We’ve been following the adventure of a writer who in a dream boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. This scene from The Great Divorce continues from where we left off, with the writer listening to the heavenly citizen George MacDonald (thus the older style English).
‘Well, Sir,’ I said, ‘That also needs explaining. What do they choose, these souls who go back [on the bus to hell] (I have yet seen no others)? And how can they choose it?’
‘Milton was right,’ said my Teacher [George MacDonald]. ‘The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy—that is, to reality. Ye see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends. Ye call it the Sulks. But in adult life it has a hundred fine names—Achilles’ wrath and Coriolanus’ grandeur, Revenge and Injured Merit and Self- Respect and Tragic Greatness and Proper Pride.’
‘Then is no one lost through the undignified vices, Sir? Through mere sensuality?’
‘Some are, no doubt. The sensualist, I’ll allow ye, begins by pursuing a real pleasure, though a small one. His sin is the less. But the time comes on when, though the pleasure becomes less and less and the craving fiercer and fiercer, and though he knows that joy can never come that way, yet he prefers to joy the mere fondling of unappeasable lust and would not have it taken from him. He’d fight to the death to keep it. He’d like well to be able to scratch; but even when he can scratch no more he’d rather itch than not.’