I begin with a basic overview of Christianity:
God’s first humans, Adam & Eve, are tricked into obtaining forbidden knowledge by a talking snake. God punishes them by kicking them out of Eden to a now-mortal life of back-breaking toil. This “Original Sin” of Adam & Eve is deemed sufficient cause for God to doom all of their descendants – all of humanity, all of us – to eternity in Hell, which is a place of eternal torment & agony, ruled by Satan, a former angel who rebelled against God (whether God created Hell for Satan or Satan created it himself aren’t clear. What’s also unclear is whether the snake was Satan in disguise and whether God kicked Satan out of Heaven before he tricked Adam & Eve or after). After a few thousand years and a few prophets, God sends his son, Jesus (who is also God) to be tortured & murdered by Romans and resurrected three days later. This bloody sacrifice & re-animation is intended to cleanse us of our inherited guilt and allow our souls entry to Heaven after we die. As long as we believe Jesus/God died/had himself killed to cleanse us of the guilt of a millennia-old sin we had no part in committing, we shall indeed see Heaven. If we do not accept that Jesus is our saviour, we shall join Satan in Hell and be tormented by him forever. For eternity. Until the end of time. During our lives on Earth, Satan – as you’d expect from the Prince of Darkness and Lord of Evil – will constantly be tempting us to follow him in the ways of evil. Why? Because he wants our souls to torment them forever! The only way to negate Satan’s machinations and avoid an eternity of Guantanamo-style hospitality is to accept Jesus as our saviour and allow him custody of our souls.
Bear in mind that I said “basic” and not “brief”. When the hell am I ever brief?
So, anyway, I wonder about Christians who believe the Jesus & Heaven part, but not the Satan & Hell part. Because of that, I wonder if Christianity even has a point without the existence of Satan & Hell. I wonder this because a lot of Christians I’ve spoken to and read the words of have insisted that Satan as the Lord of Hell, the demon who wants to devour your soul, is a fable – a boogeyman from a bygone era, a medieval creation – and Hell isn’t a literal place. They say “Satan is a metaphor for the evil within us all” and “Hell is spiritual separation from God” (which remains undefined anyway). Even some Catholics say this, yet the Vatican still maintains that demonic possession (and subsequent necessary exorcisms) is real and not a giant bushel of rotting cheesy smegma. But I’m not addressing the New Testament literalists who believe Satan’s a real guy who lives in a real place called Hell. I’m addressing the nice, modern, moderate, once-a-week Christians who insist on the “Satan lives in us all as our impure thoughts and Hell is life without God” metaphor and probably only go to church and tick “Christian” on census forms out of habit (we’re over 25% Catholic here with 5.1 million, but there were 3.7 million “no religion” ticks in 2006 which is 18.7% of the population! Nice.).
So Satan is our un-Jesus-y impules. Really, you wishy-washy demi-Christians? No Hell or Satan or soul-hungry demons? But, if it’s all just metaphorical, why must we pledge literal spiritual allegiance to the divine good guys of this story when there aren’t any freaking demonic bad guys? If there’s no eternal torment of Hell and no Satan to poke us in the butt with a sharp stick for a billion years, why did Jesus/God make himself suffer so terribly? To make a macabre plea for attention? Why not, as an omnipotent uber-being should be able to do, just reveal himself to all people simultaneously and proclaim “I am your Creatoooooor, give me your loooooooove” instead of putting himself through such an elaborate ritual execution? I can understand martyring yourself to save countless souls from eternal torture (even though you had personally set that Hell shit up to begin with and then condemned all of us to it because of something our great^100 grandfather did without our knowledge or participation), but why would you allow yourself to be whipped and scourged and stabbed and nailed to a cross to die a slow agonising death just to get people to love you? What a bizarre cry for attention! This makes Jesus sound like the ultimate emo kid.
This modern, moderate metaphorical version of Christianity makes even less sense than the old-school “good guys v. bad guys” version. At least in the traditional Catholic school version you’ve got the classic literary good/bad scenario: good guys trying to get your soul to eternal hookers & blackjack, while bad guys want to roast your soul in a confit of your own faeces or something equally nasty. Never mind the fact that the good guys created Hell and the bad guys that populate it and never mind you’re condemned to it from birth through no action of your own – that’s an impolite question to raise so shut your mouth and put your hand down, little Timmy. But at least it sort of makes sense, from an anthropological “isn’t this primitive mythology simply fascinating?” point of view. It’s got balance – Yin and Yang, black & white, good & evil, dark & light, pleasure & pain, all on an infinite scale. The new “Satan isn’t a dude, he’s our sinful impulses” bollocks renders the Christian story of martyrdom and sacrifice completely pointless. If there’s no actual Satan and no real Hell, what exactly are we being saved from and why was the price Jesus paid so disproportionately high (and who the heck was Jesus tempted by in the desert)? It just smacks of a theological interpretation of scripture to make it seem less ridiculous – and more difficult to criticise. Aah, yes! Theologians are always doing that (find an Alister McGrath debate, if you can stomach his infuriating “I feel“, “it’s true for me” smugness, condescension and gaseous half-answers to questions requiring solid responses) – redefining God & religion in evermore infuriating, goalpost-shifting ways to make critics of religion appear pitifully ill-informed about what the “real religion” is and who the “real God” is. Never mind that your average Christian’s version of the faith isn’t anything approaching the shape-shifting versions that theologians constantly throw out in their debates with heathens, as badass ninjas whip smoke-bombs.
I really think I prefer the actual Christians who actually think Hell exists and contains malevolent spirits who wish us harm; that there one day will be a physical battle at Armageddon between the forces of good and evil (I imagine it’ll look like Peter Jackson’s battle of Mordor in LOTR: ROTK, but bigger – how aaawesome) and that Judgement Day will see people lifted bodily to Heaven while the rest of us duke it out down here for the remaining refineries and breweries and strip clubs and Aston Martin dealerships. Sure, it’s a lot more wacky and dangerous and it’s utterly evil to teach that shit to children, but I tell ya – in terms of an argument it’s a lot easier to draw a bead on a giant, red-hot barrel of bullshit than on a wispy, vaporous, barely-defined half-religion.