One thing it’s easy for us to forget (myself included), and that Prof. Anderson keeps trying to remind us is to read The Divine Comedy allegorically. Dante has some great religious commentary in here, but the poem isn’t just about the afterlife: it’s about this life too! So I’m going to take a crack at it:
This was clearly illustrated when Dante met Provenzano Salvani in the first cornice of the proud. He was prideful in life, but he was able to advance quickly through Ante-Purgatory because of a good deed he performed for his friend. What goes around comes around. Give good away, and it will come back to you. This is further illustrated in Canto XV when Virgil explains to Dante how the treasure in Heaven grows greater as it is shared.
“As much light as it finds there, it bestows;
thus, as the blaze of Love is spread more widely,
the greater the Eternal Glory grows” (XV.70-2).
This reminds me of a song I used to sing when I was younger, in Girl Scouts, which stated: “love is something if you give it away, you end up getting more. It’s just like a magic penny.” Interesting that this song compares love to money, a form of wealth, which is the same context in which Dante is trying to understand love and grace and eternal glory. This principle works, devoid of religious context. When you give away (money, good deeds, etc.), you get something in return, whether it’s the instant gratification of knowing you did a job well done, whether it’s recognition of some kind, or whether it’s other unrelated good deeds and such rendered for you. This illustrates the idea of the greater good (socialist in nature) versus individual good (capitalism, if you will). Corporations have tended to focus on individual good at the cost of the greater good, and we (society) are beginning to see this hidden cost and hold corporations accountable. Perhaps Dante-the-character didn’t understand at first the benefits of sharing resources and responsibility, but hopefully CEOs and shareholders are beginning to realize that the more they share, the better off they’ll be. In a very simplistic example, if they raise their workers’ wages up to a somewhat reasonable amount, they will have more contented workers, which will result in higher productivity and less resistance. We may not always be able to quantify or make tangible the benefits of the commons, but they’re there.
Environment and Moving “Up” the Mountain
Your environment has an effect on you. Countless scientific studies have proven, expanded upon, and extrapolated about this. Rhiannon has spoken to this in her personal story, and the topic of music has been discussed by Rachel as well. I have been so intrigued by the points being made by Prof. Anderson in the past few class meetings: that faith is not an intellectual matter of ceding to certain ideas, but is more about getting yourself in an environment that engenders a mood and mindset where you’ll be in the right place emotionally to tackle faith. It’s not a question of “getting it” as much as it is an issue of surrounding yourself with an alternative culture that will get you to feel it, to truly know it with your heart.
This completely applies to secular life still on this planet. What and who do you surround yourself with? Are you consciously choosing environments to inspire and encourage you? Where are you focused, and where are you going? Rhiannon talked about her sense of purpose in her life. I was just telling someone today how I like to feel like I’m moving, progressing towards some goal. Sometimes I’m not sure exactly what goal it is, and sometimes what I have in mind for myself isn’t always what works out (and isn’t always what should work out), but I’m constantly moving, self-improving, and progressing. Perhaps not up the mountain towards God (but perhaps…who knows? I don’t know where I’m at with religion at the moment), but at least up something, say perhaps Maslow’s Triangle: Hierarchy of Needs, towards self-actualization. Better than I was the day before.
In conclusion: Dante speaks to secular life through images of a religious afterlife.