August 7, 2005

The History Channel on Hell and the Devil

English: Detail of work Heaven and Hell includ...
English: Detail of work Heaven and Hell including Devil/Dragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm watching the History Channel again because they are showing a special called Hell: The Devil's Domain, which I couldn't resist. It turned out to be very interesting. So many thoughts...

According to the scholars (and I use the term somewhat loosely here), the Christian bible actually doesn't say much about hell. The clearest notion appears to be that hell is a state of separation from the invisible superman in the sky.

The show makes it quite clear that the modern images of the devil and hell with which we are all familiar were actually invented well after the time of the bible as a tool for the church to recruit followers. They talk about the early church finding symbolic references to the devil in the bible, even where he had not really been mentioned. Although hell and the devil were not mentioned all that frequently in the bible, their images came to dominate Christian art during the middle ages. The church even used these images as a way to demonize their opponents (e.g., Jews, Muslims, etc.). Thus, we see the intolerance for which Christians are so well known reflected in their art.

While most Christians appear to believe that hell is a metaphor, there are evidently some Christian extremists believe that hell is a physical place that is actually located in the center of the earth. I love it! I wonder why they don't oppose oil drilling. It seems like they'd be concerned that it would eventually let the devil climb up and run wild in the streets, causing people to have sex or something.

In modern times, I am convinced that belief in hell primarily serves three related functions. First, it scares little kids and feeble-minded persons into becoming Christians. It continues to be a powerful recruiting tool, as persons without critical thinking skills can be sucked in quite easily. Second, it provides Christians with a huge boost in self-esteem because it allows them to condemn others while feeling superior. Because they are "saved," they are better than you. Third, the concept of hell provides Christians with an excuse to treat others like dirt without feeling guilty. This is just an extension of the second function. If you disagree with them and are thus going to hell, it becomes easier to devalue and even dehumanize you. They can excuse their cruelty because you had your chance and are a lost soul. If their god is going to punish you, they might as well start. When their efforts to recruit you fail, look out.

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