The Prophet, Billy Joel

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“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints”

Billy Joel said that. The song was “Only the Good Die Young.” And, he was probably onto something. But, he wasn’t the first to toy with this idea.

Hundreds of years before Billy, John Milton wrote a long and epic poem about Lucifer’s fall from grace and the first sin of man. I’m talking about “Paradise Lost.” It was meant to be a poem that exalted God and disgraced Satan.

But, as I read it, I couldn’t help but think of this line by Billy Joel. Despite his best efforts, Milton betrays himself and, as far as I’m concerned, he makes Hell seem like not such a bad place. Sure it’s dark and the lake of fire that the fallen angels are bound to is excruciatingly painful, but they, by their will alone, are able to free themselves. Milton’s Hell is a place where you can use your mind.

He doesn’t depict Satan as the totalitarian tyrant we have been told about. After all, the others in his company are allowed to speak their piece, to make suggestions about what to do next. Some of them even hold out hope that God will eventually forgive them. Hope? In Hell? I must have missed that sermon.

Then, even though the devout Milton had pure intentions, his image of Heaven is boring. Yeah, I said it. Boring. The Angels of Heaven do nothing but what they’re told, they pass eternity singing Gods praises. God’s own personal legion of Yes-men. We saw what happened to those who exercised some independent thinking.

As an American, I can relate to the character of Lucifer, and not because we’re evil. No, because we’re free. We are a nation built on the principle of liberty. If not for a group of dissident subjects dumping tea into Boston Harbor, we wouldn’t even have TV’s, we’d have a Tele. People around the world have died for the same freedoms that Lucifer was punished for pursuing. Why fight your whole life to be free to spend all of eternity in dull servitude.

So, taking Milton as an example I would much rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. Because, like Billy said: “The sinners are much more fun.”

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