ON THE AVENUES: Gehenna, Franklin Graham, Jean-Paul Sartre and Fred Astaire lead us straight to Hell.


There are times when sheer undiluted barrel-strength inanity leads unexpectedly to an interesting read — which is to say that contrary to all previous experience, I’ve managed to learn something from Franklin Graham.

The evangelist Graham functions as a sort of professional court jester for our nation’s cheerful contingent of theocratic fascists, a job he apparently inherited from his world-famous father Billy.

At the 1:21 mark of this video clip from 2007, the late, great Christopher Hitchens observes that any American president, however deserving of condemnation or impeachment, could always rely on Billy Graham to run to his side as a defender, toady and crony.

Franklin Graham has filled these shoes quite capably with regard to Donald Trump, hasn’t he? That’s because the very essence of both politics and religion is about accumulating power, and Graham gets it.

“I never said (Trump) was the best example of the Christian faith. He defends the faith. And I appreciate that very much.”

The mind works in mysterious ways, and so let’s begin with Graham’s wholly predictable thoughts about Hoosier mayor Pete Buttigieg, which in a roundabout way led me from Graham via Leviticus to Old Gehenna.

New Gehenna is another story.

Franklin Graham Cites Death-to-Gays Bible Verse in Post About Pete Buttigieg, by Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist)

It’s never a good sign when atheists are the ones offering context to Bible verses that Christians are quoting, but when evangelist Franklin Graham is involved, that’s usually necessary. In a Facebook post purported denouncing people heckling Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, Graham managed to work in the verse that condemns gay people to death.

Franklin Graham: “The Bible makes it very clear that homosexuality is a sin. ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination…’ (Leviticus 20:13). That’s what God says and that settles it for me. I stand with the Word of God. I care enough about people to tell them the truth and to warn them about the judgment to come for all sin.”

See? Don’t heckle people when they’re talking. Just go on Facebook and explain why they deserve to be tortured in hellfire for all of eternity. Like good Christians.

The full verse from Leviticus 20:13, of course, is “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

At least the hecklers are just rude and ignorant. Graham thinks it’s loving to call for the death penalty for gay people who have sex… except he tries to hide it. Imagine cherry picking the Bible and picking a part that call for the execution of gay people who aren’t celibate. And then pretending you’re acting out of love. What a horrible person.

Graham’s superstitious blather aside, Buttigieg being gay has nothing to do with anything, including his presidential aspirations, although Mayor Pete’s political ambitions compel us to look past his private life and public speaking flair to those aspects of governance that matter most, as in platforms and policy ideas.

So far, Buttigieg is falling quite short on those job requirements. As usual, Bluegill offers this succinct summary:

The interesting part to me is how much Buttigieg’s fan club and hecklers have in common in terms of their reasoning— purely faith based on both sides.

It should be obvious by now that Christianity’s Bible hasn’t had a prominent place in my world of books, so Graham’s mention of Leviticus had me wondering about the name itself; what, where or who was Leviticus? I had no idea.

It never got that far, because searching for Leviticus brought me to this excellent article about Hell.

Hell? I always thought Gehenna was a Gaelic notion borrowed by Bob Dylan for the song “Idiot Wind.”

A History of Hell: Gehenna & Beyond, by Ali Kellog (Medium)

Hell seems to be a collective assault on the American imagination — the culmination of our entire post-Columbus cultural history and political infrastructure. Ask anyone familiar with it to describe the scene and you’ll likely get the same description across the board — a furnace of torture, suffering, demons and unfathomable pain. Hell is embedded into our lives, whether we believe in it or not. It’s a place mutually visited by every person’s imagination that has been exposed to an Abrahamic society. It’s a place we condemn undesirables to, a place we reference to instill fear and obedience, a place we devotionally protect our loved ones from being exiled to. For all our certainty of its existence, Hell is perhaps the least understood of places, even by the most studiously pious of individuals. Its assertion into our culture and conscience is a testament to our collective religious illiteracy. So why is it so vital we understand its origins, rather than blindly accept what we’ve been told about it? The latter method has, well, rarely worked in the favor of the common person throughout history.

