A Christian religion page on how to read and understand the Bible, authored by
Frank Ellsworth Lockwood

Monday, November 05, 2007

WHAT IS HELL? Welcome to Hell: “Gehenna”

Part Four: “Gehenna. " A layman has been poking around inside the scriptures for a peek preview inside Gehenna, or Hell. What he found was a bad odor. Hell stinks! It's a stinky, smoke-filled place. But it isn't the Hell many people conceive of.

WHAT IS HELL? Welcome to Hell Three: "Hades"

Welcome to Hell Three: “Hades”
By F. Ellsworth Lockwood
November 4, 2007

Welcome to Hades (Or Hell Part Three), in which an amateur bible student pokes around scriptures looking for The Devil in Hell, but the creature he finds in charge may surprise you!

WHAT IS HELL? Welcome to Hell Two: "Sheol"

 A bible student pokes around inside the scriptures, looking for hell fire and damnation. This, the second post, concerns "Sheol," a Hebrew word translated as "hell" in the King James version of the Holy Bible.

Among the big surprises ... the Jewish hell/Sheol originally was not hot!

WHAT IS HELL? Welcome to Hell One: "The Folklore Hell"

By F. Ellsworth Lockwood
November 3, 2007

Welcome to "The Folklore Hell" ("Hell Part One," in which a liberal amateur proposes to poke around to see what is inside the literalistic hell)

Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it. (Isaiah 5:14)

Allow me to start off this series of biblical studies with the present popular (Protestant) version of Hell which is something like the following: When one dies he goes to either one of two places, Heaven or Hell. Hell is a place of torment where people are tortured forever and forever, usually without respect for the nature of their sins. One sin is as bad as every other sin, because God's standard is perfection. All have sinned, and so those who do not avail themselves of the Name of Jesus Christ, have no excuse. They deserve this punishment. It is the just reward of the unjust. The original sin of the first human being, Adam, is all it takes to send you to this place, which is ruled by Satan and populated with his minions. People cry out day and night in their torments, seething in literal flames and writhing in pain, weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth throughout eternity, underworld without end, Amen and Amen.

I suspect that most Christians have no idea of how the notion of Hell has grown over the centuries. Most religious folks probably realize that the devil does not wear a red suit, however, few are aware that the prevailing, current "Christian" view of Hell described above is no more scriptural than any Halloween-costume version. Because of the general confusion concerning the biblical Hell of Christianity, I propose to write a five part synopsis of what I have learned from the Bible, over last 40-some years, concerning Hell.

As a child I knew about Hell before I ever leaned about Heaven. My father was not a cussing man, certainly not a blasphemer, but Hell was in his vocabulary. Frequently, long before I heard of heaven. In fact, if my mother spoke of heaven, it was in the form of, “Heavens to Betsy!” exclaimed in the face of some absurd bit of information that came her way. “The goat is out of the pasture? Heavens to Betsy don’t just stand there, go catch her!” That kind of thing.

Hell was a man’s word. It was something Dad said right in front of God and everybody, or so it seemed to me. Except for my mother. Dad seldom used profanity in her presence. If he did, you knew he was really mad or upset about something.

I remember one morning my dad and I got up at 3 a.m., left along with Dad’s friend Stanley Antonelli while it was still dark; we had planned to catch the early morning tide, as you had to have a really low tide to “fish” for abalone near the little town of Davenport, California. It was pitch dark and my dad and his friend Stanley brought along thermoses of hot coffee. They gave me coffee to drink, which made me feel like a real man. But then one of them used the word “Hell” and after a bit the other one used that word too, and I was feeling kind of giddy then, not so comfortable, because we were driving and going out in the ocean where anything could happen, and I was afraid that God would strike us dead. I wished they would not mention Hell under those circumstances. I was afraid.

I was not alone. Millions of people around the world, including here in the United States, fear hell. Fear the threats of an angry God who has a special place all heated up for them in case they misbehave. I could easily imagine God frying us all real good too. My dad loved me, and yet there were times when I thought he might kill me if I did something naughty. His spankings were frequent and they were hard, and sometimes, once he started spanking, his eyes would glaze over and he seemed like a crazed animal. I did not think he was in his right mind -- it was as if he had turned into a different man, a stranger with malice of intent.

