CSotD: The Harrowing of Hell & Weighing of Ducks

Christian tradition is that, during the three days Christ was dead, he visited Hell, defeated the Devil (seen crushed under the door in Fra Angelico‘s painting) and brought forth the righteous of the Old Testament from their confinement.

I say “tradition” because it’s necessary to differentiate between pious traditions and the things you are actually required to believe.

Or, to simplify for the atheists amongst us, to separate the folklore from the philosophy: You don’t have to believe in Noah’s Ark to be a good Christian, but you do have to love your neighbors.

As a famous Lutheran said, “it is a custom more honored in the breach than the observance.”

I played Beelzebub in the medieval play, The Harrowing of Hell, originally put on by the Saddlemakers’ Guild as part of the York Cycle. I think that’s him scooting out the door while his boss is crushed, Satan and Jesus having had a bodacious sword fight.

Beelzebub makes speeches but stays out of the actual combat. Yes, I was probably typecast.

But since then, I’ve tried to pull as many people out of Hell as I have recommended tossing in, and today will feature a bit of both.

Here’s Ed Hall, commenting on the gulf between belief and tradition. My guess is that Granny has enjoyed plenty of jelly beans and colored eggs in her time and that it hasn’t clashed with her beliefs, and I’d go farther by saying if Junior doesn’t know why we celebrate, that’s on the grown-ups who let him grow up Mowgli-like, apart from his own species.

Which is to say that all belief systems are grounded in cultural traditions, and most let that line between tradition and belief blur in order that the lessons be readily absorbed.

We recognize a difference between the German traditional story of Snow White and the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, not because one happened and one didn’t, but because one was on a relatively low level of teaching while the other encapsulated a central value.

When Frank Linderman was collecting stories of the Cree, Blackfoot and Ojibway, he found that the storytellers readily differentiated between a trickster god and the Great Spirit:

Old Man or Napa created the world and its inhabitants. His mistakes and weaknesses are freely discussed, and the laugh accompanies talks of his doings, but mention Manitou and silence falls upon the merrymakers. Reverential awe replaces gaiety, and you will feel that you are guilty of intended sacrilege.

Most systems have some equivalence, such that we can make jokes about Noah’s Ark but need to step cautiously around the Resurrection, even if we consider them both folkloric.

In practice, as John Branch (KFS) suggests, the real issue isn’t whether you can enjoy chocolate rabbits and also take Jesus seriously, but whether you can claim to follow him and yet ignore his central teachings.

Our current crew of whited sepulchres make the Harrowing of Hell seem, in the words of St. Lucy of VanPelt, like bailing water with a pitchfork.

It’s fun to mock those we think deserve mockery, and Mike Lester (AMS) seizes on the self-righteous foolishness of witch hunts to condemn NBC’s hiring, and firing, of Ronna McDaniel. His accusation is that, like the moronic peasants in Monty Python, liberals dressed McDaniel up to make her appear to be evil.

We don’t have firm figures of how many witch hunts really happened, but, like other atrocities, how often they happened is secondary to the fact that they happened at all.

In Monty Python, the largely forgotten climax is that, while the ignorant, superstitious villagers did indeed dress the woman up as a witch and make ridiculous claims about what she’d done to them, she turned out to weigh the same as a duck.

So she really was a witch.

Most people citing the scene aren’t thinking as far as the ending.

As Jeff Stahler (AMS) points out, whether your words and actions get you in trouble seems to depend on who you are, or, at least, on what level of legal representation you can afford.

In the Holy Grail, the witch really was a witch, but the villagers really were morons. Not every moron gets the benefit of coincidental truth.

For instance, a state legislator in Michigan reported the Gonzaga men’s basketball team as illegal aliens, and when his ridiculous mistake was pointed out, he denounced the person as a “kommie.”

However, we should place the Gonzaga men’s basketball team on a scale with 14 ducks before we condemn Matt Maddock.

Whether Gonzaga weighs the same as 14 ducks, there is a reasonable measure to test Lisa Benson (Counterpoint)‘s cartoon, because in the latest polls, Joe Biden weighs the same as Donald Trump, at least within the margin of error if not in the actual figures themselves.

Perhaps the reason his boat sank is because his war chest is so much heavier. Donors appear skeptical of Trump, who has announced that he doesn’t want the support of Nikki Haley’s voters and whose own fundraising seems mostly personal, not political.

And if sticking a carrot on a woman’s nose to justify accusing her of witchcraft seems funny, there are plenty of people unamused by Trump’s posting of a pickup truck, flying Trump and US flags, with a picture of the president bound as if in the truck bed.

In her Substack, Joyce Vance has a great deal to say about this applauding of political violence, but the takeaway, besides her point that threatening the president normally brings men in sunglasses to your porch, is that this is part of a dangerous program of bullying and of encouraging bullies.


(Indeed it does.)

Trump says he saw the truck as he was going to the wake for a slain police officer, where he addressed reporters on the sidewalk outside, saying “We have to get back to law and order.”

The family of Brian Sicknick, who died in the Jan 6 attack on the Capitol, noted that Trump didn’t show up for his funeral and is, instead, pledging to pardon the rioters who assaulted police that day. His brother said:

As for who gets harrowed out of Hell and who gets left behind, I believe the story is folkloric.

