Is It Hot in Here, or Is It Just Me?
Gilmour, Peter, U.S. Catholic
Yes, it has been a hellish summer. Heat waves across this nation converted many a global warming skeptic. So has Al Gore's most effective sermon, his must-see documentary, An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Classics). As the autumnal weather begins to cool the nation, stories of failed power grids that brought air conditioners to an abrupt, uncomfortable, and for some, dangerous halt remind us all that global warming can be hell on earth.
Heat and hell have long been seared into the popular imagination of Christian tradition. Satan himself is often pictured among flames. Many prayers implore God to "save us from the fires of hell." Not even the work of one of the world's greatest poets, Dante Alighieri, could reverse the connection between hell and fire. His magnum opus, The Divine Comedy, divides hell into nine circles, and the lowest, reserved for the worst of the worst, is made of ice, rather than heat or fire. Odd that the contemporary fascination with human cryogenics--freezing people so that they may be brought back to life sometime in the future--also flies in the face of Dante's powerful imagery.
But back to hell. Jesus often used the Hebrew word Gehenna to describe hell. In the time of Christ, Gehenna denoted a garbage dump to the south and west of Jerusalem that smelled and smoldered. This word also reverberated with Jewish extrabiblical writings and rabbinical literature that used Gehenna as a place of punishment after death. …