Overcome the finite of the human condition by imagining a post-mortem destiny ... The idea germinated in all societies, but it is with the three religions of the Book that that of a superior justice distinguishing the good and the bad. 'prop. This issue of Cahiers de Science et Vie goes back to the origins of the afterlife and traces the genesis and evolution of the concepts of paradise and hell, to their present posterity, from art to political discourse.
After having occupied for centuries a central place in the mental universe of the Christian West, paradise and its terrible opposite, hell, would they have dissolved in limbo? In appearance only. If the hyperbolic hopes and terrors that these notions once fueled have been greatly blunted in our secularized societies, they nonetheless continue to seed our imagination.
"By ceasing to refer exclusively to religious dogma, the Devil was able to embrace the various Western intellectual, cultural and social movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries", explains historian Robert Muchembled, author of Une Histoire du Diable, XIIe- Twentieth century. Ditto for paradise. Political discourse, painting, novels, music, comics, cinema, advertising, video games ... have known how to appropriate these concepts, out of all transcendence, and continue to summon them to translate our our hopes and fears. Here is a quick inventory showing how much the symbolism of hell and paradise left its mark on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and remains relevant at the start of the third millennium.
Heaven and Hell: The invention of the afterlife. Les Cahiers Sciences et Vie, August 2013. On newsstands and by subscription.