Saturday, June 30, 2012

Spending Sunday in hell with the Sydney Anglicans ...

(Above: get hellishly happy with Sydney Anglicans).

There's an enormous amount going on in the pulpits this week.

First an honourable mention to Damon Young, banging away at The Drum, giving the believers a hard time, using calm reason to make his case.

Sadly, the pond is much more inclined to frolicsome bubble-headedness, as in the volcanic eruption of news surrounding Katie Holmes breaking up with Tom Cruise.

Immediately the question that flowed to the sea like thetanic lava was on everyone's lips. Was scientology involved? And there were many answers, including Why Scientologists Are Crying.

Then there was Jack Wu doing his bit for evolution in Kansas by calling out its Satanic Lies, while in Melbourne Orthodox Jew Dr Miriam Grossman was doing her best to circulate fear and loathing about sex and the young, at a government-funded school, no less. She even made the ABC's PM, after managing to shock New Zealanders.

But as always our heart belongs to the Sydney Anglicans, still tormented by hideous visions of hell. Whether they should have chosen to illustrate What Joy in Hell? by Phillip Jensen with a nightmare in the Boschian style is another matter, given that Bosch is often considered a heretic, perhaps of the Cathar or Adamite kind.

Never mind. Jensen is in fine gloomy form, and opens with thoughts that should make you check under your bed this evening before restless fitful dreams take you away:

There is no joy in hell.
Its very existence reassures us of ultimate justice. Where else can the victims of the Holocaust find justice? But justice is little comfort when we consider hell’s horror.

Yes, hell is bliss, if you're chosen. If not, ya ya smartypants, serves ya right.

But there seems to be some kind of theological wire crossing going on here, at least if we remember Martin Luther's notorious document On the Jews and Their Lies:

To be sure, I am not a Jew, but I really do not like to contemplate God's awful wrath toward this people. It sends a shudder of fear through body and soul, for I ask, What will the eternal wrath of God in hell be like toward false Christians and all unbelievers? Well, let the Jews regard our Lord Jesus as they will. We behold the fulfillment of the words spoken by him in Luke 21:20: "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near ... for these are days of vengeance. For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people.

Yes it turns out that hell has been specially designed to house heretics like the Jews and other unbelievers - a wild kind of justice - unless of course you listen to the Catholics explain that it will make a fine home for Anglicans, and vice versa.

Of course the Sydney Anglicans like to sup with John Calvin so it's handy to remember that he also thought that the Jews' rotten and unbending stiffneckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone. (here). Yep, there's that languishing in hell for all eternity again...

Unfortunately no one has actually seen the actual hell that's much talked about and imagined (strangely heaven also seems to be elusive and as for purgatory, why never get a Catholic and an Anglican into a discussion or you'll be lost in theological limbo for hours, or perhaps an eternity of hell).

A modern notion of hell escapes Jensen, who delightfully reverts to the superstitions of sheep herders and camel traders of a few thousand years ago, to evoke fire, corpses, demons, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, destruction and second death. It turns out that this brimstone, fire and damnation is appropriate because Christ was one hell of a hell fire preacher ...

It always struck the pond that this idle chatter of eternal doom was the last refuge of the desperate preacher, watching as the flock marched out the door. As a child, the pond found that a belief in hell and Satan were the first to go - Jesus the socialist pacifist cut a better figure - especially when you see how humanity has managed to construct all sorts of hell on earth.

There comes a time when those great lines which wrap up Elmer Gantry become relevant, because in much the same way as there comes a time to give Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny the heave ho, there comes a time to let go of the mythology of the garden of eden, the snake, the apple, and women being the ruination of everything:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

The Jensenist theology speaks of childish things, which helps explain why they love the concept of hell, and continue the simple-minded demonisation of women and gays. The ongoing mockery of the mythology of hell naturally infuriates them:

Much of what horrifies people about hell is the vivid and imaginative presentation of it by preachers, artists and writers. When confronted by scary pictures, some people close their eyes while others bravely make fun and laugh at them. So we have the Christians who cannot so much as think of hell and the non-Christian who will parody the whole notion portraying Satan with horns and tail, pitchfork and opera cape, or boasting, with more bravado than sense, of sharing a beer and a joke with all their mates down there.

Uh huh. But are the mates sharing a beer with their mates in hell any sillier than the various sects who consign opposing sects to hell, while they collect their very own 'get out of hell' card, and earn $200 to spend in heaven on a golf course of their choosing?

Funnily enough, over in another story on the site, David Pettett writes a poignant piece about The Rock that is higher than AC/DC. Damn straight, it better be, because suggesting that Acca Dacca is top notch rock 'n roll raises alarming questions. Hasn't anyone at the Sydney Anglican site listened to the lyrics of Highway to Hell?

But back to Jensen:

Both responses make speaking on hell difficult. On the one hand the preacher is accused of insensitively using manipulative scare tactics and on the other hand he is ridiculed for believing in childish ghost stories. But it is our Lord Jesus himself who used hell in his preaching, so we must not - and cannot - leave it out of our declaration of the whole counsel of God.

Indeed. So it's on with the childish ghost stories.

