Inferno – Terrorist Writing: 2 September

Dante was a terrorist. He aimed to frighten people with a horrific vision of hell, his ‘Inferno.’ Dante took a little of the Bible, mixed it with Roman mythology (his Guide to and through Inferno is Virgil, the Roman writer), and with much speculation by Christians. The resulting depiction makes people far more afraid than they need to be. Take out the Roman mythology and the Christian speculation, look more carefully at the Bible, and you see a possible future beyond this life which is definitely to be avoided, but which does not terrify as does Dante’s Inferno.

Dan Brown is a modern day terrorist. He aims to frighten people with a horrific vision of the future of the human race, as depicted in his best-seller ‘Inferno.’ (‘Inferno’ was the obvious choice from the airport bookstall for me on the way to the Rethinking Hell Conference this July.) Brown envisages a future in which human population has grown exponentially, plunging people into a desperate struggle for scarce resources. Dan Brown has taken a little good science, and mixed it with scare-mongering speculation. The resulting depiction makes people far more afraid than they need to be. Take out the speculation, look more carefully at all the science, and you see a possible future about which we need to be careful, but which does not terrify as does Brown’s Inferno.

Dante completely ignored keys Biblical truths such as Jesus proclaiming that He has the keys of death and Hades. (Rev. 1:19) Jesus says specifically that this truth helps us not fear. Taking out this truth distorts the picture to make it more terrifying. So, on the doorway to his Inferno, Dante has ‘Abandon hope all you who enter here.’ Jesus has no access to Dante’s Inferno. For more on the true nature of Inferno, see The Lie of Hell Dante wrote great poetry with ingenious and memorable pictures, but his fundamental grasp of Christian truth was flawed.

Dan Brown completely ignores key scientific truths such as that when the living standards of the poor rise, they produce much fewer children. I have seen this in Uganda. It has been verified sociologically across our planet. Brown also ignores that our planet has the ability to produce significantly more food than it does at present. I have also seen this in Uganda: vast papyrus swamps, like the wild Fens of England, which could produce more than the hugely fertile drained Fens of England. This too is verified across our planet. If agriculture and agricultural output could not be significantly improved, the army of working agriculturalists would all find something else to do. Brown instead has his super intelligent heroes all believing that the best thing is to cull the human race by one third, now. Brown has written a great story with ingenious and memorable twists, but his fundamental grasp of scientific truth is flawed.

Dante was not acting alone. He wrote as the spokesperson of the Church and was strongly endorsed by the Church. His Inferno became the dominant understanding of hell for centuries (as Dan Brown rightly stresses.) There is still a lot of setting minds aright and reassuring hearts needed to undo the damage done by Dante.

I hope that Dan Brown is acting alone. I hope he is not endorsed by reputable scientists and scientific organisations. I hope that most of those who have read Brown’s ‘Inferno’ do not take its message seriously. Yes, we need to be aware of problems caused by increasing human population. Mostly we need to work harder to raise the living standards of the poor. We must not be callous to the needs of the poor, for in helping them we help ourselves, and especially our grandchildren.

Dan Brown’s understanding of the future of the human race is a modern version of the apocalyptic scaremongering which has dogged Christianity for years. Some people love to proclaim ‘We’re all doomed!’ All the religious doom nuts have been proved wrong. May the same be true for all the scientific doom nuts. (This includes the climate change doom nuts, but that’s an argument for another time.) It is a pity that a story-teller as talented as Dan Brown is one of them.

Roger Harper

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2 Responses to “Inferno – Terrorist Writing: 2 September”

  1. Philip Tyers Says:

    About Dan Brown’s previous books, we all said ‘Great story, we’ll not let the facts stand in the way of our enjoyment’. We know he’s writing fiction. Thank you for drawing our attention to the scientific possibilities; I did not know about the Ugandan equivalent of our own fens. Have Ugandans started to produce crops from them?

    • rogerharper Says:

      Thanks Phil,

      The fierce wisdom of Western environmentalists is that the papyrus swamps need to be preserved. This wisdom chimes with some innate African conservatism. This wisdom is being heeded and the few who try to drain and produce crops are castigated and worse. The swamps are great talents which people are too afraid to invest in…

      I trust, sooner or later, good sense and good stewardship will prevail.


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