one of my very favorites. I don’t even have to be snarky about it, because it’s all a matter of actually knowing a bit of history and language to get it right. Fundamental Christians are comfortable with neither, so they do all the work for me of being laughable in their silly, uneducated beliefs.
~Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
let’s talk about the Greek and Hebrew vocab bit first, shall we? Although it’s really tied in to the geography and that whole flaming thing, too, so picking one section to focus on might not really be simple.
Hell goes by many names. It is even lucky enough to have scored its very own euphemism, “H-E-Double-Hockey-Stick”, because somehow uttering this phrase is supposed to save one’s soul from the sin of having cursed — in spite of the fact that it means the same thing and sounds five times as ridiculous. If anyone’s gonna burn in the Fires of Hell, it’s gonna be the douche who, in all seriousness, says this kind of crap.
Man is the only creature
that dares to light a fire and live with it.
Because he alone has learned to put it out.
~Henry Jackson Vandyke, Jr.
are all based around the idea of some serious vindictive hatred. This junk does have its origins deeply entrenched in Greek history, and I’ll get to in a minute, but give me a second first to talk about how entirely UN-CHRISTIAN the idea of hell is when examined under contemporary definitions. There is no fucking way that Jesus was down with torture and pain as eternal punishment for crimes which apparently can never be forgiven. Anyone pushing forth this message is out of his God-loving, pea-brained little mind.
Hell is empty
and all the devils are here.
Ask any fundamentalist, however, and you’ll find them immensely pleased at the thought of sending homosexuals, pro-choice advocates, atheists — anyone who doesn’t fit the bill of “good Christian” — to the Fires of Hell. I’m pretty sure these demented jack-wagons would escort the lot themselves, eagerly, and with a few kicks and punches thrown in for good measure. I know the Lord must be so pleased with His nasty-ass worshippers.
The fire you kindle
for your enemy
often burns yourself
more than them.
Back to the Greek history portion of this argument. The whole “burn in hell” bit is based on an actual, honest-to-goodness, totally for-realz place called Gehenna. A lovely valley in the south of Jerusalem where the early Jews practiced idolatry and sacrificed their children to Moloch and Baal, this ideal “hot spot” later became the city’s central trash heap. As in, dump your poop, dead bodies, and old issues of Reader’s Digest in one smoke-clogged mess of filth.
Oh no — what do we do with the criminals we’ve just cut up into pieces?
Oh no — what do we do with the women we’ve stoned to death for un-darned socks or inability to have babies or whatever else we stone them for?
Oh no — what do we do with all those dead rats or wild dogs or what-the-fuck-ever critters are crawling around our village?
Come on — pay attention! You know this one!
The Fires of Hell always burn, out that ways. We are talking EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION. Getting a mental picture here? Hell was real. It was a valley of ever-burning fires that stank up to the sky and back again. Consider every disgusting thing you’ve ever seen, all piled up in one massive orgy of a bonfire.
There go your Fires of Hell.
This is convenient, because the person in the Bible most psyched about the Fires of Hell is Matthew — he uses the word “hell” a whopping SEVEN times, beating out Mark, who only says “hell” THREE times, and Luke, who only says “hell” once.
Matthew is a very excitable fellow over the whole thing — he speaks of people being “in danger of the fire of hell” in chapter 5, and parts of your body being “thrown into hell” in both chapter 5 as well as 18. Then he screams at some douche-y spiritual leaders in chapter 23, calling them all sorts of names and accusing them of being children of hell condemned to hell. Hell-Hell-Hell-… getting sick of this jingle yet?
Mark and Luke aren’t quite as vocal on the topic of the Fires of Hell, and John was pretty silent on that particular word. Maybe they knew we’d be bored of it by the time we got to them?
“Yeah, Apostle-dudes, got it. There’s a great burning fire of trash that you wanna throw me on if I fuck up. And also, the bogey-man is hiding under my bed ready to jump and and eat my hands should I fail to wash them after going pee. No need to be repetitive.”
“Every Man is his own hell.”
~Henry Louis Mencken
Another early source of hell
comes from Hades, the ancient Greek God of the Underworld. So his place in the Bible is questionable at best, given that we don’t see too many Greek gods popping up pre-, mid-, or post-Jesus chapters. While the Greeks thought him up first, the Romans jumped all over that wagon, and then eventually the Hebrews hit it up, too. Everyone loves the Greeks.
Over the course of time, the name “Hades” became less associated with an individual and more with the Underworld itself. And what’s really funny to me is this: Insomuch as Hades was still ruling the roost, he was more an impassive, stand-offish kind of dude than a devilish / Satanic / cruelty-driven creature of pain. He was a bit judge-y maybe, like in deciding exactly which part of the Underworld you deserved. A special little corner called Tartarus was reserved for the BIG nasties, but mostly, Hades was like, “Whatevs. Welcome, all. Please leave your shoes by the door so you don’t track in mud from all that river-crossing.”
Each lost soul will be a hell unto itself,
the boundless fire raging in its very vitals.
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Interesting bit about Hades with regard to the Bible: The only times this location is referenced is in a parable offered up by Luke, and then again later in Revelations. To summarize: Hades is mentioned in a night-night story and in a prophecy that hasn’t yet come to pass. Definitely makes makes me believe in its existence. I’m all shuddery-scared. Yikes, please don’t send me to Hades!
And Sheol, the invisible world of departed spirits, somehow got mixed in as part of the whole Fires of Hell package. Sheol is pretty much the same thing as Hades, though. Don’t worry your pretty little head over it. There’s so much old-school, pre-Christian era religion that no one could possibly be expected to keep it all straight.
An excellent book on the topic of the Fires of Hell and other related items of Christianity is one by Rob Bell, entitled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Most factions of Christianity have disowned Bell, which should make him right up your alley if you’ve managed to make it this far through my post without wanting to stab me with a cross.
It always has, and it always will.
We are free to resist, reject, and rebel
against God’s ways for us.
We can have all the hell we want.”
~Rob Bell, Love Wins
AtoZ August 2012 — A Month of Controversy
Throughout the money of August 2012, my dear friend Aaron @dadblunders and I are doing a dry run of the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. This past April was my first official participation in such activity, and I had no idea what I was doing. No theme, no forethought, purely spur-of-the-moment. This time around, I have a plan. Join the fun!
For this event, I am engaging in a month of controversy. Consider yourself forewarned.