The Descent Into Hell

Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854

Image via Wikipedia

A friend’s Facebook status reminded me that today is Easter’s infamous vigil. It’s the Christian equvilant of the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva”, which is the mourning period for the dead. Instead of a person, however, Christians today mourn/anticipatory celebrate Jesus’s death and descent into hell.

I am not versed in how this day goes in any other religion except my natal one, Catholicism. My friend is of the Eastern persuasion, and her recollections on Easter differ from my own as they spin Holy Week in a more positive way than the gore, guilt and unworthiness focus of my Catholic youth.

But as I remember the lesson from my Catholic schoolgirl days, Jesus died on Good Friday and descended into hell. There, he rallied the souls of the faithful departed and led them to heaven. It’s a zombie version of The Rapture. The gates of heaven were locked against humanity after some snit God had in the Old Testament. Christianity, as a whole, makes a lot less sense when the Old Testament is examined too closely, and the nonsensical idea that God is anything other than capricious and scary as … um … hell, can be found all over the bible’s earliest books.

I bring this up because of a conversation I overheard Dee having with a friend who stayed over the other night.

Her little friend is Catholic and Dee herself was baptized in the faith back when I still entertained ideas of leaving her belief system up to the tutelage of others. I didn’t catch the opener but as I walked by her bedroom, I heard an audible gasp and then,

“But you have to believe in Jesus!”

I cracked the door a bit and observed Dee’s friend staring at her as though she was possessed and spewing green bile.

“I don’t believe in Jesus,” Dee assured her with a calm and determination that made me proud and a bit awestruck.

Later as we were driving the friend home, I caught a whispered conversation as the little girl tried to convince Dee of the consequences of not believing.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, there is this place you go to after you die that’s not nice,” she said, quite earnest and clearly concerned for Dee’s afterlife.

“I don’t believe in this,” Dee said, again with an assurance that seemed a bit too large for her tiny 8 year old self. “I believe that when we die, we go to the underworld and our souls are weighed with the feather of truth.” (she did not add the part about the hippodoodel that eats the wicked who wasted their lives and then try to lie about it – and it’s interesting to note the Egyptian that has crept into her Greek mythology).

“How does she square this with her idea that her grandfather and Daddy Will are in heaven?” Rob asked me as I related the story to him later.

“I have no clue,” I said, “but it’s not any worse spin than most Christians employ trying to reconcile the inconsistencies in their beliefs.”

There is a tiny residual bit of Catholic in me that worries about what I have wrought, but mostly, I was really proud of her. She wasn’t the least bit worried about what her friend would think of her beliefs. They were her beliefs and she held fast.

Rob and I are doing a far more awesome job than I realized with this raising a kid thing.

13 responses to “The Descent Into Hell

  1. Pingback: An Ancient Homily – The Lord’s descent into the underworld | Unsettled Christianity

  2. Pingback: An answer from a genius « Palak Mathur

  3. It’s awesome that she holds to her beliefs. It shows a strength and emotional constitution that is not very common. This will do her well as she gets older in life.

    • I was the only Protestant kid in a Catholic school as a kid. I use to regularly piss off my teachers by asking them, well, pretty much your standard Protestant objection-to-Catholicism-questions…and never got a straight answer, and usually no answer at all. My classmates were even more useless. My conclusion was thus that Catholicism was full of scheisse.

      Only when I was in college did I meet Catholics who could actually defend their religion in an intelligent manner, and actually challenged my Protestantism enough for me to rethink the whole Protestant thing. Much to their dissapointment, I wound up Eastern Orthodox Christian, but I did seriously consider Catholicism first.

      I am all in favor of thinking for yourself. Questioning presuppositions got me where I am today.

      Alicia’s idea of things pretty much jibes with my own. I could go on, but I figure I’ve bogarted your wall enough in one day…

  4. Pingback: And Ancient Homily – The Lord’s descent into the underworld | Unsettled Christianity

  5. Well done Dee, and with Dee! Religion is indeed a funny thing. Last night, Syd asked me how old God was when he died. That was quite a can of worms, I can assure you. I’m steadily realizing that I need to be able to articulate my own beliefs better if I am to keep up with the questioning mind of a seven year old. Oy!

  6. Good for Dee!

    Because my family didn’t go to church, my first experience of it was at the age of 6 when my next-door neighbor thought my soul needed saving. She took me, with my parent’s permission of course, to First Baptist Church of Dallas, which I later found out had the largest congregation of any denomination in the world. It was like sitting in the nosebleed seats at a baseball stadium, and I agreed with everything I’d heard from my mom: Religion is empty.

    My second encounter was going to church with a friend at the age of 9, when I’d spent Saturday night at her house. It must have been in December, because we spent the morning making construction-paper holly wreaths. I agreed with everything I’d heard from my mom: Religion is silly.

    My third encounter was in junior high, when all my Baptist friends were being baptised and going to Bill Gothard seminars and telling me that I was going straight to hell because I didn’t believe every word of the Bible exactly as it was written. I agreed with everything I’d heard from my mom: Religion is twisted.

    Maybe Dee will wind up like me! LOL

    • Maybe. What I want for her is the opportunity to come to a belief system that computes and fits her. I never had a choice as a child and when I began to question – at about her age – I was shut down and forced to comply, but the most important thing is that she feel solid and not worry whether her pov matches with others. We can’t be totally immune from peer pressure but she’s off to a better start than I was at her age.

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