Living with the Underworld

Douglas Fyfe | Jan 27th, 2008

Written by Peter Bolt

Matthias Media, 2007

available from Matthias Media.

I picked up this book on the Underworld, expecting to be scared, shocked, yet educated, about the legion creatures surrounding us and attacking us at every opportunity. I was thinking The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Poltergeist (1982). Needless to say, I was excited!

However, after 50 pages discussing little more than HBO’s The Sopranos, I was wondering when Peter Bolt was going to get into it. After setting us up with the mafia as the metaphor he obviously was quite sold on in the planning stages, he reveals the true problem of the underworld is our hearts – “the hamartia [=sin], the fatal flaw that eventually leads to our ruin.” (p68) Just as with the mob, if you’re in “the family”, your end is inevitable. “Our hamartia has delivered us over to the ‘protection’ of the underworld, and the ‘protection’ of the prince of demons.” (p77)

I remember reading in the introduction to Billy Graham’s Angels (1975) how hesitant he was to write the corresponding book on demons. He was rightly worried that with interest in devils and the occult on the rise, he needed to be cautious about adding any extra fuel to the fire.

And in writing Underworld, it seems Bolt shares Graham’s concern. His goal throughout the book, despite his continual discourses on the Sopranos, is to stick to, and journey ever towards, the centre of Christianity, that is, Christ, and more specifically his death and resurrection. Fixing that as our locus, we can then appropriately view the underworld from our Christ-centred position.

In all honesty I must say I felt a little let down by this book. But perhaps that’s my own fault: I’ve never watched the Sopranos, and my whole premise in reading the book was obviously misguided. I guess in retrospect, I can more clearly see how the non-Jews were so captured by the thought that something could exert ultimate authority over the underworld that was so real to them. The classical underworld of Greek mythology, with its paraphernalia of curse tablets, ghosts and ghoulies, is shown clearly in this book to have been overcome. The fear that would accompany having been cursed could indeed have been alleviated by knowing that God’s messiah has come and conquered death. Knowing that true cleansing – found previously only in rituals – has already been, and will only be, in Christ, is indeed great news to the perishing.

And that is probably the only real “in” in this book – his reflections on death, and true hope in the light of that. In Bolt’s words, “if your philosophy of life that has nothing to say at the graveside, then it has nothing to say.” (p81) And this, if anything, is the main theme of the book – not so much the scope and dimensions of the underworld, but how little hold it in fact has upon us once we have been freed as we are united in Christ.

One criticism of this book is its lack of relevance to me. I think if I were a Greek living 2000 years ago, it would have been really helpful. But apart from his thoughts on death, and some interesting reflections on the place of exorcism in the post-apostolic age (i.e. none), ministry-wise I couldn’t really think of anyone I would give this book to.

For me, this is the book about the underworld that wasn’t. If the purpose was to so demythologise the demonic-realms that we are bored with them, then I guess it did its job. It was a hard-slog to get through an introduction that dragged on for the first fifty pages or so. After then it was an okay read, although I probably wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who hasn’t seen the Sopranos. And if you have, let me know – perhaps it’s written on an entirely different level especially for you!

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