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Stuck in the Middle With You

A dark oil painting of a malevolent pope

The number of people alive today who have not heard of Heaven, or something like it, is as near to zero as makes no odds. Every culture, every people since the dawn of civilisation, has put it in their lore in one form or another. And all who’ve heard of the upper place have heard of the lower place, it forming a natural stick to counterpoint the carrot. However, what few have heard, and even fewer believe, is there is a third, far more populous place beyond the gates of judgement.

For reasons most likely justified on the grounds of maintaining moral tension, Limbo has been written out of earthly belief. Though, when it met its final doctrinal excommunication in 2007, there wasn’t much to write out anyway, because it had hardly been written in in the first place. The Catholics had been the only ones to give it a whirl, and even then they didn’t really commit. Originally, they didn’t think it existed – though strictly this was denial by default, in the same way they didn’t think quantum mechanics, DNA or Australia existed – then, in Late Antiquity, they decided it did exist – probably. It was hard to be sure because it never got a mention in the Bible and no one had ever seen a need for it until one hessian-hooded bright spark asked the simple question: ‘Sed Papa quid de infantibus qui mori ante sunt baptizatus est.’ It was quite a poser – it wouldn’t seem fair to send a babe in arms to the torment of the lower place just because they’d died before they could be baptised, but then original sin is original sin, it’s not an unpaid library fine, so you can’t very well open the stairgate and give them a free crawl up to the glory of the penthouse, either. And so the middle ground, not-getting-to-the-root-of-the-problem-in-the-slightest solution Limbo of the Infants was born – a patronising vanilla middle realm with an extraordinarily youthful demographic who suffer none of the pain and torment of Hell but equally are denied the splendour of Heaven.

Many centuries later, in 2007, another bright spark asked a long overdue follow-up question: ‘Look, Benny, doesn’t the Limbo of the Infants thing make us seem a bit cruel, having a pop at dead babies and all that?’ One of the senior cardinals pointed out they had to keep the wrath and damnation, otherwise it wouldn’t be Catholicism, and then they might as well just hang it all and become an extremely well-appointed food bank, but then the bright spark replied that they’d still be sending the gays and the suicides to burn in Hell and wasn’t that enough to keep up the tough no-nonsense image? Everyone nodded and so they decided to decide that Limbo probably didn’t exist after all. Or rather they hoped it didn’t – presumably taking care with the qualifier in case God did turn out to be the sort of deity they’d been backing all along after all.

But Limbo does exist and always has. As real as beetroot, pubic lice and U2.

Discover the awful truth, and more, in Thirty Things to Do After You Die.



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