Author Topic: Intermediate State  (Read 1249 times)

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Offline Arzelle

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Intermediate State
« on: January 20, 2018, 07:49:36 PM »
Hello, everyone!

I was raised Pentecostal, but I've been looking into Orthodoxy for a long time. I guess I've been a serious inquirer for four or five years now, and gradually I came to believe that the Orthodox Catholic Church is the the original Church of Christ.

I doubted the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, but now I believe.

I doubted Mary's perpetual virginity and was bothered by how much we honor and venerate her, but now I believe.

I doubted the communion of the saints, seeking their intercession, and praying for the dead, but now I believe.

I doubted using icons in worship, liturgy, confession and absolution, the authority of the ecumenical councils, etc., but now I believe.

The reason I'm telling you this is because even though I've come so far, there is still one doctrinal stumbling block for me that I just can't get over: the intermediate state, especially the aerial toll-houses.

I don't have a problem with the particular judgement, the foretaste of joy in Heaven and sorrow in Hell, or even the idea of purification after death, but I've heard so many different, contradictory views that I can't keep up with it all.

I know this topic has been hashed and rehashed so much that everybody is probably sick of it (I've read probably 30+ pages about it on this forum alone), but the teaching has caused me so much doubt and confusion that I really wanted to have a live discussion if anyone is willing to bear with me.

I left the issue on the back burner and dismissed it for so long that it finally boiled over, so I can't just ignore it anymore. I'm afraid that even if the teaching is technically theologoumena, historically it was (and still is, according to some) unofficially taught by the Orthodox Church. So, with that in mind, I have a few questions if anybody has answers:

1. How popular is belief in toll-houses among the people in the old world (Greece, Russia, etc.)?

2. How popular is belief in toll-houses among the clergy, especially the episcopacy, worldwide?

3. Is there historical opposition or controvery surrounding belief in toll-houses before the 20th century?

4. If you personally believe in toll-houses, do believers who fail to pass one of the toll-houses (either because they did more bad than good, or because they don't have people praying for them, or whatever else) go to Hell?

5. If you don't believe in toll-houses, what do you make of supposed visionaries and clairavoyant elders who have 'seen' them?

6. In your opinion, is 'Purgatory' (the general idea of purification after death, not the specific Roman Catholic idea with indulgences, temporal punishment, etc.) an allowable theological opinion? I have in mind something like what St. Mark of Ephesus described in his refutation of Rome's dogma.

I'm sorry again to bring this topic back up, and I don't want this thread to devolve into an argument, but I'm just seeking the truth.

Offline Sharbel

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2018, 08:01:19 PM »

I believe!
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Offline Arzelle

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2018, 08:02:28 PM »

I believe!

If only that was the only toll-house I had to deal with...  :P
« Last Edit: January 20, 2018, 08:03:27 PM by Arzelle »

Offline vorgos

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2018, 07:44:48 AM »
I really do not get the fascination with toll houses. I really don't.

what difference does it make? None. We will be judged. We already know this. Or is it because the descriptions are often scary? I dont think meeting our Lord will be fun either.

To me personally, it makes zero difference whether it is in two stages or one. Nor am I hoping that I'll wing it or that someone else will put in a good word and might just make it. None of that interests me. I want Christ, I want to be what Christ wants me to be. Period.

And another thing. If the Church considered it wise and right for us to spend hours on the meditation of the toll houses, it would have put it in the creed or the calendar or some other way to remind us. It hasn't.

So let us focus on repentance and becoming like Christ and pray that he will have mercy on us on the dreaded day we see Him face to face.
Christ turned the world upside down; and when the world was viewed from such a remarkable perspective, it suddenly made sense -- Fr Andrew Greeley

Offline Arzelle

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2018, 01:13:12 PM »
I really do not get the fascination with toll houses. I really don't.

what difference does it make? None. We will be judged. We already know this. Or is it because the descriptions are often scary? I dont think meeting our Lord will be fun either.

To me personally, it makes zero difference whether it is in two stages or one. Nor am I hoping that I'll wing it or that someone else will put in a good word and might just make it. None of that interests me. I want Christ, I want to be what Christ wants me to be. Period.

And another thing. If the Church considered it wise and right for us to spend hours on the meditation of the toll houses, it would have put it in the creed or the calendar or some other way to remind us. It hasn't.

So let us focus on repentance and becoming like Christ and pray that he will have mercy on us on the dreaded day we see Him face to face.


