Heaven and Hell
The Christian Afterlife

Michaelangelo's Last Judgement depicts the Biblical "last days." It is a very comprehensive and traditional painting, showing a burly white Jesus in the middle, damned souls being carted into Hell on the lower right, happier souls clinging crosses and heading up to Heaven near the top, and just all sorts of ascending and soul gathering going on. It is a scene of mass confusion, symbolizing the general haze surrounding the afterlife beliefs in Christian mythology, and the sheer scope of that mythology. Many Christian enthusiasts dismiss folklore when it comes to exploring such mythology, recommending instead a thorough reading of the Bible's passages. The Book of Revelation, in particular, generates much of our popular Christian afterlife imagery: golden streets, angels surrounding God's throne, etc. Christian enthusiasts stress that these Biblical images are the only way to go, though many pick and choose on which images are literal and which are symbolic.

But with the prevalence of the Christian myth in our society, in all its aspects, it is rather shortsighted to categorically deny the non-Biblical or pseudo-Biblical folklore that drives pop Christianity. If we explore folk-Christian motifs, jokes, and traditions, we develop a richer understanding of folk-Christian beliefs and mythology, and we also discover how much of the entire Christian religion has been informed by ancient and outside sources.

Run your mouse over the picture at left to find hotspots. Click to find explorations of a few common motifs and one very common brand of joke prevalent in Christian afterlife folklore, where they might've originated, and how they relate to the Christian myth.

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