After my former blogpost on preaching about hell, I’ve been thinking I might start a whole series on the subject. I mean, why not, huh? There’s no reason we should let fundamentalist Protestants and pop culture take the podium on the issue. Besides, it’d be a refreshing turn after spending so much time at Perkins hearing the arguments for universalism and those whole hold that view burn the straw men that hold the opposing view.
It’s unfortunate and disturbing to find how many Christians get their ideas of hell and heaven from pop culture. More specifically, how Looney Tunes has influenced this. Think of how many times we’ve seen characters die and turn into angels with wings and a harp, or how many times, as comical as it is, Satan is depicted as a red guy with horns, a goatee, a pitchfork, and a tail with the spade at the end. The only accurate part of that would be the goatee since it’s true that not every person with a goatee is evil, but every evil person (females excluded) has a goatee. This seems obvious when heavy thought is given to the subject.
For my second foray into hell I’d like to point out three things:
“Hell” is a Northern European word. Yep, the Vikings aka the Norsemen, are the ones who coined the term, which might be a bit different than the way Christians talk about it today. Jesus refers to hell as Gehenna or flames or eternal fire, not hell. “Hell” in fact comes from Nordic mythology, which shows our English language roots influenced by the Vikings. English is a Germanic language even if it’s loaded down with Norman influence. Personally I think our best words come from the Anglo Saxon side of things. Words like: fire, water, cup, cow, dog, television, and entrepreneur.
Depictions of hell are usually heavily based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” which I think is quite a compliment to ol’ Dante in his use of imagery in an epic poem. Needless to say, I highly recommend reading it. The typical image we have when we imagine Satan, usually in a comical sense, comes from this work. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is not what Dante intended when he wrote Inferno, that is it’s not a work to laugh at or take lightly. However I do admit he called it the Divine Comedy. I’ll leave that one alone. And why does everyone talk about the Inferno, the first third of the book, and not the other two. It’s like watching Episode IV of Star Wars and never seeing Luke train and become a jedi. I’ll grant that vice and sin can be more interesting at times, but isn’t that just a call for better marketing on the part of virtue?
Lastly, why do we need to discriminate in our depictions of Satan? I mean, if a person agrees that there is a Satan, why make him out to be male? If Satan is an angel- a fallen one at that- and angels have no sex, then making him a “him” is unfair and discriminatory toward men. I guess you’ll never hear feminist theologians, if they accept the existence of Satan as a independent being and not some archetype in the human psyche- make an uproar over that longheld church tradition. Besides, I think the Great Tempter would be much different if he were depicted as a female, wouldn’t you? For example, compare the movie “Bedazzled” (Liz Hurley) to “Devil’s Advocate” (Al Pacino). And I wouldn’t look too much into the acting abilities of either candidate.