I pray you have a soul… that it may drift and mutter forever in some… hell! – Conan
The Edge of Vengeance
Prayer one might have a soul that they may reap the consequences of their negative performances in life through eternal torment seems counter to the more benevolent principles of our spiritual disciplines. At the same time, if we think over the evolution of religious thought and the condition it springs from (that arguably being humanity; we’ll stay judgment on the inherent influence of the divine for the purpose of this post), it seems sensible that there would be a form of ‘punishment’ within these traditions.
I would argue that vengeance is a semblance of humanity at its earliest stage of social development. Before we began arguing over the ethical applications of everything from arms to abortion to taxes, prior to nations, or the rise and fall of Atlantis as it were, there was the human. The individual, an entity which at first aligned only with a smallish number of other similarly endowed entities for the purposes of protection and comfort.
Law was in his/her hands or her/his hands, whichever makes you happier (I leave it in your hands, once again).
Consequence and punishment were doled out by a scant number of individuals, probably more or less being both pronounced and acted out by the same person or people who declared the outcome in the first place. Can you imagine the severe stratification of this prehistoric incarnation of law? With that group over there, you couldn’t eat dog; with another you couldn’t touch another person while they knelt; that one over there has a tremendous problem with the word ‘Ug!’ being used in their presence. It’s no wonder we began civilization – scrapping the minutia of codes and seeking to create one overarching one that at least a majority of some people group could agree upon had to be freeing to a certain extent. Of course, it also had to be imprisoning.
When humanity began giving over the enactment of punishment at the personal level and took to what we might call a ‘political’ one, they ceded away abilities which came as a matter of course for their nature. For lack of a more apt reference, Malcolm Reynolds’ “Someone tries to kill you, you try to kill them right back!” could no longer be the mantra of the unit unless it was the mantra of the whole.
So, why does a punishment that follows you into the grave make sense in a developmental way? Why did we once again spring a step, climbing from political to ‘providential’?
I think it’s because it’s a ready salve for the angry conscience, the one that knows it has had its personality violated in a way shape or form by another personality, yet has chosen to maintain the balance created by civilization. In other words: What I will not punish for society and society will not punish for me, some justice in the universe will react on behalf of so that my dignity is not injured while I take the higher ground and support the social system I live in.
All-in-all, I don’t think it’s a bad trade. I like religion – it gives you a reference to live your internal life within. I like laws – they give you a reference you can live your external life within. Ultimately, I’m happy to see the integrity of both maintained. As for the natural state of a person, their individual right as a member of existence to mete out judgment? Well, that’s a topic for another time when we’re not just treading our words over the edge of vengeance…
Great quotes, snippets, and the like from Conan #2 “Lair of the Beast-Men”
- [great sword-like spires, straining upward to fence with stalactite spears]
- [Conan’s cobra-quick answer comes not in words…]
- “Perhaps blood is the price you must pay — to be free.” Conan
- [What Conan’s mind cannot accept… Conan’s body will not yield to]
- “Death! But not until he begs it – till a sword thrust is his most fervent prayer.” Beast King
- “Too long have I been thrall to a dream… as much as to the Beast-Men. From this hour, I shall be slave to neither.” Kiord
- “I pray you have a soul… that it may drift and mutter forever in some… hell!” Conan
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