“Good is good only because there is evil, and God is God because there is a devil.”
– Paul Carus
February 14, 2017 (Nairobi):
On our taxi ride to church, the girls were asking about people going to Hell. I realized I don’t know what I believe about hell and consequently don’t know what to teach my kids. So I decided to so some research. As I expected, any kind of monolithic concept of Satan or Hell quickly falls to pieces among the many origins and lines of development in ancient religions – Egyptian, Persian, Babylonian, Indian, etc. – in whose soil Christianity eventually took root. In other words, semantic relativism very much plays a part in this. I asked [a friend] what he thought, and unsurprisingly, he observed that he doesn’t believe in ‘hell’. I replied by saying I am interested in whatever scientific truth there may be that is at the root of the near-universal mythological notions of a ‘hell’. There must be something to it….
Truth leads me on, step by step. It’s a natural process in which the λóγος in my mind traces the λóγος outside my mind. After discussions of hell, evil, and Satan with Amber, the girls, and [my friend], I downloaded and read the book The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil by Paul Carus who wrote it in 1900. I was blown away by the book, not only for its wide sweep and marvelous diction but also how close the author’s thoughts are to my own:
“The world of ours is a world of opposites. There is light and shade, there is heat and cold, there is good and evil, there is God and the Devil…The dualistic conception of nature has been a necessary phase in the evolution of human thought.”
“Monotheism and monodiabolism [one devil], both originating simultaneously in the monistic tendencies of man’s mental evolution, together constitute a Dualism which to many is still the most acceptable world-conception. Nevertheless, it is not the final goal of human philosophy. As soon as the thinkers of mankind become aware of the Dualism implied in this interpretation of the world, the tendency is again manifested towards a higher conception, which is a purely monistic view.”
“Let us pursue in religion the same path that science travels, and the narrowness of sectarianism will develop into a broad cosmical religion which shall be as wide and truly catholic as is science itself.”
“When in the progress of science religious symbols are recognized and known in their symbolic nature, this knowledge will not destroy religion but will purify it and will cleanse it from mythology.”
“Set, the great and strong god of prehistoric [Egyptian] times, was converted into Satan with the rise of the worship of Osiris. Set was strong enough to slay Osiris, as night overcomes the light of the sun; but the sun is born again in the child-god Hor, who conquers Set and forces him to make the old serpent of death surrender its spoils. As the sun sets to rise again, so man dies to be reborn. The evil power is full of awe, but a righteous cause cannot be crushed, and in spite of death, life is immortal.”
“It is noteworthy that Satan, in the canonical books of the Old Testament, is an adversary of man, but not of God; he is a subject of God and God’s faithful servant.”
“Without identifying good and evil, [Jacob Böhme] arrives at the conclusion that the existence of evil is intrinsically necessary and unavoidable; it is ultimately rooted in the nature of God himself. The yearning for self-realization constitutes a suffering in God himself, and in the act of revealing himself his will manifests both the bright and the dark aspects of life.”
“Evil personified appears at first sight repulsive. But the more we study the personality of the Devil, the more fascinating it becomes. In the beginning of existence the Evil One is the embodiment of everything unpleasant, then of everything bad, evil, and immoral. He is hatred, destruction, and annihilation incarnate, and as such he is the adversary of existence, of the Creator, of God. The Devil is the rebel of the cosmos, the independent in the empire of a tyrant, the opposition to uniformity, the dissonance in universal harmony, the exception to the rule, the particular in the universal, the unforeseen chance that breaks the law; he is the individualizing tendency, the craving for originality, which bodily upsets the ordinances of God that enforce a definite kind of conduct; he overturns the monotony that would permeate the cosmic spheres if every atom in unconscious righteousness and with pious obedience slavishly followed a generally prescribed course.”
“The universe is such that the evolution of a higher life is possible only through great strain. The evolution of the warm glow of a soul out of the cold clay of the earth, of moral aspirations out of the fierce struggle for existence, of intelligence, thought, and foresight out of brute indifference…is due to extraordinary exertions; it is the product of work performed by the expenditure of enormous energy, and constant efforts are required merely to preserve the treasure already won….
“If there were no power of resistance, if no efforts were needed to reach any higher end desired, if the world were pleasure and goodness throughout, we should have no evolution, no progress, no ideals, for all spheres of existence would float in one universal ocean of bliss, and all things would be intoxicated with heavenly delight…Pain produces the want of something better, and deficiencies arouse the desire for improvement….”
“The Devil is the father of all misunderstood geniuses. It is he who induces us to try new paths; he begets originality of thought and deed. He tempts us to venture out boldly into unknown seas for the discovery of new ways to the wealth of distant Indias. He makes us dream of and hope for more prosperity and greater happiness. He is the spirit of discontent that embitters our hearts, but in the end often leads to a better arrangement of affairs. In truth, he is a very useful servant of the Almighty, and all the heinous features of his character disappear when we consider the fact that he is necessary in the economy of nature as a wholesome stimulant to action and as the power of resistance that evokes the noblest efforts of living beings.
“God, being the All in All, regarded as the ultimate authority for conduct, is neither evil itself nor goodness itself; but, nevertheless, he is in the good, and he is in the evil. He encompasses good and evil. God is in the growth and in the decay; he reveals himself in life, and he reveals himself in death. He will be found in the storm, and he will be found in the calm. He lives in good aspirations and in the bliss resting upon moral endeavors, but he lives also in the visitations that follow evil actions. It is his voice that speaks in the guilty conscience, and he, too, is in the cause of sin, and in this sense he is present even in the evil itself. Even evil, temptation, and sin elicit the good: they teach man. He who has eyes to see, hears to hear, and a mind to perceive, will read a lesson out of the very existence of evil, a lesson which, in spite of the terrors it inspires, is certainly no less impressive, no less divine, than the sublimity of a holy life, and thus it becomes apparent that the existence of Satan is part and parcel of the divine dispensation. Indeed, we must grant that the Devil is the most indispensable and faithful helpmate of God.”
When I woke up this morning, my right brain was trying to crack the enigma of Hell. It felt like I was almost there but just not quite! The original clarity is now fading rapidly, but it had something to do with hell being the condition of being trapped in the decaying process of the body. After all, at death the body may be burned, buried, dismembered, eaten by dogs, rats, or worms, tossed in filthy, dark, putrid place like a ditch or sewer or roughly hewn grave, or left in the bush for wild animals to devour. It seems many such elements are present in popular depictions of Hell. What if ‘going to hell’ happens when a person’s consciousness is kept tied to the cellular decay of their bodies, or even kept watching it from an out-of-body vantage point? The destruction and decay that happens to a body at death can be an awful thing to behold. Perhaps such beholdings have become part of our collective memory.