THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH ABOUT HELL’S ANGELS
I’m actually very fond of angels.
Satan, after all, is an angel–or at least that’s one popular idea about him. And an increasing number of art memes in recent years make light of the fact that many Biblical angels are terrifying alien monsters rather than pretty white people with wings.
But none of that is what I’m talking about now. I mean real angels–especially Satan’s angels.
I do not believe in gods, demons, spirits, seraphs, cherubs, Michael Landon, or any other invisible supernaturalisms. But angels are another story; you probably know some. In fact, if you’re reading this, chances are you ARE one.
Etymology Online traces the English “angel” to the Greek “angelos” or “aggelos,” meaning simply “messenger.”
Israeli language blogger David Curwin writes that this is also true of the Hebrew מלאך (“malakh”), expressly noting that this does not indicate only a divine being but also entirely mundane and human message-bearers. That’s all that “angel” means.
How then did we get from this everyday noun to an image of wings and harps (or, in the case of Henry Travers, long underwear)? Evangelical Bible scholar turned atheist Bible scholar Bart Ehrman pointed out in an August lecture that at various points in scripture god sends down a messenger.
Not sure why, really, since in other stories he just speaks directly to prophets. Maybe not everyone rates the personal visitation–or maybe he just wanted an excuse to work with Alan Rickman, because who doesn’t really?
Anyway, as Ehrman points out, it doesn’t make sense for god to have earthly messengers, so readers interpret that these must be heavenly messengers of some kind. And from this intuition springs the whole mess of angelology, like the splitting of the atom only it was a hair instead.
For about 2,000 years now people have imagined Satan as an angel, but it’s surprisingly hard to place where this idea comes from. Origen, the highly influential third century Egyptian theologian, admits that even in his age this was a head scratcher:
“In regard to the devil and his angels and the opposing spiritual powers, the Church teaching lays it down that these beings exist, but what they are or how they exist it has not explained very clearly.
“Among most Christians, however, the following opinion is held: That this devil was formerly an angel, but became an apostate and persuaded as many angels as he could to fall away with him, and these are even now called his angels.”
I appreciate the out-of-character concession about the opaqueness of early Christian doctrine. If only god could have cleared up these ambiguities with some sort of messenger…
Origen had the somewhat weird idea that all created beings were once angels, and that many of them just drifted away from divine perfection over time.
Some of them (who were perhaps not quite fallen angels but just ones that had sauntered vaguely downward) came to rest on Earth, and became the first humans. The worst of the lot descended even further into Hell and became demons, among which Satan fell furthest and hardest.
So that’s some kooky shit and wouldn’t you know, nobody bought it. In his Second Apology, Justin Martyr, the father of Christian apologetics, suggested that in ye olde days certain angels became “captivated by love of women, and begot children who are those that are called demons.”
He was grifting this story from the old Book of Watchers of course, and the tale didn’t prove to have very sturdy legs–or wings, in this case?
Still, belief in Satan the fallen angel persisted, even if nobody had much success explaining exactly what they believed or why. “Then shall he say also: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” preaches Matthew 25.
Some perhaps confused preachers suggest that this verse means that the “everlasting fire” was created for demons specifically, and thus “Hell was not made for man,” as moribund fundy blogger Terry Watkins puts it.
But I disagree: If Hell or the devil actually existed, I’d be very happy to be Satan’s angel–which is to say, his messenger. In fact, aren’t I already? I write this blog every week. Every other week we have a new Black Mass Appeal–how much more messaging could anyone ask from us?
If you’re reading this, you are probably also one of the “devil’s angels.” Or at the very least, if you started calling yourself that you could argue that it is at least etymologically correct.
I would go one step further and suggest that even people who promote Satanic ideals without quite realizing it are, in effect, also our messengers.
If, say, Anthony Fauci goes on TV every week and tells people things they may not want to hear but are a) true, b) helpful, and c) scientifically sound, what can we call this except spreading Satan’s message?
Probably shouldn’t tell the One America crowd that…although actually, don’t they believe it anyway? They’d probably say the same about someone like Eddie Izzard–and yes, on this point we also agree, I’ll call her Satan’s angel. To her face, given the opportunity. (Call us.)
Of course, as is always the case, these terms mean something radically different when we say them. But that’s as it should be–indeed, nothing comforts me more.
So as is so often true in religion, this word on which much superstition and myth-building hinges turns out to be quite ordinary–in fact, it turns out to be all of us. And behold, the power of every angel is in your own mouth–or fingers, this being the Internet.
The power of course comes not from god nor even from Satan, but simply from us. Thus posing the question: If you are the messenger, what is it that you come to say?