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Headed for heaven or hell? This roadmap will help
'The Broad and Narrow Way' helped 19th-century preachers explain the consequences of virtue and vice.
- This moral topography shows two walks of life with very different outcomes: heaven and hell.
- It all starts with a simple choice: the broad gate or the narrow one. From there on in, follow the Bible verses to your choice of afterlife.
- Despite the map's stark, binary landscape, sinners can still repent and good Christians may be tempted by the Devil.
The key verse: Matthew 7:13-14.
Image: British Museum - CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
If your path in life is pleasant and comfortable, reflect on your final destination: it may be eternal hellfire. For the road to heaven is steep and – wait, there are lions?
In late 19th century England, Christian open-air preachers used this picture of 'The Broad and Narrow Way' to illustrate the stark choice their audiences faced.
The journey of life was presented as a forked path through a moral landscape, with Biblical verse as signposts along the two very different routes. The key verse is Matthew 7:13-14, right at the beginning, where the key choice has to be made:
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
Bacchus and Venus
Going to hell in a motorcar.
Image: British Museum - CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
A set of finely dressed ladies and gentlemen can be seen admiring the attractions behind a stone gate, topped by Bacchus and Venus – the pagan gods of intoxication and passion – holding aloft a large Welcome! sign. A more modest sign to the right indicates this is the Road to Perdition, while a red-fingered hand underscores the point: Death and Damnation.
Will they go in? Don't let the easy airs of those fine people in top hats and fancy dresses fool you. These souls are in the wilderness, being tempted by the Devil (Hebr. 3:7-8).
There's still a chance they might choose the right path, the grass seems to whisper: "The Lord (…) is (…) not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9).
But alas! A group of revellers has passed the gate, invoking the wrath of the Almighty: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."
Apparently, those enemies include cyclists, smokers, motorised vehicle aficionados, ballroom dancers, card players and toast masters (Isaiah 5:22 heaps woe unto those who imbibe wine and strong drink).
Indications of non-godliness
Ungodly: lotteries and loans.
Image: British Museum - CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Things get grim quick on the road to hell. Here we see a man clubbing his donkey. Not nice, the Bible agrees: "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Prov. 12:10).
We see a fistfight, pickpockets at work, and day drinking (again displeasing Isaiah).
Buying oxen (Luke 14:16-18) and marrying a wife (Luke 14:20) are two of the excuses for men not to accept the invitation to a godly life. Also serious indications of non-godliness: taking out a loan and buying a lottery ticket.
The bag across that man's right shoulder is stuffed with coin, the verse from 1 Timothy tells us: "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."
Adjoining the road to hell are taverns, theatres, and gambling houses. Even if you beat the casino, you still lose: "Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out."
Gosh! And things get worse further down the road, with some roadside killing and general divine displeasure for those not yet dead.
Sunday train to hell
"Thou (...) art found wanting".
Image: British Museum - CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The flames are a giveaway: this story does not end well. In keeping with the pious topographer's curious interest in modern modes of transport as signs of moral turpitude, a Sunday train skirts between the fires of hell and the scene of a battle.
A lot of smiting and slaying produces no winners, only losers: "Even the carcass of men shall fall as dung upon the open field, and as the handful after the harvestman, and none shall gather them." (Jer. 9:22).
As cities topple and silhouettes of sinners writhe in the fire, bat-like devils harvest the souls of evil-doers, accompanied by some of Scripture's most thunderous verse:
- "A fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains." (Deut. 32:22)
- "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matth 25:41)
- "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." (Dan 5:27)
The Strait Gate
Entry requirements: belief in Jesus, being born again.
Image: British Museum - CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Perhaps let's see what's behind the other door then? The strait gate that leads to the Way of Salvation attracts a more modestly dressed crowd.
No wonder: they are here to be relieved not of their boredom, like those fancy folk next door, but of their burden: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matth. 11:28). But everybody is welcome, presumably also those without any particular load on their back: "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37).
It's a date! Through the strait (as in: 'narrow') gate we go. But wait a minute. There are some entry requirements: belief in the Son (John 3:36), and to be born again (John 3:3).
On the other side of the gate awaits the refreshing gurgle of a fountain springing from a rock. That's the water of life, don't you know (Rev. 22:17), and the rock is Christ (1 Cor. 10:4).
Through the church window on the right we see a sight grown rare of late: a priest left alone with a child.
Works of mercy along the Way.
Image: British Museum - CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The journey to salvation is steep – hence the steps – but it requires at its outset no more than the firm faith of a child (2 Tim. 3:15), as unfeigned as that of its forebears (2 Tim 1:5). Of course, Jesus is your compass throughout: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6).
A church, a Sunday school and a religious institute provide virtuous counterparts to the theatre, tavern and gambling house on the other side.