It isn't so much fascination as doubt. I've heard people claim (with convincing arguments, from a laymen's perspective) that the Orthodox Church historically teaches something that I simply just don't believe is part of the deposit of faith. If that is true, if she teaches an error, how am I supposed to believe that the Orthodox Church is 'the pillar and foundation of the truth?'

The doctrine of aerial toll-houses makes me doubt that the Orthodox Church is the true Church ot Christ; it is a stumbling block on my road to conversion, that is why I'm inquiring.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 01:23:09 PM by Arzelle »

Offline Antonis

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2018, 03:37:29 PM »
Hi Arzelle,

I see you've been here for at least a few months. Nevertheless, welcome! I would just like to say I am happy that you've managed to work through many of your doubts regarding the Christian tradition. I hope it has brought you some ease, but also motivation in the life in Christ!

Regarding your questions, I will do my best to answer them. Fair warning--I do not possess major orders or other certification.

1. This belief is held rather widely in the "old country," (my family's "old country" is Greece, but it is widely held in others, too) but it isn't a "fascination," as vorgos puts it. It is acknowledged, it is on occasion brought up in homilies and spiritual counsel, but I have never observed a "fascination" outside of America, and it is usually possessed by those who hate the teaching, or by those who are reacting to the very recent attacks on the teaching.

2. As far as I know, this is the same as my first answer. The only homily I've heard in-person mentioning the toll houses was by a bishop in America. I won't mention it's major detractor, so as to avoid breaking forum guidelines. I'm sure you know about him.

3. No.

4. The toll houses are an instrument of our particular judgment. Hell, as we understand it, will not exist before the final judgment. So, no. It is possible that they eventually will, but it is also possible that they will not, due to the intercessions of the faithful. In the meantime, they experience a rejection of God which is disembodied, just as the saints experience a union with God that is disembodied (with the few exceptions of those that were bodily assumed).  It is necessary to understand that the "debt" our soul has vis-a-vis the demons is no different before or after death. We indebt ourselves, to use the patristic metaphor, to demonic passions through our sinful words, thoughts, actions, and lack of repentance. When we sin, we choose sin's slavery over the freedom of Christ. After we die, the state of our soul is the same as it was at the time of our death, albeit having to undergo the terrible separation from the body. All of those passions we possessed in this life are still present, but without a body to exercise them. This is the aerial trial. By Christ's mercy, and the pleas of the saints and angels and living faithful, we can even be freed of those small things of which we have not repented. But, it is important that we repent now and turn our lives over completely to Christ.

If you have not already read it, I recommend Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos' summary of the "Taxing of Souls," which is helpfully excerpted from his book on life after death, here: http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/soul_taxing.aspx

5. N.A.  ;)

6. As you said, St. Mark expresses well the Orthodox position on the subject. It seems to me (and this is just my opinion) that purgatory may have been a Western image of the same concept which became very inflated, systematized, and took on new characteristics and implications.

I hope I've been some help!
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 03:41:34 PM by Antonis »
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Letter to Diognetus 11.4

Offline Arzelle

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2018, 03:55:33 PM »
Hi Antonis, thank you for your response.

I've heard stories of monks and nuns barely passing the toll-houses, and even then only with a saint or elder praying especially for them. If it is that difficult, how can an ordinary person be saved?
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 03:57:05 PM by Arzelle »

Offline Antonis

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2018, 04:05:24 PM »
Hi Antonis, thank you for your response.

I've heard stories of monks and nuns barely passing the toll-houses, and even then only with a saint or elder praying especially for them. If it is that difficult, how can an ordinary person be saved?
The difficulty of reaching paradise is by no means a theme unique to the toll houses. There is literal truth to it, and there is also a greater message meant to incense us in our spiritual lives. And, after all, there are laity that are at greater heights than monastics.

In addition, it is important to bear in mind that God's judgment is unlike our own. A person who is given two talents and multiplies them into four is accounted above the one who is given six and does not multiply them.
"Verily they that seek Thee, Lord, and keep the canons of Thy Holy Church shall never want any good thing.”
St. John the Merciful

"This is the one from the beginning, who seemed to be new, yet was found to be ancient and always young, being born in the hearts of the saints."
Letter to Diognetus 11.4

Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2018, 05:54:02 PM »
Hey Arzelle,

Here are a few thoughts.

There was an early belief in aerial demons attacking souls. This early belief is far from clear and we only know a little about it. It seems like this was a monastic parable for avoiding vice, on one hand, and a general fear of aerial spirits, on the other.

