American Christianity and the Hell of Paradise Lost

HellfireIn at least some contemporary circles, the topic of the afterlife and Hell are hot topics (pardon the pun). This is especially true within numerous Christian communities as they react to the perspectives of various pastors and scholars on hell and the state on non-Christians after death. It seems safe to say that most Americans know something about the concept of hell—that fiery place of torment that you go to if you’re not up to snuff with St. Peter (or something like that). And while numerous religious perspectives conceive of something similar to the Christian conception of hell (think of Hades for the ancient Greeks), what many people don’t realize is that the hell commonly conceived of by Americans isn’t really based on Biblical portrayals of someplace called hell. Indeed, much of what we think about hell and its prince, Satan, comes not from any scriptural text, but instead from the epic poetry of John Milton.[1] In this post, we will examine some of the Hell portrayed in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Continue reading