6. Attachment to the things of the earthly life is also kept up, even in the minds of many of those who believe most firmly in the reality of a future life, by the impressions they have retained of the teachings to which they were subjected in their childhood.
The pictures of the future life presented by the Church are not, it must be confessed, either attractive or consoling. On the one hand, we are shown the contortions of the damned, who expiate, in endless tortures and unquenchable flames their momentary errors; ages after ages passing over them without hope of deliverance or pity, and (what is even more incredible,) repentance itself being of no avail in their case. On the other hand, we see the sufferings of the souls who are languishing in purgatory, and who are awaiting their deliverance, not from their own efforts for improvement, but from the compassionate efforts of the living who pray for them or have them prayed for by others.
These two classes are represented as constituting the immense majority of the population of the other world; and above them hovers the very small minority of the elect, absorbed, throughout eternity, in contemplative beatitude. It is an eternal uselessness which—though undoubtedly preferable to annihilation—is nevertheless, only wearisome monotony and, accordingly, in the paintings which represent the blessedness of the elect, the faces of the latter usually wear an expression much more suggestive of dullness than of happiness.
Such a view of the future life corresponds neither to our aspirations, nor to the idea of progressiveness that we instinctively regard as a necessary element of happiness. It is difficult to imagine that ignorant savages, whose moral sense is as yet undeveloped, should find themselves, simply because they have received baptism, on a level with those who, through long years of effort have raised themselves to a high degree of knowledge and of practical morality. Still less conceivable is it that the child who has died in infancy, before acquiring the consciousness of itself and of its actions, should enjoy the same privileges simply as the result of its having undergone a ceremony in which its will took no part. Considerations of this nature cause uneasiness in the minds even of fervent believers, whenever they reflect seriously on the doctrines which, as children, they were drilled into accepting.