Then you have "theodora-style" tollhouse theory. This is the sort of tollhouse theory you are talking about. It is later in history and finds its expression in a particular text that rings of arcontic cosmology. The temptation is to commit the hermeneutic mistake of reading this later tollhouse theory back onto the earlier belief, just because some of the words are the same.

I think the tollhouse metaphor isn't problematic when it's seen as one's whole life being recapitulated to choose Christ or not. Whose party do you really want to belong to? etc.. But obviously what concerns you is not this view, but the Theodora style tollhouses.

The idea of tollhouses is often believed nowadays, but it is not a dogma and Orthodox are not required to believe in a particular reading of them vs. another reading.

And let me leave you with an opinion of mine. To have faith that x is to live/act as though x is true. What would it mean for Orthodox to live/act as if the bad tollhouse theory is true? Do they?
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 05:56:30 PM by NicholasMyra »
Quote from: Fr. Thomas Hopko, dystopian parable of the prodigal son
...you can imagine so-called healing services of the pigpen. The books that could be written, you know: Life in the Pigpen. How to Cope in the Pigpen. Being Happy in the Pigpen. Surviving in the Pigpen. And then there could be counselling, for people who feel unhappy in the pigpen, to try to get them to come to terms with the pigpen, and to accept the pigpen.

Offline Arzelle

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2018, 07:02:24 PM »
Hey Arzelle,

Here are a few thoughts.

There was an early belief in aerial demons attacking souls. This early belief is far from clear and we only know a little about it. It seems like this was a monastic parable for avoiding vice, on one hand, and a general fear of aerial spirits, on the other.

Then you have "theodora-style" tollhouse theory. This is the sort of tollhouse theory you are talking about. It is later in history and finds its expression in a particular text that rings of arcontic cosmology. The temptation is to commit the hermeneutic mistake of reading this later tollhouse theory back onto the earlier belief, just because some of the words are the same.

I think the tollhouse metaphor isn't problematic when it's seen as one's whole life being recapitulated to choose Christ or not. Whose party do you really want to belong to? etc.. But obviously what concerns you is not this view, but the Theodora style tollhouses.

The idea of tollhouses is often believed nowadays, but it is not a dogma and Orthodox are not required to believe in a particular reading of them vs. another reading.

And let me leave you with an opinion of mine. To have faith that x is to live/act as though x is true. What would it mean for Orthodox to live/act as if the bad tollhouse theory is true? Do they?

Hi NicholasMyra, thank you for responding!

And yeah, you're right. The idea that there are 20 or so invisible toll-houses in the air is what I have trouble with, like a cosmic border patrol or something. It honestly sounds like a medieval superstition or just something made up to scare the peasants into the confessional to me...

I don't have an issue with the idea of demonic accusation at the hour of death, and I know that was widely believed in the first millenium. I just don't see the evidence for the developed toll-house theory back then, or the idea that demons have authority to judge believers, or that if I have to balance my bad works with good works otherwise I'll be damned, etc.

I obviously know that repentance and striving to overcome our passions are essential for the Christian life, but I have a hard time believing that someone who dies in God's grace will be drug to Hell (or the foretaste of it, if you prefer) simply because they failed to become perfect in this life.

I feel like even matiarial fire and temporal punishment in Roman Catholicism is more consistent with the New Testament than that. If I make it into Purgatory, at least I can't lose my salvation at the last minute... :P

Hm, I don't know. I'll have to think on it.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 07:04:39 PM by Arzelle »

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2018, 07:17:53 PM »
Hey Arzelle,

Here are a few thoughts.

There was an early belief in aerial demons attacking souls. This early belief is far from clear and we only know a little about it. It seems like this was a monastic parable for avoiding vice, on one hand, and a general fear of aerial spirits, on the other.

Then you have "theodora-style" tollhouse theory. This is the sort of tollhouse theory you are talking about. It is later in history and finds its expression in a particular text that rings of arcontic cosmology. The temptation is to commit the hermeneutic mistake of reading this later tollhouse theory back onto the earlier belief, just because some of the words are the same.

I think the tollhouse metaphor isn't problematic when it's seen as one's whole life being recapitulated to choose Christ or not. Whose party do you really want to belong to? etc.. But obviously what concerns you is not this view, but the Theodora style tollhouses.

The idea of tollhouses is often believed nowadays, but it is not a dogma and Orthodox are not required to believe in a particular reading of them vs. another reading.

And let me leave you with an opinion of mine. To have faith that x is to live/act as though x is true. What would it mean for Orthodox to live/act as if the bad tollhouse theory is true? Do they?

