I attended a play by Steve Tillis, “Dante’s Club Inferno,” last night at St. Mary’s College. The play was touted as a “satirical and biting adaptation of Dante to modern times. He [Tillis] sticks close to the text but he applies it to concerns of our students at the same time.” Since St. Mary’s is a liberal arts college, I was expecting to see a critical commentary on Dante’s version of hell. I was disappointed to find that despite a modern twist, religious propaganda was still being presented as truth. Eating menstrual blood, raping a priest, and peppering the dialogue with “f*ck” may make the play sensational, but those scenes did not encourage the audience to think deeply about Dante’s judgments and categorization of sinners. The audience, mainly students who I suspect were assigned attendance, were not presented with material which might open their minds to alternate ways of thinking.
The gluttony scene was particularly sad. It depicted an overweight man and woman forced to eat sewage for eternity. The woman states that despite her continued efforts to diet she was unable to conquer her weight problems, therefore she deserves her fate. Are we really still putting the message out there that being overweight is a sin? That people who can’t control their appetite deserve to eat feces for eternity. Is it any wonder fat kids are bullied in our country? Or how about the idea that people with addictions don’t deserve any empathy? Suicide victims didn’t suffer enough in life and should be tortured forever. How exactly does that address the “concerns of our students?” All our efforts to get kids to tap into social justice are undone by adherence to this biblical version of crime and punishment.
God has no tolerance for sin, but apparently doesn’t stand for individuality or questioning the status quo either. Dante, the truth sayer, has to conform to party lines to avoid eternity in hell. He is told pity (empathy) has no place in God’s judgment. By not examining Dante’s outdated, dogmatic “truth” the professors behind this coursework are continuing to tell students that the supreme being, controller of their world, is a vengeful, violent, intolerant entity who they must emulate. Wow, no wonder this generation is disillusioned.
We are the elders, teachers, and role models for our children. If our schools continue to teach classics like Dante without critical commentary on religious agendas, we are part of the growing problem of disconnectedness, which leads to cruelty and corruption. Let’s change the paradigm, starting with letting go of an admiration for classics which present this message to the world. If our college and university professors are “higher” educators, I think it is time they acted that way.