Tuesday, 25 October 2016

This mortal life in context of eternity

Modern Man believes that this earthly, mortal life is the only life - and when we die we are extinguished utterly; only to live-on in memory (which is also extinguished).

Therefore absolutely everything is destined for oblivion, as if it never had been. Hence modern nihilism and despair.

Some religious people believe that earthly mortal life is an illusion - and that reality is eternal, spiritual, infinite. Nothing that happens, or ever could possible happen, during earthly mortal life really matters at all - because it is a drop in an infinite ocean - hence of infinitely-minor significance.

From our mortal perspective, this amounts to much the same, in the end, as mainstream modern secularism which says that mortal life is everything but finite - because either way this actual mortal life is rendered utterly trivial, meaningless, pointless.

These two are the usual world-views of modern non--religious people: the first is materialism the second is modern New Age spirituality - derived from a sampling of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Christianity tries to make important both this mortal earthly life, and eternal life beyond the grave - so that mortal life is significant eternally. (This makes Christianity the religion we should most want to be true!)

But most Christian explanations are unsatisfactory - giving either too much significance to the contingencies of mortal life (eg. that the specific state of mind at the instant of death determines eternal salvation or damnation); or not enough importance to mortality (eg. that most mortal life is so depraved and corrupt - due to original sin - that life is 'a bad thing', and such Christians yearn for death, try to approximate Heavenly death-in-life, and at root feel it would be better never to have been born into mortality).

Such metaphysical problems are built-into mainstream Christianity from the early centuries of the church, and I personally feel they have been overcome by the Mormon revelations concerning theology - but either way, what Christianity wants to be, and strives to explain to itself, is as follows:

  • Our mortal incarnate life is important, because it has permanent effects on our eternal life.
  • But this effect of mortality on eternity is qualitatively transformed by the work of Christ - so that our eternal lives have, as it were, all the good memories of mortal life perfectly preserved and made real forever; but none of the bad. 
  • So Heaven is not just 'me living in a Paradise'; it is a transformed me, yet still me living in a Paradise... and that is the difference. 


Ann Kellett said...

Also: "The Resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come."

Peter said...

If we see the destiny of the soul as continuing after death, then our experience in this life have as much meaning as what comes after.

The main point is not that this world has zero value, but that it has no ultimate and independent value - it is connected to other worlds and must be seen in relation to them.

I think what Christianity, as well as Buddhism and Hinduism, wish to devalue is not this earth per se, but the "wrong" things on this earth (status, wealth, power, as ends - i.e to treat conditions on this earth as ultimate ends. To be "worldly")

Love, harmony, and unity on this earth are celebrated - and enjoyment of nature and beauty as well - and these things are seen as coterminous with any future paradise.

Peter said...

I don't think the question of good and bad memories settles it -

A great memory for some people might be some gain in status or power, or sexual conquest.

Rather, there is a right and wrong way to live on this earth, and paradise can be partially had right here on earth and continue after death - the wrong way is to treat this world as if it alone existed and our separate egos alone had value, the right way is to see this world as not an ultimate end in itself but as relative to and connected to the spiritual world, and as ourselves as part of a larger unity and not separate selves (and the consequent ego reduction this entails).

It isn't a death-in-life - it is a death to "worldly" things only, i.e those things that are good only if this world has ultimate value and our separate egos were utterly cut off from the greater harmony.

So it isn't that this world has value only because it affects our eternal destiny, but rather it is a part of our eternal destiny already - heaven is supposed to begin, at least, now and continue and grow into eternity.

Nor is this merely a passive reception of a gift from Christ, but is something we have to realize in ourselves by transforming our character (learning to live rightly)

Dualist said...

"too much significance to the contingencies of mortal life (eg. that the specific state of mind at the instant of death determines eternal salvation or damnation)"

I should point out that the state of mind has no bearing on a person’s salvation. The state of the Soul at death does, however. But this is only as it should be (as long as we also understand the relationship with, and complete compatibility between, God’s Foreknowledge and our Free Will in all of the following discussion). If a person regularly repents, confesses their sins and continually strives to improve themselves (and hence aren't committing Mortal Sins on a daily basis), then they would surely be fine. If, however, somebody has turned away from God and is no longer looking inward at himself, repenting and amending his faults, then what is he actually doing in Life? What does he deserve?

Now, this is where most people misunderstand this: they imagine a hypothetical person who had lived an exemplary life but who happened to commit a small sin (in our view) one particular day and then got run over by a bus that same day – they imagine such a person would be damned. No, if the death was unforeseeable, and if this person was regularly in the habit of Reconciliation, then we understand that the fact that such a person WOULD HAVE soon made a Confession (as he always had done regularly in the past) would surely tip the Scales of Justice in his favour. But for the man who had gone the previous 10 years never trying to improve himself, for him to say ‘well, I would have repented if I had been given prior warning of my death’ would likely be insufficient defence. God is perfectly Just.

And if we’re going to think of unlikely examples, let’s consider this: would a person deserve to be saved if they had lived their whole life as a faithful servant of God, but then in their last year alive decided to become an atheist and used their time to ‘spread the word’ that there was no God? Using the usual arguments against ‘condition-of-soul-at-death’, we should then claim that such a person be judged on what they had done for most of their life - yet most would agree that he didn’t deserve to be treated this way, in this example. So why should the reverse be true?

