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A Guided Tour of Hell: Review of To Be As God by R. J. Rushdoony

  • Ken Delavigne,
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Homer's Odyssey is the epic account of a great Greek warrior's long trek home to his faithful wife and devoted son after long years away fighting in the Trojan wars. Much of the poem details the misadventures of his return journey, as he endures preternatural monsters, the anger of the gods, marriage proposals, shipwreck, kidnap, and the loss of most of his men. Along the way the goddess Circe advises him to visit the underworld, the final abode of the dead, to learn of his fate on the remainder of his journey. There the inmates, shades of their former selves, share an existence of empty ignorance that is only relieved by drinking blood, enabling them to speak. Six encounters with the dead are recounted, including that of Tiresias, the blind poet/seer who tells Odysseus what awaits him upon his return to the upper world.

While hardly an exact analogue of hell, the underworld of the ancient Greek religion, and Odysseus' bizarre guided tour, are what I was most reminded of when I recently read To Be As God: Modern Thought Since the Marquis de Sade, a new release of one of R. J. Rushdoony's final manuscripts. Its title recalls Satan's appeal to Eve, then Adam, in the garden temptation: Do the one thing God has prohibited, and thereby become His equal.

Much more elaborate than even a Homeric catalogue, the book's twenty-nine chapters present a sickening parade of men who (to paraphrase some of Rom. 1:18-32), knowing God, glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their reasonings, and their uncomprehending heart was darkened-men whom God gave over to their vile affections:

True unbelievers … living beyond God; they were the possessed, the true devils, because for them the only course in their Godless world was the evil act. They practiced evil as a witness to their freedom and the non-being of God and man. (From chapter 14)

Few will be surprised in this dreadful underworld to meet de Sade himself, Marx, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Sartre, and Dewey, whose measure we already generally know; but there are many others: Gnostics, Renaissance men, Enlightenment men, romanticists, rationalists, existentialists, evolutionists, phenomenologists, beatnik poets, process theologians, humanists, feminists, and homosexuals; there is even a cameo appearance by Playboy's Hugh Hefner. What may surprise many is that their liberal educations included so many others found on this guided tour of hell-poets such as Blake, Keats, Shelley, and Whitman; writers such as Wilde, Swinburne, de Beauvoir, Emerson, Millay, and Durrell; artists (Magritte, Picasso); and philosophers (Aristotle, Plato, Hume, James, Peirce, Wittgenstein, Russell). Surely most will be shocked to read painstaking dissections of beloved religious figures of our time such as Albert Schweitzer and Paul Tillich, exposed by Rushdoony as, respectively, a rationalist and an existentialist, both strangers to revelation and grace.

To Be As God ends abruptly with the devastating analysis of Tillich. Unlike Odysseus' tour, there is no return to an encompassing narrative-but then again, there are many tours of hell in the Rushdoony corpus. Another R. J. Rushdoony work soon to be republished, The Politics of Pornography, deals with related aspects of this same theme.