Thursday, April 07, 2011

what fresh hell is this?

johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard
'cause hell's broke loose in georgia and the devil deals the cards
and if you win, you get this shiny fiddle made of gold
and if you lose, the devil gets your soul

~charlie daniels

there's a new devil in town.

and his name is whatever the hell you want it to be.

that's not my opinion, mind you. that's according to pastor rob bell, author of "love wins," a re-examining of the nature of heaven and hell and bedevilry.

"The actual word 'hell,'" Bell writes, "is used roughly twelve times in the New Testament, almost exclusively by Jesus. The Greek word that gets translated as 'hell' in English is the word 'Gehenna.' Ge means 'valley,' and henna means 'Hinnom.' Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, was an actual valley on the south and west side of the city of Jerusalem. Gehenna, in Jesus's day, was the city dump.

"People tossed their garbage and waste into this valley. There was a fire there, buring constantly to consume the trash. Wild animals fought over scraps of food along the edges of the heap. When they fought, their teeth would make a gnashing sound. Gehenna was the place with the gnashing of teeth, where the fire never went out...

"And that's it."

that's it? that's hell? i mean, it would be if you lived nearby, but still... where's the branding? where's the iconography? where's the spokesperson for eternal torture?

as you might expect, rev. rob's take on cherished christian dogma is raising quite a ruckus. critics are outraged that his hell is bereft of molten effluvia and bullwhips and harsh language. they like their devil red and pointy-tailed and pitch-forky. nattily outfitted with cloven hooves, a serpent's tongue, and an exquisite black goatee.

that's a devil everyone can agree on, in the same way everyone knows jesus had long red hair, milky-white skin, and a really nice toga. just like the rest of the middle-eastern jews of his time.

despite all the upset, brother rob's hades is plenty scary. he describes a hell complete with dismemberment, murder, and starvation that would make any devil chortle with delight. but those examples are earthly, and therefore seem unlikely to instill sufficient fear to deter socially inconvenient behavior. and isn't that the point 2,000 years of hellish PR?

besides which, everyone has their own phobias to keep them hunkered down. fears that are their own work of art, panoramic plays of light and dark and nuance and cliche. yours are especially disturbing, aren't they? care to share?

okay, i'll go first. my worst fear is that i'll be forced to live on a tropical island populated with happy, smiling folks who visit for a week or two then go away, replaced by a fresh batch of people who arrive, spend a lot of money, then go back whence they came. and so on for the aforementioned forever.

but that's me. that's my fear. please, mr. devil, don't throw me into the palm tree patch.

your fears, undoubtedly, are more rational. it seems entirely reasonable, for example, that you'd be afraid of snakes. big ones, with heads the size of your fist, that bite your arm and twist and squirm and won't let go, ever. little venomous ones that slither and hide, with teeth so needle-fine you don't even realize the poison is rushing to your heart. snakes in the grass. snakes on a plane. snakes on a boat, snakes on a goat. hissssssss.....

no? not your cup o' hot steaming hell? that's fine, not to worry. there are plenty more where that came from. like...

wanting a job, but being chronically unable to get one. having a job, but living in fear of losing it.

a child, once adorable and adoring, who now doesn't like you. at all.

a disease that makes you forget what you're doing, who you are, and why that stranger is wearing a ring with your name engraved on it.

a lump that wasn't there the last time you checked.

radiation from safe, sunshine-and-rainbow reactors.

oil spewing endlessly into coastal waters, covering living creatures with a dark blankets of crude.

scary, right? and these fears are entirely available, here and now, no dying required. not immediately, anyway.

point of metaphysical clarification: if the purpose of "hell" is to keep the faithful compliant, an actual devil isn't really necessary, is it? i mean, couldn't some clever dogmatists just invent a scary "beast of the underworld," and sell the hell out of him? is the question itself heretical? yes! yes! and yes!

Bell said he wrote the book because the Christian message that God is love seems to have gotten lost.

"I kept meeting religious people who were incredibly dogmatic about heaven and hell when you die, but didn't seem to care about the fact that 800,000,000 people will go to bed hungry tonight," he told the crowd.

He said that what he called "evacuation theology," or the idea that "Jesus is your ticket to somewhere else," is dangerous because it can cause people to miss Christ's message about how to live in such harmony with God that you are creating a heaven on Earth.

"Jesus taught his disciples to pray, not 'God, beam me up,' but 'Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,'" Bell said.
well, no wonder rob's book has got so many people so in a tizzy. that kind of jesus talk doesn't mesh well with kicking the poor and the sick when they're down. it's inconsistent with educating children and feeding the hungry. it totally doesn't synch up with the unblinking corporatocracy some are working so hard to build.

in a world with so many demons afoot in the land of the living, satan is redundant. but as brother bell probably wouldn't say, in many ways the prince of darkness might actually be preferable.

the devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat
and he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at johnny's feet
johnny said "devil, just come on back if you ever wanna try again
i done told you once, you son of a bitch, i'm the best that's ever been


Richard said...

You just return from the deep south ?

spaceneedl said...

why, yes. how'd you know?