Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Does nothing *really* matter?

Whenever I hear or read someone who has adopted an 'Eastern'-type of religion or spirituality (modelled on Zen/ Buddhism, Hinduism or the like); I feel the horror of a viewpoint that this life, this world, is illusion - temporary, insignificant in itself.

The suffering of life is hear dealt-with by denying its significance. This deals with the suffering - but at the cost of making (or trying to make) the whole business futile.

If that was the whole story, the obvious conclusion would be to get-out-of life as quickly as possible: suicide - and it is noteworthy that in the real-life Eastern religions suicide is harshly penalised (with adverse consequences beyond death) - except in specific and socially-controlled situations (such as the 'honour' of seppuku).

But in The West, lacking such social sanctions, Eastern-style religiosity is a life-draining doctrine. It saves from the horror of life, but at the lethal cost of destroying real significance in anything that could possibly happen in life. All is illusion - good, bad and indifferent alike are illusion - and all is soon washed away...

Another factor is the individual's ultimate yearning; and this may be a key. It seems to me that there are those in the world for whom the highest good they can imagine is a state of permanent bliss - with only enough self-awareness to be aware of that bliss.

For such people, the business of mortal life, in a mortal world; the business of loving 'personal relationships' in a marriage, a family, a deep friendship; the business of creativity... all such businesses fail to interest, satisfy, inspire...

For such people; even if they were 100 percent sure of the creation of God the Father and the reality of the promises of Jesus Christ; 100% sure of the reality of the Christian Heaven and of living in a personal and loving relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ; even if (for Mormon Christians) they were sure of eternal celestial marriage, of living and growing and developing towards divinity in eternal families...

Even if all this was known to be true and as represented - the problem would remain that such people do not like or want such things. They do not want love, creativity, or 'other people'... They simply want eternal impersonal unaware bliss.

For such people, mortal life really is understood to be a waste of time and effort - the sufferings cannot possibly be compensated by anything good that might happen - they want out of life; and the only thing that stops them is fear that this will make matters even worse.

As I am a Christian who values (some) other people, love, and creation - these things do matter more than anything to me; but I can understand the perspective from which they do not - and that some people really want nothing more from reality than a pleasing state of permanent-opt-out. And I presume that Heavenly Father has made provision for this desire - perhaps many such spirits have been incarnated into Eastern countries for such reasons...

However, a perhaps-surprising number of self-identified Christians have a perspective on this-world which is not much different from the Eastern view described above - with an almost-wholly negative view of life, and an aspiration for the after-life which is hardly-distinguishable from that 'static' state of Nirvana I described above.

This is perhaps mainly due to the 'Platonic' metaphysical framework of many mainstream Christians (strong since the very early years of Christianity, imported from pre-Christian Roman paganism) that sees post-mortal life in Heaven as perfection, permanence and reality; in contrast to earthly mortal life which is ultimately corrupt and changing and therefore unreal. Platonic Christianity may therefore become, in practice, very similar to Eastern religions - especially in its monastic and contemplative forms (which tend to be the most highly valued in this type of Christianity).

My understanding is that Christians need a metaphysics which values this world, which values it positively - and not merely in terms of avoiding damnation, and which regards at least some aspects of our mortal life as of permanent significance; indeed of permanent reality.

And these aspects are exactly what potentially gives absolute, positive and eternal value to mortal life.

And the fact that our bodies will die and the earth itself is impermanent does not affect that fact.

If Heaven is seen in terms of being like these most significant experiences aspects of mortal life - then the experiences of Christian Heaven are to-do-with Love as an eternally creative, growing,  developing and unfolding relationship between persons. This is the essence of creation - creation is personal.

(Persons including fully-divine persons as well as Men - and the rest of the world is seen as alive and conscious and relate-able: in Heaven there are no 'things'.)

For me; the experiences that affect me most deeply in mortal life are seen by me as those which I  consciously know to be real and permanently valuable. This value is not a matter of memory, it is not washed away by time or age or death - it is eternal.

(How this 'works' I am not sure; but that it works I am sure.)

To answer the question 'Does nothing really matter?' The answer is that some of our life experiences do really matter - indeed, in an eternal perspective, nothing matters more than these experiences.


  1. For the sincere nihilist, the first and foremost insight is that nihilism doesn't matter.

    Those who think that nihilism is somehow important cannot really be nihilists. They are instead seeking refuge from the sense that their guilt really does matter. A real nihilist doesn't seek refuge from this sense of guilt, because it doesn't feel important. It is therefore not worth denying or evading.