My dad did not seem to know his own strength. He was so strong that he would have us kids pile on his back and then he would do push ups, just for fun. He never counted them, like a lot of people do. I once asked him how many push ups he could do and he looked puzzled. “I don’t know, “he said. “I suppose I could do them all day. It’s just kind of like walking, you know.”
He was strong. As a teenager he was in Conservation Corps. To build the stone bridges for which they became famous, the boys in the CC had to roll rocks up the front of their bodies and put them in the beds of pickup trucks. Every Sunday, and most nights before falling asleep, we began prayers with “Our father which art in heaven,.” That was not necessarily a comforting phrase, however. Given my father’s rage, what harm might be done by a crazed, omnipotent God who was a “Heavenly Father“? I fretted about life, death, and the afterlife.

One Halloween evening, as we were putting on our costumes, I asked my dad, “Do you believe in a real Devil?” Yes, he did, he said. “I believe in the Devil, I think he wears a red suit, and I think that the fire is hot!”

And with that introduction, I dedicate this paper to the memory of my dad.

For more on the topic of "hell,: see the post on Sheol: http://peddlersack-religion.blogspot.com/2007/11/hell-enlarged-word-study-of-hot-place_05.html

Saturday, November 03, 2007

WHO IS THE DEVIL? (Whatever happened to Satan?)

Whatever happened to Satan?

At one time he was supposed to have been a rival to Jehovah himself. The God of this world that blinded minds. Known as the Prince of the Powers of the air and the Prince of Darkness, he was the rebellious star among the angels of Heaven. A spiritual rabble-riser who revolted, he was so devious that he convinced one third of God's angels to go with him and when he was banished from God's heavenly palaces he went on a rampage, tormenting mankind and to haunting the earth with evil.

Before God's court, he was the false accuser of good people, slanderous, libelous, treacherous. Yet he was a Being with such a power and dignity that he arrogantly strode right into places that even Moses and, later, the high priests dared not tread: He walked right into the very presence of God, just showed right up and demanded to speak with Jehovah face to face (Moses could not even do that.), and demanded a subpoena giving him the legal authority to strip God's servant Job down to his underwear and grind him into the ground. To smash him, crush him, pulverize him until he had nothing left but his boil-covered body, his integrity, four unfaithful friends and a heart full of rage, which he vented in a well-prepared rant against his maker. And God signed the subpoena.

So God, the story goes, just rolled over to Satan, and said, "OK, just don't kill him but you can do whatever else you want to with him." So here that impudent rascal, Satan, stands, right in God's own headquarters, and God just lets him walk away! No arrest, no torture, not even a good scolding. The way they talked almost sounded like a couple of Godfathers. "Hey, one of your guys is putting on a good show but I think he's a fake. I just want a piece of him, so what do you say? Just hold your guys off, OK? Because I have a score to settle with this Guy."

And Satan turns and stalks out, free as a bird. Well, a couple of thousand years later we are told that God has Satan under surveillance now. Sort of like the U.S. had Al Sadr under surveillance, I suppose. He has him under containment supposedly, but when Satan gets bad enough, God promises he will tie him up for a thousand years. After that, though, God is going to turn Satan loose on the earth once more. Teach a lesson to all of us little devils who are left on earth. Give us a taste of our own medicine, I suppose.

Well, God knows that this Mr. Satan is a bad guy, incorrigible and so forth and that as soon that devil is unbound he will return to his old ways. But ... God has his parole plan, and he is sticking with that plan -- no matter what the consequences, and regardless of that fact that those consequences are clearly foreseen. Satan is going to do some genetic engineering and create some man-sized locusts, and they are going to come pouring out of the earth in great swarms and in their tails they have poison. These creatures are going to be like living stun-guns which the Devil will use to fly around stinging people until they cry out, "Please, just kill me, I want to be killed." Well, yes, I am paraphrasing a little freely here, but this is the gist of it.
In the meanwhile, my friend asks me, "Where is this bad guy now?" My friend wants to know what I think. Is the Devil just going to and fro throughout the earth looking fruitlessly for that one good guy, like a modern day Job, a modern guy who still loves God? Where is Satan at work today?

According to the original episode, it would appear that Satan passed over a lot of evil men and women, looking here, poking in there, until he found the decent Job. "Ah-ha, there you are, you miserable man of religion. Just stay there and I will be right back."

Zoom, to God's thrown room.

"Have you never heard of knocking?" God says.