Across the bridge, we witness various instances of divinely-inspired roadside assistance: "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in." (Matt. 25:35). More works of mercy performed up the road.
In the grassy field on the left hand side, a preacher is booming from his pulpit to the gathered crowd: "As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways." (Eze. 33:11).
There's a break in the fence that separates this path from the evil one. Could it be that these listeners are sinners who, halfway up their trip to certain doom, have returned to the fold of the righteous? Quite possibly so; the man running across the bridge towards the Luke 15:20 verse exemplifies the parable of the prodigal son.
But repentance is not enough; a relapse is always possible, because danger is ever present, with its pointy claws and breath like sin: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." (1 Pet. 5:8)
Lamb on Zion
The unblinking Eye of Providence.
Image: British Museum - CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
If you make it past the lion, you've almost reached the last level of the game. It's finally okay to breathe a sigh of relief. In Biblical lingo: "Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name." (Ps. 103:1).
The path still winds upwards, but the summit is in sight, as are the multitudes that people it: "all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." (Rev. 7:9).
The name of the mount is Zion, and the number of those surrounding the Lamb is 144,000 (Rev. 14:1), a number discouragingly small to anyone less than rock solid in their faith. Yet elsewhere in Revelation, the number of the 'elders' around the throne is said to be "ten thousand times ten thousand, and" (for good measure) "thousands of thousands." (Rev. 5:11) – a more hopeful calculation.
At this point of the journey, only a rainbow can bridge the gap between Both Places, because "between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot." (Luke 16:26).
Over it all hovers the Eye of God, looking down on all creation: "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." (1 Peter 3:12).
As a symbol of divine providence, the Eye in the Pyramid also features on the Great Seal of the United States, and as such on the dollar bill. But this eye induces an even more chilling echo of ubiquity: it has the same color as Mark Zuckerberg's eyes.
The Broad and Narrow Way was originally designed in Germany in 1862, making its way via Holland to England by the end of the decade. It was an effective tool in exemplifying some of the Bible's key teachings to a Victorian audience with more appetite for piety than aptitude for study.
Strange Maps #1019
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine the birth of an entirely new ocean on the Martian surface.
There are lots of arguments for exploring space and colonizing other planets. Exploration is a natural part of our species. The knowledge we gain is bound to propel our scientific understanding and capabilities. And admittedly, there are plenty of commercial reasons too. Plus, sooner or later, the Earth is going to die out. To survive, we’ll have to become an interplanetary species.
Due to ours being a richer world today, and advances in rocketry and other technologies, a 21st century space race is just starting to heat up. This time, it isn’t just the US and Russia competing, but India, China, the EU, and private organizations such as SpaceX and Mars One. They all want to build the first permanent colony on the Red Planet. Mars One has the swiftest timeline, placing people on the surface by 2025. NASA has a far more cautious plan, establishing a permanent colony by 2040. But there are lots of stumbling blocks to overcome.
From the surface, Mars looks like a cold and forbidding wasteland, devoid of a breathable atmosphere, running water, and virtually uninhabitable, without spacesuits and airtight shelters. It’s worse than that, however. The planet is being constantly bombarded by solar radiation. Consistent exposure is likely to cause deadly cancers and early onset Alzheimer’s among colonists. How quickly or slowly these develop however, is anyone’s guess. It depends upon shielding and lots of other factors.
Astronauts working on the international space station (ISS) encounter the same amount of radiation as workers at a nuclear power plant. But those astronauts are only up there for a limited time. The longest mission to date is 215 days. What happens if you are constantly exposed for the rest of your life? There could also be serious consequences in terms of fertility. Radiation exposure can cause mutations in the genetic code, birth defects, and even infertility. How could a colony survive?
Artist rendition of Mars being buffeted by solar radiation. By: NASA/Jim Green.
Despite terrific obstacles, the planet has potential. All the things that are needed to terraform the planet are there, minus a strong magnetic field. There is water for instance, frozen at the poles and within the soil. It once had an atmosphere, free flowing water, an ocean, and perhaps even life.
Many colonization plans suggest terraforming the planet, which is expected to take hundreds of years. Some include releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere from factories, or as Elon Musk has proposed, using nuclear weapons at the poles to melt the ice caps. But with this new plan, nature actually does all the work itself, without the dangers inherent in those other options.
At a recent NASA workshop, held at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., Planetary Science Division director Jim Green, proposed a captivating alternative—encapsulate the planet in an “artificial magnetosphere.” The Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop is an unveiling of proposals, which could occur or at least begin, by midcentury.
Dr. Green’s presentation was entitled, "A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration." Green and a panel of colleagues proposed an artificial "magnetic shield" provided by a device, dubbed Mars L1. This would remain in steady orbit between the planet and the sun, shielding it from solar bombardment.
