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My personal vision of purgatory

Arnav Dutt | Monday, February 20, 2012

I had a harrowing experience this weekend. My idyllic Saturday at the Art Institute of Chicago was interrupted by a prophetic vision of purgatory. If you don’t mind, I am going to use my column this week to try to make sense of the awful, awful things I was shown. I hope some of you will get something out of this, too, or else my vision was in vain.

Article One: Whether There Is a Purgatory After This Life?

Objection 1. It would seem that there is not a Purgatory after this life. For it is said (Kodak 14:13-16): “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. From henceforth now, saith the Spirit, they are spared having to look at all those awful vacation photos that no one ever looks at, let alone the nebbishes who take them. For our God is a God of love, and He reserveth such torment only for the gravest, most unrepentant sinners.”

Objection 2. If indeed there exists a place where people have to look at my pictures from the Art Institute for an indefinite period of time, it wouldn’t be that bad. Like, I took the cutest pictures! Karen saw them, and she absolutely loved them. She said the angles I took were “artsy.” Why did you get me this camera for Christmas if you aren’t interested in my pictures? You’re so unsupportive.

On the contrary, after this life, there are some not yet loosed from sins, who can be loosed therefrom; and the like have charity, without which sins cannot be loosed, for “charity covereth all sins” [Proverbs 10:12]. Hence they will not be consigned to everlasting death, since “he that liveth and believeth in Me, shall not die for ever” [John 11:26]; nor will they obtain glory without being cleansed, because nothing unclean shall obtain it, as stated in the last chapter of the Apocalypse (verse 14). Therefore some kind of cleansing remains after this life.

Further, Gregory of Nyssa points out that, so long as the images you are capturing with your camera aren’t themselves immoral or copyrighted or anything like that, and so long as you are not acting contrary to any nearby signs banning the use of cameras, or perhaps just flash photography, the act of taking pictures itself is morally neutral. But as Origen pointed out before him, taking too many vacation pictures, particularly of things that just aren’t that special or that aren’t even unique to you, is unequivocally a venial sin.

Indeed, somewhat amazingly, the rest of Tradition, Scripture and Aristotle sheds no more light on the matter of the sinfulness of taking immoderately many vacation pictures. I would go out on a limb and suggest that blowing through a gallery while taking still-life pictures of paintings that have already been photographed several thousand times by professionals really ought to stamp your ticket to gehenna. But that’s just a hunch.

As such, there has to be somewhere to put people who pull those shenanigans during their purgation. And, the fact is, we are no less free from sin than we are from the urge to take stupid pictures now and then, when we find ourselves removed from our normal routine.

I answer that from the conclusions we have drawn above (III, 86, 4-5; Supplement, 12, 1), it is sufficiently clear that there is Purgatory after this life. For if the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life.

And it totally follows that you have to watch a slideshow of all the lonely, unwanted, unloved vacation photos ever taken while you’re there.

Reply to Objection 1. Look, I saw what I saw. It’s there. Maybe if you stop taking your camera everywhere, you’ll only have to sit through the equivalent of a graduation party slideshow before you’re done.

Reply to Objection 2. Thanks to Google, we can now look up perfectly good professional photographs of just about every great work of art ever. For example, the Art Institute of Chicago has a web-database of pictures of its works. I understand if you want to pose in your pictures, but if you’re just taking pictures of things that have already been shot … As a side note, many of the world’s best museums have teamed up with Google to create the Google Art Project, which … Wait! — why are you walking away? Come back! I’m not finished!

Arnav Dutt is a junior. He can be reached at adutt1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.