual nature and a spiritual longing, making them irrepressibly religious. This hardwiring is extremely difficult to short-circuit, even by our most experienced tempters. It is a reality made piercingly clear by the fact that, despite all of our painstaking toil since the Garden, less than three percent of today’s worldlings profess atheism.

Like the vast majority of his kind, your man has come to the realization that without transcendence, life is not only inexplicable, but untenable. If he’s going to place faith in something, it’s going to be Something that, at least, promises answers to his most pressing questions—answers that make life meaningful and livable.

That’s why we’ve had more success re-directing their spiritual yearnings; Cosmic Consciousness, universal Mind, and the Force are a few of the concepts we’ve exported. These organizing principles underlying nature, give rise to the laws in nature, revealing the purpose of nature to be unlimited evolutionary progress. It should not strain your imagination to see how this led to the spiritualization of Nature.

For the spiritually bent, Nature assumes the role of mystical Mother with answers to the timeless questions of life, which, according to one of our more effective scripts, go like this:

Where did I come from? Gaia.
What went wrong? The scourge of pollution, consumerism, and waste.
How should I live? By the principle of sustainability.
How will it end? In a climate change meltdown.
What’s the fix? Recycling, carbon credits and … population control!

That’s right, population control. With Nature as the measure of all things, humans have value only as they contribute to her evolutionary progress. I, myself, confess surprise at how quickly this spawned the belief that there is no problem on earth that having fewer people on the planet wouldn’t solve. It will strike you as ironic, as it first did me, that this is especially popular among those who have a strong empathy for high and low organisms alike.

It’s like this: Much to our credit, humans have come to see lower creatures living cooperatively and harmoniously in the ecosystem according to the inwrought laws of Nature. Man, on the other hand, stands against Nature, upsetting her balance through arrogance, greed, and immoderation. Restoring Nature to its Arcadian past is a matter of reducing the human footprint.

What makes my scales tingle, Swillpit, is how we’ve been able to pull this off: by contradicting the claim of our Enemy that creation is untamed, and that it needs the caring touch of man to flourish, and, more deliciously, by exploiting the very thing designed to draw man to him—the spiritual impulse. Oooh, I’m feeling another spell of giddiness coming on!

Well, well, enough for now. I’ll expect a full report on your progress soon.

Feverishly yours,



  • Regis Nicoll

    Regis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. He is the author of Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters.

Join the Conversation

Comments are a benefit for financial supporters of Crisis. If you are a monthly or annual supporter, please login to comment. A Crisis account has been created for you using the email address you used to donate.

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...