The basic idea is having an object create a large electric circuit or dipole, generating enough energy to cover the planet in an artificial magnetic field. This would be composed of two oppositely charged magnets connected to inflatable structures, placed in orbit somewhere between Mars and the sun. One important aspect according to Dr. Green, "We need to be able then to also modify that direction of the magnetic field so that it always pushes the solar wind away.”
Building an artificial magnetosphere around Mars. By: NASA/Jim Green.
Though it sounds, what the presenter called “fanciful,” experiments creating miniature magnetospheres are already ongoing. These are in hopes of devising a way to protect astronauts aboard the ISS as well as manned spacecraft. Green wants to scale up such a system to cover a whole planet. "It may be feasible that we can get up to these higher field strengths that are necessary to provide that shielding," he said.
Once stable, the “magnetotail” is expected to allow a revival of the atmosphere. Half the atmospheric pressure of our own planet could occur within just a few years. 4.2 billion years ago, something caused the Red Planet’s magnetic field to severely weaken. Since that time, highly charged solar particles have slowly stripped it of its atmosphere, causing Mars to go from a warm, wet planet, to a dry, cold one. Today, the atmosphere is 100 times thinner than ours.
Shielding from such particles would warm the surface ~7 °F (4 °C). This would then melt the CO² at the poles, helping to build up the atmosphere. By creating a greenhouse effect, the ice on the planet’s surface should melt. "Perhaps one-seventh of the ancient ocean could return to Mars," Dr. Green said. At its current rate, this would take 700 million years.
Though the plan is entirely theoretical, if it worked, the planet could actually be livable in about a century or so, NASA scientists claim. That’s just a few generations. It’s vital to colonization too, as any sustainable colony will sooner or later have to start growing its own food. The distance from Earth to Mars is just too great. If it works, it could add an important tool to terraforming and help us colonize other places. “The solar system is ours, let’s take it,” Green said.
To learn more about Terraforming Mars, click here:
Climate change and artificial intelligence pose substantial — and possibly existential — problems for humanity to solve. Can we?
- Just by living our day-to-day lives, we are walking into a disaster.
- Can humanity wake up to avert disaster?
- Perhaps COVID was the wake-up call we all needed.
Does humanity have a chance for a better future, or are we just unable to stop ourselves from driving off a cliff? This was the question that came to me as I participated in a conference entitled The Future of Humanity hosted by Marcelo's Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement. The conference hosted an array of remarkable speakers, some of whom were hopeful about our chances and some less so. But when it came to the dangers facing our project of civilization, two themes appeared in almost everyone's talks.
And here's the key aspect that unifies those dangers: we are doing it to ourselves.
The problem of climate change
The first existential crisis that was discussed was, as you might guess, climate change. Bill McKibben, the journalist and now committed activist who first began documenting the climate crisis as far back as the 1980s, gave us a history of humanity's inability to marshal action even in the face of mounting scientific evidence. He spoke of the massive, well-funded disinformation efforts paid for by the fossil fuel industry to keep that action from being taken because it would hurt their bottom lines.
It's not like some alien threat has arrived and will use a mega-laser to drive the Earth's climate into a new and dangerous state. Nope, it's just us — flying around, using plastic bottles, and keeping our houses toasty in the winter.
Next Elizabeth Kolbert, one of America's finest non-fiction writers, gave a sobering portrait of the state of efforts that attempt to deal with climate change through technological fixes. Based on her wonderful new book, she looked at the problem of control when it comes to people and the environment. She spoke of how often we get into trouble when we try to exert control over things like rivers or animal populations only to find that these efforts go awry due to unintended consequences. This requires new layers of control which, in turn, follow the same path.
Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur via Unsplash
At the end of the talk, she focused on attempts to deal with climate change through new kinds of environmental controls with the subtext being that we are likely to run into the same cycle of unintended consequences and attempts to repair the damage. In a question-and-answer period following her talk, Kolbert was decidedly not positive about the future. Because she had looked so deeply into the possibilities of using technology to get us out of the climate crisis, she was dubious that a tech fix was going to save us. The only real action that will matter, she said, is masses of people in the developed would reducing their consumption. She didn't see that happening anytime soon.
The problem of artificial intelligence
Another concern was over artificial intelligence. Here the concern was not so much existential. By this, I mean the speakers were not fearful that some computer was going to wake up into consciousness and decide that the human race needed to be enslaved. Instead, the danger was more subtle but no less potent. Susan Halpern, also one of our greatest non-fiction writers, gave an insightful talk that focused on the artificial aspect of artificial intelligence. Walking us through numerous examples of how "brittle" machine learning algorithms at the heart of modern AI systems are, Halpern was able to pinpoint how these systems are not intelligent at all but carry all the biases of their makers (often unconscious ones). For example, facial recognition algorithms can have a hard time differentiating the faces of women of color, most likely because the "training data sets" the algorithms were taught were not representative of these human beings. But because these machines supposedly rely on data and "data don't lie," these systems get deployed into everything from making decisions about justice to making decisions about who gets insurance. And these are decisions that can have profound effects on people's lives.