Hi NicholasMyra, thank you for responding!

And yeah, you're right. The idea that there are 20 or so invisible toll-houses in the air is what I have trouble with, like a cosmic border patrol or something. It honestly sounds like a medieval superstition or just something made up to scare the peasants into the confessional to me...

I don't have an issue with the idea of demonic accusation at the hour of death, and I know that was widely believed in the first millenium. I just don't see the evidence for the developed toll-house theory back then, or the idea that demons have authority to judge believers, or that if I have to balance my bad works with good works otherwise I'll be damned, etc.

I obviously know that repentance and striving to overcome our passions are essential for the Christian life, but I have a hard time believing that someone who dies in God's grace will be drug to Hell (or the foretaste of it, if you prefer) simply because they failed to become perfect in this life.

I feel like even matiarial fire and temporal punishment in Roman Catholicism is more consistent with the New Testament than that. If I make it into Purgatory, at least I can't lose my salvation at the last minute... :P

Hm, I don't know. I'll have to think on it.

So in short, throw out the bad tollhouses, you don't need them to be Orthodox and it's not a big deal.
Quote from: Fr. Thomas Hopko, dystopian parable of the prodigal son
...you can imagine so-called healing services of the pigpen. The books that could be written, you know: Life in the Pigpen. How to Cope in the Pigpen. Being Happy in the Pigpen. Surviving in the Pigpen. And then there could be counselling, for people who feel unhappy in the pigpen, to try to get them to come to terms with the pigpen, and to accept the pigpen.

Offline Arzelle

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2018, 08:06:27 PM »
Hi Antonis, thank you for your response.

I've heard stories of monks and nuns barely passing the toll-houses, and even then only with a saint or elder praying especially for them. If it is that difficult, how can an ordinary person be saved?
The difficulty of reaching paradise is by no means a theme unique to the toll houses. There is literal truth to it, and there is also a greater message meant to incense us in our spiritual lives. And, after all, there are laity that are at greater heights than monastics.

In addition, it is important to bear in mind that God's judgment is unlike our own. A person who is given two talents and multiplies them into four is accounted above the one who is given six and does not multiply them.

I never felt hopelessness or despair from reading the New Testament though, so I do think there is a difference. Out of curiosity, what do people generally imagine when they hear about aerial toll-houses in the 'old country,' if you know? If you asked a yiayia what they 'look' like, I mean.  :P
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 08:07:07 PM by Arzelle »

Offline Arzelle

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2018, 08:12:34 PM »
So in short, throw out the bad tollhouses, you don't need them to be Orthodox and it's not a big deal.

I've been trying, but I can't shake the feeling that I can't be *really* Orthodox if I don't believe in that kind. I'll have to think about it and pray more still.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 08:13:26 PM by Arzelle »

Offline Antonis

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2018, 08:26:39 PM »
Hi Antonis, thank you for your response.

I've heard stories of monks and nuns barely passing the toll-houses, and even then only with a saint or elder praying especially for them. If it is that difficult, how can an ordinary person be saved?
The difficulty of reaching paradise is by no means a theme unique to the toll houses. There is literal truth to it, and there is also a greater message meant to incense us in our spiritual lives. And, after all, there are laity that are at greater heights than monastics.

In addition, it is important to bear in mind that God's judgment is unlike our own. A person who is given two talents and multiplies them into four is accounted above the one who is given six and does not multiply them.

I never felt hopelessness or despair from reading the New Testament though, so I do think there is a difference. Out of curiosity, what do people generally imagine when they hear about aerial toll-houses in the 'old country,' if you know? If you asked a yiayia what they 'look' like, I mean.  :P
Likely not the imagery from the Life of St Basil the New, which caught on more among the Russians (and also some Athonites), but is not wrong if viewed correctly.


I would say these two images, from St Basil and St John Chrysostom and quoted in the article I linked, are better representatives of the Greek "image," but I am not authoritative:

Quote
St. Basil the Great, interpreting the passage from the Psalms: "save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me, lest they tear my soul like a lion" (Psalm 7, 2-3), says that the brave men who have struggled throughout their lives against the invisible enemy, towards the end of their lives "will be searched by the ruler of the age" in order to hold them captive if they are found to have wounds or stigmata or imprints of sins. But if they are found uninjured and unstained, then "as they are invincible and free, Christ will give them rest". Therefore he who is under the power of death, since he knows that "One is He who saves, One is He who redeems", cries out to Christ the Saviour: "deliver me in that time of searching, lest they tear my soul like a lion". And Christ, since he was free of sin, said: "now the ruler of this world is coming and he will have nothing in me"; for man, however, it is enough to say that the ruler of the world is coming and he will have "few and small things" in me".