Of course using manipulative scare tactics to scare the hell out of children is a favourite tactic of your average preacher. The pond sat through any number of hysterical sermons of the kind delivered by Thomas Keneally in Fred Schepisi's The Devil's Playground. It's an old pond favourite and we like to run it every year or so:

Without exception, death will come to each and everyone of us. The clod of earth will rattle on each of our coffins. The body we pamper will become a city of corruption, a horror under the earth, our own mothers could not bear to look upon it. If we are saved, our bodies will rise again free and glorious when Christ comes, but if we lose our battle with temptation, we know what our agony will be. For ever more we shall be awash in the burning rivers of the dead, for ever more the stench of hell, of the rotting flesh of the damned, will fill our nostrils, for ever more our ears will resound with the screams of the tormented, for ever more our pain will be like the pain of a man tied down, unable to move, while one fiery worm eats at his vitals. The man screams for unconsciousness, but there is no unconsciousness in hell. The worm eats and eats and its work will never finish, but continues for ever more. And what does that for ever more mean?
Imagine a sphere of metal vast as the sun. Imagine that once every ten thousand years a sparrow should visit it and brush it with its wings. When that ball had been worn to nothing, we would still be in hell, we would still be the howling damned who do not see God's face.

No wonder Keneally dropped out, got married and became a writer, though he will of course end up in hell for his support of the Manly rugby league team. Even Christ himself couldn't get the lad off that one ...

Oops, I see the pond isn't taking the subject of hell seriously, in the approved Jensenist manner, whereby hell becomes a fit subject for a silly season of hellish sermons.

Could there be anything worse? Well we could be listening to yet another sermon on climate change from Cardinal Pell, but thankfully he's off in Rome, attending to cover ups, as reported in George Pell in Pope's special meeting of cardinals to deal with Vatican leaks.

The Vatican leaks?

The Vatican has been scrambling to contain the damage after the leak of hundreds of Vatican documents exposed claims of corruption, political infighting and power struggles at the highest level of the Catholic Church.

Yes, you don't have to look for hell in the afterlife. The corruption, infighting and hellish power struggles are right here in earth, at the heart of poor old socialist pacifist Christ's alleged successors in Rome. And other locales ...

Two years ago, Italian prosecutors began probing real estate transactions and other dealings of Naples' cardinal, an Italian prelate who formerly headed that office.
The Italian authorities have been looking into an alleged web of kickbacks and favours, including purported sexual ones, involving businessmen, church hierarchy and public officials.

Yep, while molested children suffer, there hell is, as happy as a lark, going about its hellish business in Rome, though I dare say there's more than a touch of hell in the shenanigans surrounding the appointment of the new head of Moore College.

It almost makes a quiet after-life in a box underground sound like a blessed relief ... unless the zombies in the plot next one over decide to hold a party ...

Take it away Acca Dacca (let's save Satan bringing us those Hell's Bells for later):

Living easy, living free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride
Don't need reason, don't need rhyme
Ain't nothing I'd rather do
Going down, party time
My friends are gonna be there too, yeah

No stop signs, speed limit
No Sydney Anglican's gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody's gonna mess me round
Hey Satan, paid my dues
Playing in a rocking band
Hey momma, look at me
I'm on my way to the promised land

I'm on the highway to hell
on the highway to hell
highway to hell
I'm on the highway to hell ... etc

(Below: speaking of hell, there might be a few pop culture historians out there who remember MAN magazine, and what it did for hell in Australia. More here on the magazine, and more here about Jack Gibson, who did all the hell drawings for it. Funnily enough Gibson's son became a Jensen ... the long absent lord surely moves in mysterious ways).


  1. You know, DP, the Anglicans may be onto something. After the puerile Punch & Judy that masqueraded as our Parliament, many right-thinking Aussies may be yearning for a time when there will be a Supreme Leader. Like a monarch, who is titular head of The Church, yet entirely independent of government. Or a Cardinal.
    Hang on, RIM is delaying the release of its Hail Mary platform, the BlackBerry 10, until 2013.

  2. There was a much muted response to the census results from the Angries this week. No mention of the fact that they themselves managed to disaffect 80% of the Australians who fled Anglicanism in the last five years - this though they make up less than 20% of the total Australian Anglican flock! Bigotry just isn't as polular as it used to be.

    Russell Powell, the Angries’ chief media propagandist, has an article on their website where he tries to buff the figures. No mention of the figures for Sydney, of course. His spin is that growth in the non-Christian religions has meant the overall percentage identifying with a religion has dropped only ‘slightly’. From this he concludes that ‘it’s hardly the end of Christianity’. A case of sectarianize the gains, ecumenize the losses?

    Phillip Jensen also has a new article where he bemoans the ‘unbalanced opinion’ on same-sex marriage at the SMH. I’ve lately had cause to listen to Kel Richards – a Lay Canon at St Andrew’s Cathedral - who has an excruciating Sunday night radio show on 2CH spruiking the Angries’ causes. I don’t hear Jensen chiding him for his ‘unbalanced opinion’ – and unbalanced it certainly is!

    Is Pell really an operator within the Vatican? I saw him on Q&A with Dawkins and I thought him pretty doddery. He couldn’t even get it straight about who goes to heaven. There must be something else going on – maybe he’s got something on them? Tents and pissing, perhaps.

    Another week and now it’s three months with no sign of Michael Jensen’s 5th sin. You may be right, Dorothy, that he’s digging dirt, but I can’t help but think that all the Angries have been keeping their heads down on the net for the past few months. Probably a good idea given how they tend to scare people off. All the Angries, that is, except Phillip Jensen who seems to be firing it up. I wonder if this has anything to do with the looming election for Archbishop. He’s a bit old for it now you’d think, but he does seem to be trying to lift his profile.

    Well, I feel better now – getting all that off my chest. Your Sunday spot on the Angries is better than going to confession Dorothy!

  3. You do a very funny job yourself Anon, but listening to Kel Richards, that's almost worthy of a VC.

    And you confirm the pond's thinking that the scientific study of Angry Sydney Anglicans provides endless hours of insight and amusement ... and therapy. I love the notion of sectarianizing the gains, and ecumenizing the losses. This opens a whole new field of study ...


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