Then there was the general trend of AI being deployed in the service of both surveillance capitalism and the surveillance state. In the former, your behavior is always being watched and used against you in terms of swaying your purchasing decisions; in the latter, you are always being watched by those in power. Yikes!
The banality of danger
In listening to these talks I was struck by how mundane the sources of these dangers were when it comes to day-to-day life. Unlike nuclear war or some lone terrorist building a super-virus (threats that Sir Martin Rees eloquently spoke of), when it comes to the climate crisis and an emerging surveillance culture, we are collectively doing it to ourselves through our own innocent individual actions. It's not like some alien threat has arrived and will use a mega-laser to drive the Earth's climate into a new and dangerous state. Nope, it's just us — flying around, using plastic bottles, and keeping our houses toasty in the winter. And it's not like soldiers in black body armor arrive at our doors and force us to install a listening device that tracks our activities. Nope, we willingly set them up on the kitchen counter because they are so dang convenient. These threats to our existence or to our freedoms are things that we are doing just by living our lives in the cultural systems we were born into. And it would take considerable effort to untangle ourselves from these systems.
So, what's next then? Are we simply doomed because we can't collectively figure out how to build and live with something different? I don't know. It's possible that we are doomed. But I did find hope in the talk given by the great (and my favorite) science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. He pointed to how different eras have different "structures of feeling," which is the cognitive and emotional background of an age. Robinson looked at some positive changes that emerged in the wake of the COVID pandemic, including a renewed sense that we (or most of us) recognize that are in this together. Perhaps, he said, the structure of feeling in our own age is about to change.
Let us hope, and where we can, let us act.
New research shines a light on the genetics of sudden cardiac deaths.
- Soccer player Christian Eriksen of Denmark recently collapsed on the field from a cardiac arrest. Thankfully, he survived.
- A new study examined the genetics underlying unexplained sudden cardiac death.
- About 20 percent of these unexplained deaths are likely due to genetics.
The football world was rocked recently when Denmark's Christian Eriksen collapsed while suffering from cardiac arrest on the field during a European Championship match on June 12. The 29-year-old star has won the Danish Football Player of the year five times. Doctors are still baffled as to why an athlete in prime shape would experience sudden cardiac arrest.
While Eriksen's case remains a mystery, a large team of researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine recently looked into the reasons a person with no apparent health problems dies from sudden cardiac death (SCD). Their study, published in JAMA Cardiology, found that roughly 20 percent of unexplained cases involve genetics.
The mystery of sudden cardiac death
SCDs are common, with between 180,000 to 450,000 occurring every year in the United States. While coronary heart disease is involved in between 50 to 75 percent of these cases, doctors are uncertain of the reasons in 30 to 40 percent of cases.
The team notes that most research on SCDs, such as in New Zealand, Denmark, and South Korea, tend to focus on homogenous populations of people under age 35. One study based in New York investigated a racially diverse cohort but included a number of infants. While these studies looked at genetic components of SCD, they write, "No systematic comparison of the genetics underlying cases of unexplained SCD between adult White and African American descendants has ever been conducted."
The State of Maryland's medical examiner's office has been collecting data on SCDs for over two decades, which gave the team a rich collection of data to pull from — over 5,000 such cases. From that data set, the researchers looked at 683 African American and white adults (median age: 41). In total, the DNA of 413 patients who died from unexplained SCD was genetically sequenced. Thirty different cardiomyopathy genes and 38 arrhythmia genes were examined.
Genetic screens for sudden cardiac death
Clinical associate professor of medicine and corresponding author Aloke Finn explains the importance of rooting out the cause of SCDs: "Genetic screening isn't routinely used in cardiology, and far too many patients still die suddenly from a heart condition without having any previously established risk factors. We need to do more for them."
One surprising finding was the large number of the deceased that carried the genetic variant for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which causes the heart's muscle tissue to be abnormally thick. This could explain why people with no apparent heart disease experience cardiac arrest seemingly out of nowhere. While HCM is a somewhat common heart disorder (with a prevalence as high as 0.2 percent), we're only just now learning the role of genes in determining who suffers from a fatal attack.
What is clear, however, is that those with particular genetic variants are likelier to die from unexplained SCD earlier in life than others who die from unexplained SCD.By identifying these genes, researchers hope this information could be used in future medical screenings. E. Albert Reece, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, believes this could save lives.
"This is a fascinating study that provides important new insights into devastating deaths due to unexplained cardiac abnormalities. It certainly makes the case for more research to address this urgent health need and save lives in the future."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."