Quote
St. John Chrysostom adds that if we are frightened by the sight of terrible men, how much more frightened we will be when at the departure of our soul from the body we see "angels threatening us and stern powers".


The twenty toll houses from the life of St. Basil the New is no more authoritative than the souls being snatched from the air by a single, giant demon, as in the vision of St. Anthony, or the image of demons and angels presenting writs of virtues and vices at ones bedside that you find in many other pious accounts. There are more besides these, including from the West. The concept that is represented remains the same, and that view is not my own invention, but is shared by the different sources I've read on the subject.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 08:28:02 PM by Antonis »
"Verily they that seek Thee, Lord, and keep the canons of Thy Holy Church shall never want any good thing.”
St. John the Merciful

"This is the one from the beginning, who seemed to be new, yet was found to be ancient and always young, being born in the hearts of the saints."
Letter to Diognetus 11.4

Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2018, 09:30:16 PM »
So in short, throw out the bad tollhouses, you don't need them to be Orthodox and it's not a big deal.

I've been trying, but I can't shake the feeling that I can't be *really* Orthodox if I don't believe in that kind. I'll have to think about it and pray more still.
Some unsolicited advice that I think may help:

You know, I think hard/uncomfortable views on things have a certain appeal, a certain pull. There is a kind of pride in identifying with a hard or uncomfortable view; a pride in sucking it up and facing the ugly "truth." Calvinists often have this sort of pride in their views. At the same time, identifying with the hard view can help us feel like we're not in denial, it can help us feel more sure. "I'd only be in denial if I were denying the hard view to make things easier on myself... and I'm accepting the hard view, so I mustn't be in denial."

But life and truth don't work that way. Being humble means rightly responding to real things, whether they're easy or hard, simple or complex, relieving or grieving.

You mentioned you'd pray about this, presumably to get guidance from God on what's the truth. Consider this: Be prepared to accept that guidance in ways that don't necessarily relieve you of confusion.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 09:33:42 PM by NicholasMyra »
Quote from: Fr. Thomas Hopko, dystopian parable of the prodigal son
...you can imagine so-called healing services of the pigpen. The books that could be written, you know: Life in the Pigpen. How to Cope in the Pigpen. Being Happy in the Pigpen. Surviving in the Pigpen. And then there could be counselling, for people who feel unhappy in the pigpen, to try to get them to come to terms with the pigpen, and to accept the pigpen.

Offline Arzelle

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #15 on: January 21, 2018, 10:36:11 PM »
So in short, throw out the bad tollhouses, you don't need them to be Orthodox and it's not a big deal.

I've been trying, but I can't shake the feeling that I can't be *really* Orthodox if I don't believe in that kind. I'll have to think about it and pray more still.
Some unsolicited advice that I think may help:

You know, I think hard/uncomfortable views on things have a certain appeal, a certain pull. There is a kind of pride in identifying with a hard or uncomfortable view; a pride in sucking it up and facing the ugly "truth." Calvinists often have this sort of pride in their views. At the same time, identifying with the hard view can help us feel like we're not in denial, it can help us feel more sure. "I'd only be in denial if I were denying the hard view to make things easier on myself... and I'm accepting the hard view, so I mustn't be in denial."

But life and truth don't work that way. Being humble means rightly responding to real things, whether they're easy or hard, simple or complex, relieving or grieving.

You mentioned you'd pray about this, presumably to get guidance from God on what's the truth. Consider this: Be prepared to accept that guidance in ways that don't necessarily relieve you of confusion.

Thank you, NicholasMyra.

I think you actually captured how I feel perfectly (not just with this issue specifically either, but generally). I've never heard anyone else describe that feeling until now, I guess I figured it was only an issue with me. Thank you again, I'll keep your advice in mind. :)

Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: Intermediate State
« Reply #16 on: January 22, 2018, 01:55:58 AM »
I guess I figured it was only an issue with me.
Definitely not!
Quote from: Fr. Thomas Hopko, dystopian parable of the prodigal son
...you can imagine so-called healing services of the pigpen. The books that could be written, you know: Life in the Pigpen. How to Cope in the Pigpen. Being Happy in the Pigpen. Surviving in the Pigpen. And then there could be counselling, for people who feel unhappy in the pigpen, to try to get them to come to terms with the pigpen, and to accept the pigpen.