Monday, 3 October 2016

Why become a Christian? (The answer is not Hellish fear nor paradisal happiness; but Heavenly family.)

I have never been happy with, nor convinced by, the usual way of trying to persuade people to become Christians - which is either to terrorise them with fear of Hell Or Else; or bribe them with promises of paradisal happiness.

Except for the eternal dimension, to respond to such emotional incentives is hardly a moral act at all - it is not much different from obeying laws to avoid the lash or hanging; or to adhere to social norms in order to be rewarded with money and status.

My fundamental understanding of the choice (and avoiding prejudging the situation with loaded terms) is between 'family and freedom'; between first joining ('salvation') then becoming a fully adult member ('theosis') of the Heavenly Family; or not.

I do not want to present this as a choice between reason and insanity - but to understand why people might (even though mistakenly, by my judgment) rationally choose to reject salvation, and to do so without referring to the hedonic consequences in terms of the balance between pleasure and pain.

(Minimally) the Christian choice is between:
1. Remaining-within the Heavenly family into which we were born as children of God; and

2. Leaving the family to set-up on our own, as individuals - which could be described as 'freedom' (in the sense of 'freedom-from' reciprocity, ties, duties, responsibilities etc.).  


An analogy might be someone who is born into a loving, stable and expanding extended family-network of relationships: parents, children, spouses and all the degrees of relatives.

Suppose that (at adolescence) he had to make a decision whether to remain as a part of that family - participating fully in the network of loving relationships, but also the constraints of acknowledged family authority, seniority, responsibilities and reciprocities...

Or else he was able to cut himself off from the family, and live free as an individual; doing what he wanted; only having regard to his own preferences, pleasures and desires; believing whatever he most wants to believe - but in a situation where everybody else is also doing the same...

The family situation approximates to heaven, the individual state to hell.


By this analogy, we can see that the typical modern life approximates to hell - a situation when many teenagers and young adults reject and leave the family, migrate to the Big City, and participate in work, sex and leisure entirely autonomously; having regard only to their own hedonic state; and living among others doing the same.

This analogy helps us to understand why some people might choose hell - even when they know what heaven offers; because so many of us have been in exactly the situation of ourselves choosing (either briefly, or for long periods - perhaps even a lifetime) the 'freedom' (and costs) of individual autonomy; and rejecting that complex web of inherited loving relationships and responsibilities that constitute the family (even the ideal family).


Note: This was also posted at the Junior Ganymede blog, where I added the following:
The above way of understanding the Christian choice was, I think, first made possible by the Restoration of the Gospel message achieved by [the Mormon prophet] Joseph Smith. Until then it was not clear, or not sufficiently clear, what was at stake with salvation; and it was difficult for Christians to go beyond – or deeper than – rather crudely ‘hedonic’ threats and promises. By reframing eternal resurrected Heavenly life in terms of familial relationships (growing in numbers, richness, height, depth and strength – for eternity…), it became possible to understand what Christian Love meant, aside from its merely being equated with happiness; or what sin meant, aside from being merely equated with suffering.


Dualist said...

Answering the question ‘why become a Christian?’ can take two forms: explaining the metaphysical process of how one becomes a Christian, or secondly, answering for what Rational/Intuitive reason(s) one ought to become a Christian (in other words, why it is the Greatest Good of all our possible other ‘becoming’ paths.)

The former part is firstly understood by remarking that it is God who first chooses us. Only then are we Free to choose Him. Each one of us has a Vocation, a calling. The most general one, the one every human possesses, is the universal call to Holiness. This is only perfected in Loving Jesus, which necessarily involves being in Communion with his Church on Earth. In Baptism, we are placed into the Right Relationship with God. The Holy Spirit, the Supreme Artist, then begins His Work: the recreation of Jesus in Souls. Through His Grace do we received the Gifts and Virtues. But we are never free from the consequence of Original Sin: concupiscence, the tendency to place our Will before the Lord’s.

Referring to what you said, yes, people can ‘rationally’ sin. By a huge coincidence, I attended a Latin Mass today and to my astonishment, the Homily was almost identical with (contained roughly the same arguments) as the long comment I wrote on here yesterday. And then imagine my surprise when Mass finishes and I had a conversation with the priest, and we discussed exactly what you had been writing about here today, as I found out about an hour later. Very strange.

As you seem to be saying also, he told me that we always choose ‘the good’ – but this can only ever be, crucially, what seems to us to be the Good. So we sometimes get it wrong - sometimes through defects in knowledge or in the Intellect, other times through satisfying bodily urges, perhaps other times through direct demonic temptation. But in my particular Tradition, this is why it is so important to go to Confession.