But let’s remember the sensible thing: 90% of people DO get at least a few-hours prior warning that death is imminent. Most people actually lie in bed for weeks. So such people always have time to arrange to repent and see a priest – even if they had lived the most degenerate lives imaginable. Even people who end up having heart attacks usually know that they have a serious condition that could lead to a rapid death at any instant, so such people should surely be trying their upmost to be living life as it should be lived. The vast majority of Catholics also receive Extreme Unction at the end, cleansing them of everything. No, let’s not worry too much about people getting hit by buses, unless this be as a great reminder to ourselves of the brief, transitory nature of Life, and hence making us strive to live each day as if it is our last, leaving no work undone (either in ‘the world’, with those we love, or, most importantly, in our Souls).

Dualist said...

I am aware that you have studied Russian Orthodox Christianity, but I have consistently found that every (brilliant) facet that you claim as being unique to Mormonism (here and in previous posts) has actually been in Orthodox (both Roman Catholic and Eastern) belief for at least 1000 years. For example, as seen in Ann Kellett’s quote (above) from the Creed, Catholics have long even professed the very Resurrection of the Body (in some mystical form that I personally do not spend too much time trying to intellectualise, but one that is certainly compatible with the ‘Heavenly Family’ view of things you have written of) at the Final Judgement of Creation at the end of time (contrasted with one’s particular judgement after death). As you will know, Origen even preached that the Devil himself would be forgiven at this event – though this is mainly why there’s no St. Origen! I’m going to try to think of some works I could suggest that would give you a viewpoint of Catholicism that emphasises and explains the elements you seem to be ‘looking for’ most, especially any from the Contemplative Tradition that I believe ‘suits you’ best (though I may be wrong about this last part, but it’s a start).

Either way, I would like to thank you for the brilliant articles/thoughts you have continued to post since I have last commented here. I have not had time to comment for quite a while, and this has been a shame because most of the articles have been extremely thought-provoking. I still do read everything, however.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dualist - Indeed, but that doesn't make a substantive difference to my point.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dualist - Thank you for the comment!

wrt Mormon theology - there is a discussion of the deep metaphysical differences with Classical Theology still ongoing here:


Dualist said...

"Indeed, but that doesn't make a substantive difference to my point"

If you mean it doesn't make a difference to your overall article, then I agree with you - I completely agree with the 3 points you listed at the end. The points I made were simply to attempt to demonstrate the correctness of the 'state of the soul at death' position. But, as I mentioned at the start, this is only true if we also understand the relationship between Providence and our Free Will, in parallel (in the manner I discussed, the other week).

This position has been universally that of all Christians from extremely early-on in the Church (despite the many successfully-suppressed heresies) till at least the Reformation, and literally 99% of all Christians who have ever lived have confessed this doctrine.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dualist - Indeed, to believe that Mormonism is true entails believing that Joseph Smith was a real prophet of God, who was sent for a reason - and that reason was to correct/ expand-on mainstream Christianity.

If there had not been significant problems with mainstream Christianity - or if these problems were self-correcting, then Mormonism and its first prophet would not have been necessary.

My personal understanding is that the problems (errors) of mainstream Christianity are primarily metaphysical, i.e. at the level of primary assumptions regarding reality.

Dualist said...

@Bruce - Yes, I meant the general 'facets' you mentioned, but clearly the alleged prophet is not 'mainstream' (at least in the sense that less than 0.1% of Christians subscribe to it). However, genuine, prophetic, religious prophecy is a common theme in Orthodox Christianity, running right through to the present day. It is something I was intending to write quite a bit about, actually, here. But the Church is not expecting any new additions to revealed Scripture. That isn't to say that such a thing is impossible, however. We would never presume to tell God what to do.

I should have followed the link you gave me the other week and checked out the philosophy underlying Mormonism. If Mormonism is, as you suggest, founded on fundamentally different assumptions regarding reality, then it deserves to be studied thoroughly. Is the link you posted (and your blog on it) just 'one man's' view of the metaphysics, or is it the standard view amongst Mormons?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dualist - "just 'one man's' view of the metaphysics, or is it the standard view amongst Mormons?"

Probably something in between; but I have since been invited to blog at Junior Ganymede, which is a conservative Mormon blog - mostly of 'active' (i.e. in good standing, devout, Temple approved) Mormons, so I am not too unorthodox for them, it seems.

I describe myself as a Mormon believer without reservation (although with some additions) - but I am not a CJCLDS church member or attender - I don't attend church often, nor is it focal to my Christian life, but when I do it is usually an Anglican conservative evangelical church.

I got my knowledge of Mormon theology mostly from Sterling McMurrin, Blake Ostler and Terryl Givens - as well as official church sources and semi-official sources such as the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, and FAIR Mormon.

Being a religion (pretty much) without a professional priesthood (all men in good standing are the priests) much of Mormon theology is implicit, among those in the CJCLDS, and the implications and contrasts tend not to be explored.

My distinctive take is in regarding some aspects of Mormon metaphysical theology as the well-spring of the faith - for example the deep and unusual doctrine that men and women are irreducibly complementary - there is no such thing as a Man who is not either a man or a woman, never has been, never will be - so the highest level of spiritual exaltaion is a perfect heavenly and divine marriage of husband and wife in a dyadic unity of love.

This is standard Mormon belief - but its metaphysical (and theological) aspects and implications are not often explored.