When I was a little kid, I totally bought the Santa thing. Completely. Never questioned it until the boy who sat behind me in second grade sneeringly informed me of the truth. Even then I didn’t believe him. But I asked my mom. And she told me the Truth. That was hell. However, I never for one second bought the Easter Bunny. That was clearly a crock, and while I was happy to go along with it because egg hunts and candy were part of the deal, I was nobody’s fool.
I had something of the same selective cognitive malfunction with respect to heaven and hell. Heaven? Okay. Sounds good. Kind of boring, but I’m on board. Hell? Are you kidding me? That’s obviously a story designed to manipulate the gullible into behaving in the here and now. I couldn’t believe that whole swaths of my own religion had a much more detailed and personal relationship with the torments of hell than the gauzy, vague-but-pleasant heaven. How screwy was that? (First person to reference that pun gets a free copy of one of my estimable and long out of print books.)
So now, with all these demons and angels in popular fiction, does it strike anyone else that these books are usually completely devoid of religious affiliation of any sort? I find that interesting. We get demons and some sort of spruced-up and/or reimagined Hell. Maybe it’s an alternate reality or another dimension. Sometimes Hell and various demons and angels are engaged in a nebulous war with Heaven, but Heaven is rarely well defined.
That seems to be a recurring fate for conceptions of Heaven. It’s like the very notion of a place where everything is good and true and pure is too alien for our minds to grasp. Hell is far more accessible. We all get Hell. And it’s interesting. Full of the stuff we need in fiction. Lies. Sin. Vice. Popular fiction prefers a fallen angel to a righteous one every time.
This may be a failure of imagination to some extent. Hell is, as one or two folks have pointed out over the centuries, probably the easier path. It certainly lends itself more readily to popular fiction. And, contrary to my youthful religious thinking, it’s far more real to most people than heaven.