  2. Bruce, would you not say there is a difference between a nothing matters attitude, which I agree is basically nihilistic and discounts love, and the approach that says one should not be attached to things of this world? Surely the Christian is required to put God above everything but that does not mean that nothing in creation matters or Christ would not have bothered to save it.
    I think there is an important difference between rejecting the material world as the Gnostics did and some eastern religions do, either as evil or illusion, and seeing that it is good but it is not God as I would say Christianity does. You see in the lives of some of the saints that everything is stripped away as it ultimately was for Christ at the crucifixion but all that is good is restored in a transformed state as it was for Christ as the resurrection. That of course includes the body.
    I think we may be asked to sacrifice everything we hold dear but only in order that it may be returned to us in a transfigured state. So we must let go of the old in order to receive the new which includes all that was good of the old and something more. But this sacrifice must be one made in love not one of rejection as you say.

  3. @CCL - Quite right - anyone who makes a big thing of being a nihilist - especially one who tries to convert others to nihilism - cannot truly be a nihilist. such people are in reality pursuing an actively evil agenda by trying to destroy faith.

  4. @William - I usually find that I agree with you when we get down to the depths! But my attitude to the great Saints is perhaps more bracketed than yours; in the sense that while I would regard (for example) Cuthbert of Lindisfarne as a great Christian, perhaps greater than anyone alive today - I would also regard many of his specific beliefs (and his underlying metaphysical philosophy) as mistaken.

    The Christian must put God first, as wit hthe two great commandments - but my understanding is that this means that without God as the basic framing fact of reality, then nothing good is possible. I don't think it means thinking about God all the time, or anything of that sort.

    Looking at the nature of ourselves and the world, surely God would not have designed *this* Life such that we are supposed to be focued on him most of the time - or else we would simply have remained in Heaven, or at least lived much shorter and simpler lives...

  5. I think we probably agree but express ourselves a little differently due to the slightly different positions we arrived at our conclusions from. I did have a lot of Eastern influence in my spiritual thought to begin with and probably still express myself slightly in those terms even though I regard myself in completely Christian terms nowadays. And probably always did, truth to tell.

  6. One contradiction to the slant you present Bruce with the Eastern wisdom traditions, is that many of them do believe in reincarnation. So oddly enough, while their emphasis is less about this world, it seems they still consider it enough to have a metaphysics of eternal returning.

  7. I think part of the problem is that those who have made it to mortal life have a kind of affinity for freedom, but lack experience with meaningful consequences. It is still unpleasant to face the fact of accountability, I think particularly when there are two sides of a coin, bundled consequences that we want and don't want. We must judge and prioritize, and then be willing to stand by our decisions, or else repent. And doing all that is genuinely difficult.

  8. Ted - That is what I meant by saying that suicide is penalised or forbidden.

  9. Except where it is ritualized and demanded.

    I think that is an important flip side of the coin, in Eastern religions, your life is not your own, nor is your eternity. You don't live or die because you desire either, but because one or the other is demanded of you.

  10. @CCL - the distinction is quantitative, not absolute.

  11. Certainly, if our lives are to have real meaning, then there must be a component of duty.

    But while it is somewhat a question of degree, I think that there is also a qualitative difference in the proper objects of dutiful life. Not a difference I would call absolute except in the case of a communal life that is defined in explicitly anti-divine terms. But that case does arise from time to time.

  12. The metaphysics of reincarnation, as disclosed by past lives regressions, is that we need to learn through experiences in each life for purposes of soul development, and we choose those lives in advance. The long term goal being to reach a point of approaching reintegration with God (the Source). So it explicitly rejects nihilism because each life has purpose, but accepts the notion that the world is a temporary stage for each soul.

  13. @pyrrhus - This is one idea, but there are a very large number of variations on the nature of reincarnation - e.g.

  14. @Bruce Charlton--Absolutely true. I speak only from my experience as a past life hypnotist, and what I have learned from the regressees about past (and in a couple of cases future) lives and what the rationale for those lives was revealed to be...

  15. @pyrrhus - I certainly respect that general view of reincarnation, since it has been held by some/ most of my most valued mentors: Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield, William Arkle - and by my current friend William Wildblood.

    Nonetheless, I think that the Mormon understanding of a single 'learning' incarnation is the correct one; and that we (or, nearly all of us) continue our development towards deity post-mortally as resurrected Men, rather than by further incarnations.