I was reading recently about how the idea of Satan came about.
In the early middle ages St. Augustine determined that, as a result of Adam’s original sin and seeing as how we’re all descendants of Adam, evil exists in everyone. This meant that when bad things happened everyone had only themselves to blame since they all had a bit of badness in them. People bought into this pretty well because finding a scapegoat when badness happened wasn’t difficult.
Then, after a while, people began to take exception to St. Augustine’s concept thinking they really weren’t all that bad; actually they felt pretty good about themselves. So they got to thinking it wasn’t them but something or someone outside themselves that made them be bad. They anthropomorphized badness into a somewhat ambiguous horned satyr that they saw as perpetrating evil just because he wasn’t a very nice creature. He was an idea most everyone could fear and dislike.
Later, in modern times, now that people don’t so much believe in supernatural entities anymore, Satan has begun to fade away. So now, when bad things happen some people have gone back to finding a scapegoat, others have looked to St. Augustine and blame our inherent sinfulness and still others have dismissed the concept of evil altogether and rationalize badness as being relative to peoples and times.
When I think about how I stand on this I guess I lean towards relativism, but it takes some pretty hefty rationalization to accommodate some of the atrocities one hears about these days.
I just finished reading Dante’s Inferno. In case you don’t know it’s a book about what Hell is like. In it, Dante tells about being guided by the poet Virgil into the underworld, which is this huge pit containing the souls of all the people who have died and been found guilty of evil doings without having done anything, penitence-wise, that would have maybe gotten them to a more favorable eternal location.
The first level of the underworld is for people who haven’t been baptized and, basically, all they have to do is wait around forever, but as Dante and Virgil go down deeper and deeper they discover each successive level holds souls who have been more evil than the last and are made to suffer worse conditions.
On level five heretics are encased in fiery graves and watched over by the Furies and Medusa. On level seven violent souls are submerged in a river of boiling blood and watched over by the Minotaur so if they come up for air they get shoved back down.
When the poets get to the very bottom they find Satan encased in ice and unable to move, so they climb up his huge body and escape from Hell.
Boy, Dante sure had a good imagination. The amount of detail he goes in to is amazing. He must of thought about Hell for a long time. I wonder if it was because he felt guilty about something or if he was just trying to warn people to walk the straight and narrow.
Anyway, I think people today think differently about what Hell will be like than they did in Dante’s day. It probably will have more to do with the loss of mobile communication devices and reality TV.