But, then again, it is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’?”

18 thoughts on “CSotD: The Harrowing of Hell & Weighing of Ducks

  1. Re: Trump’s sudden sympathy for a dead policeman, is it a coincidence that the cop in question was white and his alleged killer was black or am I jumping to conclusions?

    My Catholic education ended when was 12, but I’d like to think that had it continued, at some point I’d tumble to the fact that “The Good Samaritan” story isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The Jews hated the Samaritans, and while Jesus’s parable had good intentions, it resonated because when they found one who did something nice for one of them, violating both tribe’s ancient mutual hatred society, they’d finally found a “good” one. Like “Good Indians” and “Good Negroes,” the back-handed compliment for these rare exceptions is actually an ignorant and ugly racial slur, in fact the punchline is usually that the only good ones are dead ones. How is that a thing to aspire to–or to use as any kind of compliment if you’re aware of its origins? (I suspect that there are a majority of the public who have no idea what a Samaritan even was, only that he did something nice for a stranger.)

    1. Disagree. Jesus specifically showed “true believers” passing by and a hated person extend courtesy not to reflect on whether Samaritans could be just but to point out that being in the group doesn’t automatically make you righteous.

      He specifically, knowingly, intentionally used a hated minority to make his point, and the insult was to the hypocrites in his immediate audience, which was intentional. There are several places in the NT where Jesus ministers to outsiders, and his choice of one for a hypothetical example is consistent with his track record.

    2. I don’t disagree with you, but I always felt the point was that the “inferior” Samaritan was the only one actually carrying out the “love your neighbor as yourself” order, rather than the priest or the merchant, who presumably were members of the dominant culture.

    1. Not sure how you could avoid seeing all the ways I referred to the Bible as folklore, but I’m sorry for whatever pain has made you question even philosophy.

  2. I’m probably being a bad parent, but lately in trying to explain the traditions of my youth I keep landing on “God loves you very much so He sent his son, whom He also loves very much, to die a horrible death because of the bad things that you—a ten year old child—have done. But he didn’t stay dead so it’s okay.” Top that off with a kid on the spectrum with a low tolerance for the illogical.

    I’m just going to drag them to church and hope something resonates, but that’s about all I can muster.

    1. Why explain it like that? If you were traumatized by the way you were raised, I’d save that discussion for when the kid is old enough to talk about hurtful matters, including things like divorce, poverty and misguided religion. For younger kids, knowing a nice man said nice things that we should listen to is sufficient.

      And a little folklore is harmless. George Washington didn’t really chop down that cherry tree. Doesn’t mean he didn’t exist or that he wasn’t a good president. Again, save the discussion of slavery for when the child is old enough to put it into a meaningful context rather then bringing it up at a stage where it’s just gonna freak him out.

  3. “Or, to simplify for the atheists amongst us, to separate the folklore from the philosophy: You don’t have to believe in Noah’s Ark to be a good Christian, but you do have to love your neighbors.”

    Which is pretty much the opposite of modern Evangelical Christianity: it doesn’t matter how big of a flaming a-hole you are, so long as you believe the “right” things and that everything in the Bible is 100% literally true (Adam & Eve, Noah, the Exodus etc etc)

  4. U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who engaged with pro-Trump rioters during the Jan. 6 insurrection, died of natural causes the day after the attack, Washington, D.C.’s chief medical examiner announced Monday.

    Sicknick died after suffering strokes, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Francisco Diaz, said in a report. In an interview, Diaz told The Washington Post, which first reported on the determination, that Sicknick suffered two strokes.

    He died of natural causes. The only person who died Jan 6 was Ashley Babbit.

    1. So it’s okay to assault police officers and you’ll be drawing cartoons insisting those people who attacked the two officers in NYC should be released with no charges. Maybe hailed as heroes like the Jan 6 tourists.

  5. The topic is Jan 6 deaths. The facts are there was one death Ms. Babbit. The six subsequent deaths were not the result of the actions of protesters. The Jan 6 commission was a colossal kangaroo court failure. There were no firearms confiscated from J6 protestors. Zero. Personally I’m no fan of the behavior but evidence is there were Ray Epps fbi plants of people changing into MAGA attire in bushes on video and committing crimes. Back to Ronna -she like Trump questioned the 2020 election exactly like Hillary RachelMaddow and every legacy media voice you can think of. Your problem is the riot you want happened Inauguration Day 2017:

      1. Nope. Easter Sunday, like any self respecting Southerner I put on my seersucker suit, pink bowtie and white bucks -no socks and went to church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then I played nine holes drank a couple beers got home in time to see Duke lose and NCState win. By 8:30 while you were fuming over my comments I was fast asleep.

    1. I don’t know why I’m surprised that you think it’s impossible for a Republican to behave poorly.

    2. OK, legal protests of policies of the incoming president is much worse than physical attacks on the Capitol building and the peace officers trying to maintain order. Remind me, how many police offices were assaulted on 1/20/2017

    3. Not quite true. The officers were more concerned about crowd dispersal and did not search people leaving, but at least one rioter was found to have a firearm and charged with possession. And of coures there were plenty of other weapons – bear and pepper spray, brass knuckles and clubs or bludgeons, tasers, knives.
      If anything though, it does show the importance and value of DC’s very strict gun control laws.

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