Satan is not in a good mood. "Don't mess with me, OK? I have been very busy looking all over hell for you servant Job and now I have located him. Let's just get down to business and forget the small talk, OK?"
Where is this monster, Satan now, and what is he up to?" This is the question I was asked this afternoon, by my Christian friend. "Where do you see Satan at work in the world? How do you see him working?" she asked.

Here is my response:

Satan, to me, is the personification of evil, not a real person. There, I have said it. Satan is a convenient literary device. Just like we say the "sun rises" when we know that is not true. We know the sun does not really "rise." But it appears as if it does, and we all know what we mean. We don't go into the whole scientific thing of the earth rotating on its imaginary axis, we just say, "The sun is rising," when it is not really rising at all. We on earth are merely turning in relation to the sun. The same goes for Satan. We use the term Satan and we know what it means. Problem is, there are so many literalistic coreligionists, even nowadays, and believing in those teachers would be like believing that Atlas literally holds world on his shoulders.

On the other hand, sometimes, in the middle of stormy night, Satan seems as real and tangible as my own hand. There is a little of the supersticious in me, I admit, and sometimes I cannot help wondering, "Is there some kind of evil spirit which is like a counterpart of God?" But in the daytime and amongst my literate friends, I stuff that notion. And once time in my dreams I med a man, and just one look at him, I knew, he was the prince of the powers of darkness. Good looking, bald, self confident, a look of implacable, almost indifferent, invincibility upon his face. But how about you? Have you ever come face to face with an evil spirit? Hard to deny those emotions isn't it?

Never mind. These are not the thoughts of my mind but of my psyche, that place of inner darkness from which rise all the fears, demons, devils, and panic of madness?

At any rate, I suspect that most of the bible was written by literate people, for literate people. A possible exception being the four gospels, written (as I see it)  for the poor, the weak, the downtrodden as well as for the rich.

I do see the enemy of humankind (I think that "Satan" means "Enemy") at work in such things as our callous indifference to the so-called "collateral damage" in wars of aggression. I see him at work in America's policy of containment, which has often proven to be nothing but the hijacking of our government by certain industrialists and special-business interests in order to rape other nations, to strip them of their natural resources and to ensure a cheap supply of labor.

I also see Satan at work in false advertising, and in the seduction of people for the purpose of turning them in to a nation of wanton consumers; I see him in the use and misuse of people's religion. I see Satan in what has sometimes been called the "Seduction of the Spirit" (Harvey Cox). I see Satan in the the government's (apparently deliberate) propagation of "maps" that don't fit the territory concerning international politics.

I see Satan in the use of chemical weapons. And in what I believe to be the exposure of our military personnel to nerve agents in the Gulf War and probably in Iraq as well. The truth of the exposures was covered up, the mothers of veterans tell me ( I suspect that the exposures were real but may have been covered up in order to avoid the expense of caring for the injured.).

I see Satan at work in the withholding of good when it is in our hand, nationally speaking, to provide adequate health care for our citizens, and food and meaningful work for everyone.

I see Satan at work in the official double-speak that is so rampant in our institutions, and in the polarization of society, I see it in racial prejudice, in nationalism and terrorism, in greed and graft, and so-on. Satan's work is all around us, horrible, millions dead and dying as a result of our abuse and neglect, and yet, here we are, we Christians, worrying over whether or not someone believes in the Trinity or in demons and angels, so-on and so-forth, all the while condoning the propagation of misery.

My attitude is this: You want to heal people? Write your Senators and tell them to stop the killing and maiming of the hundreds of thousands of people! Easy fix! You love the orphans? Then quit making orphans of people by killing their parents! Simple things that we can to right now if there are enough of us speaking our truth. You can be excommunicated if you do something naughty in the bedroom, but you will be celebrated if you go shoot your share of the supposed enemies, many of whom were not enemies at all, until we started shooting.

If Christians/the church do not wake up, someone or something else will come along and replace them/it. I suspect that churches often do not want to empower our government to serve our needy because poverty, sickness, and distress, drive people to the churches for "help." May God have mercy on some of those who do turn to the church for help. Religion, historically, has always stripped away from its victims the most basic, God given rights: the rights to think and to speak freely. When religion replaces spirituality, I think we are done for.

For further reading: HARVEY COX is the author of "The Secular City" and many other books, including The Seduction of the Spirit, which was nominated for the National Book Award. A professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts."

Another person who speaks a lot of truth is Naom Chomsky. (http://www.chomsky.info/)

To learn more about Harvey Cox: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20011224/cox