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.).  

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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.

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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).


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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.