Despite the Actual Graces we receive regularly from God (for example those little nudges throughout the day asking us to pray – the call to the union of Prayer always comes from God’s side – or maybe that feeling of compunction leading to confession, or simply wanting to suddenly do a small act of Charity), we only receive the final, other type - Sanctifying Grace - from God after we have made a good confession and have been Absolved. Whereas our minor (Venial) sin just wounds the relationship with God, our deadly, Mortal Sin breaks this Right Relationship with God. It is the Sanctifying Grace which ‘re-fixes’ our relationship with God. It stays within the Soul (unlike the other type) and allows us to see the Truth of Spiritual Things much more clearly than without it (the effect of coming out of the confessional Reconciled is often an extremely profound experience, to say the least), so this obviously has the effect of making us see more clearly the True Good that we could and should pick – including whether to (continue to) follow the Christian path, or not.


Dualist said...


The point of this being, yes, other people doing certain evils does make such a choice seem more likely to appear good to our Intellects, but if we had been more conscientious and obtained Forgiveness from God and received His Sanctifying Grace, we would have much easier chosen the correct option. So the past decision not to repent of sin certainly makes sinning becoming much more likely in the future. But nothing is unforgivable. The same applies not just to individual sins but surely also when our neighbours are all Godless almost to a man and then, yes, ‘it is hard to be a saint in the city’, as that great ascetic David Bowie once remarked. But then life is hard.

But should we consciously and intellectually want to be a Christian so that we go to Heaven? Yes! That is a most noble intention. Because the paradise of Heaven consists solely in being in Perfect Union with God, nothing more, nothing less. As well as being the Source of the Christian Vocation, He is also our sole End, our final destination and fundamental purpose in ‘becoming a Christian’. And yes, we will be with all the Saints and Angels in Heaven, also. But they will only be joining us in Adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, falling ever and ever deeper in Love with the only source of Love that is inexhaustible. This is the perfect Family.

It is a terrible mystery why some Souls hang on till the bitter end in choosing to defy God. But it appears a much greater mystery still when seemingly good people do not ‘choose’ to ‘become’ a Christian, despite claiming to think they were acting towards the Good for their whole lives. Perhaps the mystery would be cleared up if we had access to the contents of their Souls? And let us not forget, we do not even have access to another man’s Mind, never mind his Soul! As discussed yesterday, there are answers to our questions over this seeming injustice.

Because being in Loving Union with God is our only End, not wanting to go to Hell is an insufficient (though still pious) reason to become a Christian. Fear of Hell is of great use, however, in pushing a soul towards reconciliation and back onto the higher path of Love of God. For those Christians who feel they would rather tell God how he should manifest His Justice, and who choose not to believe in Hell because it doesn’t make sense to THEIR sense of Justice, then all I can say is: Christ had much more to say about going to Hell than going to Heaven, terrifyingly. He mentions it in several different contexts, (wheat from the chaff etc.) but there is almost universally a reference to fire and suffering. It would be strange to bring up the same imagery for totally different scenarios if it was wholly figurative language…

Sticking with the Word said...

It's still not clear the appeal.

As an important side note, where is this aspect of Heavenly family except in Mormonism? I don't see this emphasis in most of Christianity.

Also, why is it desirable if family members are malicious and mean-spirited? A person may like one or some family members but certainly not all.

Is the Heavenly family the best of what you had in life, or another family altogether?

I can think of reasons to become a Christian based on the Bible and Christ's example but that's one that doesn't register.

It also seems counter to the what is recommended in spiritual hierarchy around the world (including the Bible), which is monasticism and direct knowledge of God first; then family if you have to for the various reasons people feel compelled to do so.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SwwW - As I said, I am talking of the ideal family, the family as it ought to be - and that is something which we all know implicitly, built-in (which is why the actual family may be so distressing). But your comment shows exactly why someone might reject salvation, why they might choose *not* to dwell in Heaven.

Yes, the insights here are ultimately derived from the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith: this is one reason why the advent of the Mormon church was necessary in terms of the history of Christianity; i.e. because this matter was not clear to the other churches.

And it makes clear why the elevation of ascetic, celibate monasticism to primacy is an error; because the highest form of Christian life comes in marriage and the family.

(This is also linked with the distinctive metaphysics of Mormonism in which salvation is individually chosen, but the highest levels of theosis occur within the relationships of 'celestial', eternal marriage.)

Sticking with the Word said...

Hmm... I'm thinking this is a significant and paradoxical aspect of Mormonism and Christianity. It seems you're assuming the Mormon version is true. But in core Christianity - the Bible - there is no such Heaven as you describe.

If Mormonism is in fact a fabulation, and the Bible is the Only Truth, then your postulated Heaven simply doesn't exist.

And the Bible doesn't say anything like what you describe. I'm aware of some references to re-angelization, and that seems fine with me, as are Revelations.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SwtW - Of course! - If Mormonism is a fabulation, then it isn't true; and I am indeed assuming it is true!

As I have previously written, Christianity is incredible; and Mormon Christianity is incredible-squared. Having acknowledged that as a fact, we each then may decide whether Christianity, plus/ minus Mormonism, is actually true.