Friday, September 24, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth and the Legitimacy of Hell

I'm about halfway through the Starz! miniseries of The Pillars of the Earth, based on the book of the same title by Ken Follett. The story is takes place during medieval times, and is about the events surrounding the building of a cathedral. Trust me, it's more interesting than it sounds.

As is usual, the book was better. But once you get past the exposition-heavy first episode, the series isn't bad. The cast is well chosen, and though the production values are spotty in places (this is no Lord of the Rings), they're pretty good for television (it's also no Xena: Warrior Princess).

The interesting thing for me is how both series and book demonstrate the uses of the idea of hell. The main villain character, a nobleman who does the usual rape/pillage/oppression thing, is occasionally kept at bay by the good guy (a priest/monk) using the fear of hell and damnation. This in a book written by an atheist.

The specific question of hell aside (especially since I'm not sure how much it was actually historically used to afflict the powerful and comfort the afflicted), thinking about it this way can show us something about judgment. We normally think judgment is inherently bad, but in the Bible it is basically synonymous with justice. For oppressed people, the idea that someone is going to rout the bad guys and make things right is a very good thing.

Is judgment bad? If we fear judgment/justice, is it possibly because we might find ourselves among those first who will be last?

For further thought: David Opderbeck posted some very interesting thoughts in regard to justice, the coming of the Lord, and child sexual abuse here.

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