If you’ve ever fantasized about sitting George W. Bush down and being the one to make him see the error of his ways, you already have it worked out in your head: Maybe you want to take him for a tour around an inner-city school, introduce him to a working family without health care, or have a long talk about the human costs of war.
In my version of the fantasy, I take Bush to the Dongyue temple in Beijing, China, for a little fire and brimstone, Taoist style. In small halls off the courtyard of this imposing place of worship, brightly-colored, hero-sized gods preside over the 76 departments of hell. Near-life-sized sinners carved out of wood suffer appropriate punishments, the saintly reap blessings, and hell’s bureaucrats record every detail. All this is explicitly narrated on stainless steel panels bolted to each hall.
Hell doesn’t have 76 departments for nothing; it’s enough to make anyone feel that each transgression and act of kindness, great and small, makes an indelible mark on the soul.
Bush’s tour starts at the Department of Official Morality. This sector of the nether world sets the moral standard for society’s leaders and demands honesty, fairness, and resistance to corruption. Now, he knows someone’s watching.
The deities in the Interrogation and Examination Department grill criminals until they’re satisfied they’ve got the truth. This has been happening to some of Bush’s close friends lately, and sweat is beading on his brow. The Urging Department reminds us that those who are lazy in this life will become errand-running slaves in the next. Now he’s regretting all those months of vacation.
The Department of Upholding Integrity frowns upon lies and corruption and advises that one must “be bent on doing good deeds while refraining from fawning upon the rich and powerful.” George is getting a little freaked out, so now is my time to strike. I show him the Department for Implementing 15 kinds of Violent Death, a warning to those who kill that they will fall victim to their own misdeeds. Methods include death caused by starvation, revengeful murder, killing in battle, fire, or flood, poisoning, and disease.
Just when the most powerful person on earth is shaking in his boots for fear of the afterlife, I show him how to earn his redemption. We visit the Department for Distribution of Medicine, which rewards those who give remedies freely. George thinks of something nice he can do for 46 million Americans.
The Department for Halting Destruction of Living Beings preaches benevolence, human value, and protection of animals. Perhaps a new policy on the environment is in order. After all, the Flying Birds Department looks sternly upon the premature death of any avian friends and praises “ecological balance,” while in the Department for Preservation of Wilderness, a perky little bunny sits in the shelter of the overseeing god.
Sometimes hope lies where you least expect it. On a visit to hell, Bush could learn that redemption is as simple as peace, environmental conservation, and universal health care.