This work (and all work of this blog)is of my copyright 2010.
When one considers eternal damnation, fear is usually the motivating factor in avoiding it. I’m afraid of sizzling in flames, being suffocated by mud or frozen in ice, so I’ll stay on the righteous path. After all, “he sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake”. However, these good intentions, as it turns out, really do pave the road to Hell. When we act out of trepidation, we are capable of gross destruction. In both Dante’s Inferno and the film Seven, it becomes apparent that fear gives birth to the seven deadly sins.
We are introduced to fear before we even embark on our journey to the Inferno, true to any new venture. Canto II explains that “Cowardice grips your spirit- which can twist a man from the noblest enterprise.” (37-38) This is our first clue that fear may be the cause of omission and overt sin alike, which leads to our entire downfall. Fear stops us from not only dangerous pursuits, but also from life-giving ones. We worry about our inabilities, about the risk involved or about our own selfish gain. The author further expands this saying, “Fear befits things with power for injury, not things that lack such power.” (71-72) Fear becomes power-hungry. If we perceive something to be a threat, we are empowered by negativity. When we relinquish the fear in favor of peace, we can view reality with clarity. “Why be a coward rather than bolder, freer?” (99)
In Canto III, the welcome sign proclaiming “Abandon all hope you who enter here” (7) in other words reads “Cling to desolation”, which is a very fearful state indeed. We learn that the souls here “have lost the good of intellect” (15) and “have no hope of death, but a blind life so abject they envy any other fate” (40-41). Aren’t these both situations humans fear more than death itself? Simply look at the treatment of the mentally disabled or the controversies surrounding persons on life support for our society’s answer.
We seem completely fearless when judging another person, but examination reveals the truth. “How many a self deceiver now counting himself a mighty king will sprawl swinelike in the mire when life is over.” (VIII, 46-48) Here, Dante nods to the innate human desire for revenge, the prideful tendencies we have to be “better than”, and our many self deceptions all springing from a place of dread. He later tells us that fraud bites every conscience, which alludes to the convenient stories we tell ourselves (XI, 53). To echo Freud, our condemnation of others is merely a reflection of our own inadequacies. When we abandon fear, we welcome pure motives.
Dante uses a line in Canto XIII that, while complex, is particularly all-encompassing: “My mind, in its disdainful temper, assumed dying would be a way to escape disdain, making me treat my juster self unjustly.” (66-68) Suicide is an obvious manifestation of fear. We may feel many emotions that drive us to the point of taking our lives, but the core of those emotions is a rousing fear (of something, of the unknown, etc.). Upon analysis, a disdainful temper is anger [fear], escaping disdain is ending life [fear of the unknown or fear of repercussions from the sin of anger], juster self is the potential, intended or fearless self and unjustly is making a premature decision that I now see was sinful and not my decision to make.
There have been times in my life that I have contemplated this road and never did I consider my juster self. I may have thought of all I still wanted to do or of those beings around me, and perhaps envied (out of fear) the person I once was, but I didn’t look at myself in third person. The suicidal person doesn’t see themselves as having a juster self, or they wouldn’t make their final decision. When we think of ourselves objectively, or better yet, as a child we are to be taking care of, there is the ability to see one’s juster self.
Dante also speaks of a societal fear: “unquenched pride” (XIV, 52), “ill-earned gains” (XIX, 93), “Avarice…distributes grief” (XIX, 97), “schismatic” (XXVIII, 33) and lastly, “Through his evil thought there is no common language” (XXXI, 73-74). Since evil transcends language, just as love does, it is hard for us to imagine an evil thought so great that there is no language capable of conveying it. This is all fear in a rat race of poorly chosen priorities. Dante, as the author, asks in response, “If not now, then when do you shed a tear?” (XXXIII, 38) This summarizes why he went on this journey in the first place, to intervene before the fear takes over.
I found the most poignant image to be that of Satan weeping, never having considered this previously (XXXIV, 54). Too often, we think of him reveling in grief and destruction. It is more likely that, instead, he is sorrowful. I don’t imagine him to be remorseful, although maybe like some of the sinners, he is and it is too late. It would take a profoundly wounded soul to cause such anguish. And wounded souls, like cornered animals, harbor deep fear. He “who pierces the world”, literally and figuratively, is the embodiment of ever-present fear (XXXIV, 107).
Fear is also a pervasive theme in the film Seven. Most obviously, the horror aspect of the film elicits fear in the hearts of the victims and the viewers, as well as a sense of urgency within the detectives to swiftly stop the injustice. Dante addresses these simple aspects of fear by painting a frightening and grotesque picture of the afterlife, in which the reader gets their fill of terror and the victims writhe in agony against their wishes.
More critically, fear is manifested in each sin and each sinner of Seven, including John Doe. It can be assumed that the glutton and prostitute feared rejection (and perhaps didn’t want to live up to their juster selves), thus creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by engaging in dangerous behaviors to their health. The defense attorney and model feared not having success as defined by our poisoned society. The pedophile/drug addict feared himself and possibly the entire adult world. Detective Mills feared a life without his family and a world where there are no earthly ramifications for grave wrong-doings. John Doe feared everything. He didn’t fear Hell because he thought he used “the good of intellect” to do God’s will, and possibly felt he was already living in Hell. He clearly exhibited extreme neurosis, or panic incorporated into a paranoid existence. Judgment of others overcame him. Doe was gluttonous for bloody revenge, prideful that his way was the right way, greedy for notoriety and could not be satisfied by anonymously committing these mercy murders. He whored himself out to various scholars’ philosophies on ethical behavior, was slothful in not following the commandments himself, wrathful in his rage against humanity and envious of blissful ignorance.
John Doe was the ultimate wounded soul and very much like Lucifer in Dante’s account. Doe continued to cause pain through his own pain, much like the chewing of the sinners by Satan while he wept. Doe may not have wept, though he showed a glimpse of his deep emotions during his explanation in the police car saying, “We see a deadly sin on every street corner and we tolerate it!” He is at once asking and being asked, “If not now, then when do you shed a tear?” We must remember that sadness and anger are both manifestations of the same thing: fear. One person uses their fear of a slipping humanity to become an activist or start a nonprofit organization to bring change to their struggling neighbors. Another allows fear to swallow them whole as they observe with hatred, a world gone awry. Seven and The Inferno are both examinations in fear and the slippery slope to sin.