Rod Dreher on Dante for Millenials

Over here. But allow me to share some of my favorite points:

Nevertheless, Inferno is the book most relevant to young adults, most of whom will not have yet made the errors of passion that landed the middle-aged Dante in the dark wood. The pilgrim Dante must listen to the words of the damned with skepticism, for they are all liars—and, in fact, the chief victim of the lies they told themselves in life. “Be careful how you enter and whom you trust,” says Minòs, the judge of the underworld. “It is easy to get in, but don’t be fooled!”

What’s more, the testimonies of the damned reveal precisely the nature of the deceptions to which they fell victim—and to which Dante himself, like all of us, is susceptible. All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant. For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.

This is countercultural, for we live in an individualistic, libertine, sensual culture in which satisfying desire is generally thought to be a primary good. For contemporary readers, especially young adults, Dante’s encounter with Francesca da Rimini, one of the first personages he meets in Hell, is deeply confounding. Francesca is doomed to spend eternity in the circle of the Lustful, inextricably bound in a tempest with her lover, Paolo, whose brother—Francesca’s husband—found them out and murdered them both. . . .

Francesca’s fate is not Dante’s fault, exactly, but that doesn’t mean he is not implicated. The lesson here is to think carefully about the things you say in public, because your words can have unintended consequences. This is not a warning to avoid ever saying anything critical or harsh. Sometimes, harsh criticism, even mockery, is necessary. But it is necessary far less than we think, and, in any case, one should never be deliberately cruel.

In the age of social media, this is even more important to keep in mind. Words written or spoken in public can have terrible private consequences. We all live in a narcissistic, confessional culture in which speaking whatever is on your mind and in your heart is valorized as “honest” and “courageous”—just as calling lust love falsely ennobles it by dressing up egotism with fake moral grandeur. . . .

 

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