Wednesday, 19 December 2012

John C Wright on Hell


John C Wright has posted a particularly fine example of the kind of usefulness that (we) recent converts potentially have in Christian apologetics - for me this was a very clarifying piece of writing and thinking.

there are many telling points made in the course of this thesis; here are a few excerpts:


Cruel logic says that there are only three general possibilities of what happens after death: oblivion, reincarnation, and resurrection.

Or, to put the matter the other way, the three options are endless nonbeing, which means the obliteration of human nature; the endlessly continuation of human nature and its flaws; or the endless perfection of human nature.

If those in truth are the only possibilities, then even God Almighty could not design a universe with something other than one of those three results, any more than He can make a four-sided triangle.

If oblivion is our fate, there is neither hope nor justice in this world, for every suicide bomber, or successful criminal, or bloodthirsty tyrant, who died comfortably in bed mocks even the idea of a just retribution.

Justice is not even possible, for if the victim of murder cannot be made to live again, then the injustice of murder is as infinite as the span of nonexistence into which the murderer plunges his victim. The murderer himself, when he dies, whether on the scaffold or comfortably in bed, is placed in the same dreamless oblivion as his victim, as all heroes, no matter how heroic, as all villains, no matter how wretched, as selfless saints and sadistic madmen, all, all, all come to nothing in the end.

In this worldview, all human fears and ambitions and hopes and wars and commotions come to nothing and mean nothing. Life is hopeless, and the best one can hope for is a certain small amount of personal comfort and selfish pleasure, a love affair or a family or money or fame, and then everything is swallowed by the dragon of nothingness.


Buddhism sounds like one of those forgiving teachers who keep letting you re-take and re-take the test until you get all the answers right. To the best of my admittedly limited understanding, that is not what Buddhism says.

I am assuming here that the possibility that mankind will find perfection after a sufficiently large number of reincarnations, and know the difference between good and evil and choose the good, to be too small a possibility to contemplate. No one familiar with the natural selfishness of human nature, the indifference, the lack of charity, the hate, infinite human capacity for self-adoration and self-deception, will be so sanguine as to think a few billion kalpas of extra lives will allow us all to learn to live as saints.

Again, this is not my field, so anyone more well studied in the teachings of this ancient and profound theology is welcome to correct me—but Buddhism speaks of the annihilation or absorption of human nature back into the original godhead. Nirvana is not paradise, but an undisturbed state indistinguishable from oblivion. The word means ‘no wind blowing’ that is, the unruffled.



Vigilance said...

Buddhism, before being perverted, is almost identical to Advaita Vedanta. A common misconception in reincarnation is that it deals with the death of ones physical body. In fact, it deals strictly with the cycle of birth and death of ones self. The logic behind this is that each time our personality changes with events in life, who we were dies and who we are is born. Achieving transcendence is done through the recognition of ones true Self. This is the self which carries on as a buddha after the death of ones physical form. Whereas all others dissipate into the ocean of consciousness (Brahman).

bgc said...

@V - It sounds experientially indistinguishable from total and permanent death/ oblivion.

The kind of 'self' that survives this kind of reincarnation is not 'me'; and saying that it is the 'real' me is unrelated to experience.

I know a bit more about the reincarnation beliefs of animistic hunter gatherers. This is more of a transformation process - so that the same self returns as descendants, or sometimes as an animal - but the reincarnated person knows (they are told by their relatives) that this has happened.

This is close to being an an hereditary affinity - the essence of the person is preserved, but the superficialities change.

The number of souls or spirits is finite, and when the body dies, they are recycled (life is cyclical, recurrent) - but not in exactly the same form, rather transformed.

Vigilance said...

The animistic reincarnation you described is touched upon in detail by Evola. Summarized:

Essence is recycled after death into the "tribe's" instances. A particular instance, such as Egyptian royalty, a sufficiently liberated individual for goes this recycling and transcends to a spiritual plane.

Something to that effect. I'm a bit rusty.

Buddhism: I don't believe this amounts to soul annihilation. Due to ignorance ( Maya) we view our empirical self as our true self(Atman/heavenly body). Buddhists call it anattani ca attati. The soul is synonymous with the true Self. The transcendent. The Soul is not personality, feelings, flesh or matter.

The point of Buddhism is to shed ignorance and recognize ones true Soul, that which actually is immortal, now. The budhha repeated, na me so ata. This is not my Soul. In reference, again, to personality, flesh and so forth. There are two selves, anatta(empirical self) and atta(True Self, Soul). It seems you are most concerned with the preservation of anatta.

I apologize if this is unclear.

Matthew said...

Vigilance, your first post seems to contain a bald contradiction. If the self is created and destroyed at every moment and with every change, as Heraclitus and, I understand, the Buddha, insist, then the idea of a self that persists for more than a momentary sliver of time is illusory. There is, then, no true "self" to be discovered, or if there is, it is no sooner discovered than lost.

One requires an Aristotelian metaphysics, that distinguishes between essential and accidental change, to solve the riddle of endurance through time. One has to recognize that there is a nature in human beings that makes us what we are, and also matter that makes us particular instances of our natural kind. But of course if this is adopted, then a human being has his being most fully insofar as he is embodied, and not insofar as he endures as an immaterial remnant- a pure form, or the barest possible stub of a human being. Hence the Christian hope of the Resurrection, which is the perfection of human nature.

While I think that Buddhism is considerably more nihilistic than you suppose, its final end being the realization of the non-existence of the self, ie, annihilation, rather than any semblance of immortality, even on your interpretation of it as implying a kind of final destiny it seems comparatively wretched- the final destiny is to exist as a remnant of a human being, undifferentiated and impersonal, and not a human being in the fullest sense at all. This seems ultimately indistinguishable from annihilation to me, since it loses sight of what the human essence is in the first place.