Alas, Hell is real. Yes, that’s right. Or at least, it’s based off a real place — an ancient landfill to be exact. Although there is no mention of a “hell” in the Bible, it is based on an actual place. In Jerusalem, in the Valley of Hinnom, there is a large trash dump referred to in the Book of Matthew as “Gehenna”.

Yummers. For some reason I can’t stop thinking about free fried chicken and the posting of hitches.

It was originally used by the ancient Israelites who sacrificed children and burnt their bodies to appease the pagan Canaanite god Molech. In Leviticus 18:20, God expressed his hatred of the false god Molech, and deemed the place unclean. Gehenna was eventually used as a landfill by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, where people took their trash to be burned. The place began to wreak havoc on daily life in Jerusalem. The smell of burning sewage, flesh, maggots and garbage wreaked absolute havoc on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, causing documented medical problems like nausea and breathing difficulty. Clearly, the place was unpleasant — frightening even — and thus it’s no surprise that Gehenna was used, and still is today, as a metaphor for the final place of punishment for the wicked. It was first used as a symbolic depiction of Hell in Mark 9:47. Gehenna was translated to Hell later, around 1200AD.

In sketching the parameters of this human creation called Hell, the author surveys etymology, the Old Testament and other ancient religions.

The ancient Egyptians had a place called Duat referenced heavily in their Book of the Dead. Maps of Duat were often inscribed on the insides of coffins and sarcophagi to help the deceased navigate the underworld. It is the underworld where violators of the law are condemned, as well as a host of mythological activity. According to the Book of the Dead, the sun god, Ra, goes to Duat every night to battle Apep, the god of Chaos. The dead who enter Duat must travel through various “gates” guarded by anthropomorphic hybrids of human bodies with various animal heads. These gatekeepers were ferocious and vile. For evidence, one need not look beyond their names. Guardians of the Gates of Duat had charming titles like “One Who Eats the Excrement from his Ass” and “Blood Drinker who Lives in the Slaughterhouse”.

“One Who Eats the Excrement from his Ass” sounds like a clinical definition of “brown nose.” But enough about board appointments. The author conclusion fits like the dunce’s cap on the head of Franklin Graham.

If so much of our public policy is weighted on the words found within the Bible — the alleged words of God himself — it is troubling that we digest the heavily processed and filtered versions of them with such ease and lack of skeptic inquiry. It is imperative to our progression as a species that we understand the origins of our belief systems and the role they play in the human psyche — to instill obedience to the status quo and dissuade any violators with the fear of an eternity of suffering.

All this hellish business brought to mind something supposedly written by the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” However, it’s not quite so simple.

The Most Famous Thing Jean-Paul Sartre Never Said
, by Kirk Woodward (Rick on Theater)

The line “Hell is other people” in French reads “L’enfer, c’est les autres” or “Hell is [the] others.” (The best known English translation of the play, by Paul Bowles, actually renders the line “Hell is just – other people.”) We get a little more of the flavor of the line in English if we read it as “Hell is the Other.” That’s closer to the point, I believe. Sartre says that the Other – that which is not ourselves – is, or can be, a source of our distress.

In closing, it would be criminal to omit Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers from this educational digression.

I like potato and you like potahto
I like Gehenna and you like Gahanna
Potato, potahto, Gehenna, Gahanna!
Let’s call the whole thing off!

Or Alice Cooper, because America’s last remaining vaudevillian always gets the last word.

Recent columns:

April 16: ON THE AVENUES: Amid Deaf Gahan’s “victory” over grassroots activists at Colonial Manor, the toxic paranoia is no less rancid.

April 9: ON THE AVENUES: It’s time for a change, and David White understands that change begins with a whole lotta scrubbing.

April 2: ON THE AVENUES: Donnie Blevins tells his story.

March 26: ON THE AVENUES: Gahan’s hoarding of power and money is a threat to New Albany’s future.