Friday 1 January 2021

What does it mean that this is a 'fallen' world?

It seems a pretty general claim of many religions, and is confirmed by the intuition of many individuals; that this is in some sense a 'fallen world'. 

By which I mean that there is a conviction that - compared with conditions in mortal life on earth - in some way there was a past era of innocent, blissful happiness. Some 'Garden of Eden' for instance. 

I agree that this is broadly the case, but my understanding of how and why this world is 'fallen' is probably unique. 

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to try and set-out clearly and concisely how I understand this business. 


I regard life much as do Mormons; divided into 

1. Pre-mortal spirit life - when we were innocent and childlike spirits, living under the direct influence of God. 

To become mortal Men is to opt-out of pre-mortal spirit life. 

2. The first great transformation is birth into mortal incarnate life (a world of 'entropy' - of change, degeneration and death) - which we chose to experience, as the necessary pathway to fuller divinity. 

3. The second great transformation - for those who choose to follow Jesus Christ - is death and resurrection to immortal and incarnate life; to dwell in a Heaven peopled by God, Jesus Christ, Lazarus (the first resurrected Man) and all the people who have gone before us. 

To become a resurrected Man is to opt-in to Heaven. 


The 'move from pre-mortal spirit life into this earthly word was either involuntary or voluntary. 

Satan and the demons were spirits who were involuntarily expelled from pre-mortal bliss (because of their prideful, resentful, opposition to that state); and who are now bound to the fate of this world (unless they instead choose utter isolation): the demonic spirits cannot move on to Heaven, cannot be resurrected. 

In addition this earthly world is peopled by mortal incarnates such as you and me; who chose to get temporary bodies with the possibility of gaining an eternal body; and who experience situations of this earth with the possibility of learning and developing from them. We can die, leave the world, and move-on to Heaven.


So this earthly world we inhabit is a mixed world; inhabited by both mortal incarnates and demonic spirits. Our dwelling here is indeed a fall for incarnate Men, in the sense that we are no longer innocent, and are beset by evil. 

Whereas our pre-mortal life was blissful in the same kind of way that we can imagine the happiest possible young childhood in the best possible family - but our current life is not

We have gone from a life in which simply to be alive was a joy, but where we were unfree and going nowhere; to a life where we may be agents free to choose or reject Heaven; and whose primary purpose in living is to learn from our experiences (which may be various mixtures of happy and miserable, according to need). 

This mixed mortal life is indeed well-designed for its core purpose of providing learning-experiences for Men - especially because God tailors each individual's lived experiences to that individual's greatest needs. 

Therefore, 'fall' does not wholly capture the transition into this world - because this world is the best place for doing that which this world is set-up to do. 


So there has indeed been a fall, in terms both of lesser happiness, and also the pervasive and unavoidable presence of sin (which includes all forms of entropic change). 

But at the same time incarnation brings potentially (if we so choose) an increase in freedom. As we become bounded by bodies so we are less influenced by the divine and reach a point when our affiliation (with, or against, God) must be chosen - much as an adolescent faces the choice whether to re-affiliate-with - or reject - family.

Yet, on the other hand, this mortal life is a necessary 'upward' step if we wish to become more fully divine; with divinity being defined in terms of becoming able - consciously and by choice - to participate in God's ongoing creation. 


So yes, this is a fallen world - less happy than pre-mortality, and permeated by evil in ourselves and others. This is a life of inevitable entropic change - hence 'pain' is inevitable. And we can be finally rescued from evil and pain only by death and resurrection.

But this life is not necessarily miserable and evil all of the time (this would be extremely rare); rather, this mortal life is not about every-body being-continuously-happy and sinless. 

Instead this life is in essence a time of transition, learning and choices: that is what this life is for

And, the exact purpose of this mortal life also differs for each individual Man - since all Men differ innately. 


This mixed mortal life is for the Heavenly life to come... Which doesn't at-all mean this life is un-important in its own right. On the contrary this mortal life is vital. But the importance of mortal life derives from its being underpinned by the possibility of eternity. 



Doktor Jeep said...

I always interpreted the concept as this being a world were we are "in the flesh" and flesh being weak, makes the world inevitably fallen.
The weakness of the flesh I think derives from the requirements of survival on the fallen world. For example: lust and sexual promiscuity, while not very good things, plays a part in the survival of the human race. That women are hard wired to bed, eventually, with the very soldiers who may have slain their fathers, brothers, and husbands while invading their land, is not a very noble or good trait, but that did see the human race through thousands of years of slaughter.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DJ - I'm afraid I can't make coherent sense out of that way of explaining it. Since God is creator and loves each of us; I think we are compelled to infer that we, and the world, are 'fit for purpose' at the individual level. To regard this world's quality as constrained by evolutionary biology (for example) only kicks the can on to the question of why God made evolutionary biology like *that*?

The difficulty is that we need to know very specific personal circumstances (individuals and the context) to understand whether that person has, or has failed to, take advantage of the learning-opportunities their own lives have brought them.

I know that in my life I have been very resistant to learning some important things when that learning was pleasant; and only after things got nasty did I eventually understand. (Or, not even then - there are several major aspects of my life that I have, so far, utterly failed to learn from.... Learning is just difficult!) But what was going on in my life probably wasn't evident to many/any other people (most of whom would not, of course, be interested or care either way!).

This evaluation of the value of actual life is something we can only really do for ourselves about our own lives - and maybe a handful of those who love and know best.

But I believe it is a big mistake to talk in generalities about populations and broad situations, when we are discussing God's care for the world. I'm sure that is not the way that God thinks, judges or acts. All is individually 'bespoke'.

John irwin said...

Great article and perfect for kicking off 2021. I became a Christian after years of rejection of God and it has taken years, and it is still a work in progress, for me to completely return to Him. I have certainly returned to Him but I have a very hard heart that is slow to change and conform as evidenced by my inability to be obedient to the Lord's command that I love my neighbor as I love myself. And it seems that the older I become and the more I learn about them, the more potent my negative feelings about 'my neighbor' actually become, particularly within the last 20-30 years of earthly strife.

I don't actually hate some groups in daily practice and in personal contact and I am always kind to them but I hate them in my heart...not individually but in context of their history, their culture and in any good that they repeatedly fail to offer to society and the human race.

I have heard some say that our souls enter into 'soul contracts' with the Lord or with Heaven before we are born into this world and that we are here to experience and learn to improve who we are, or maybe to try to repair faults in our souls. I don't know if that idea is a New Age concept but it seems like a good theory in light of not knowing any other possibility to explain why we are born. But, I think it has a few holes because it's easy to think that ordinary people with no visible proclivity for dark sins might need a little touch up but it's seems far more difficult to apply that idea to the physically deformed, the mentally ill and to the various types of men and women who, for whatever reason are, from start to finish, evil or are doomed to destruction, right out of the chute.

Jesus said we are born, we die and then we face judgment and somewhere within that process individuals may be able to have the Lord stand before the community of God and testify that He died for our sins and that He forgives us because we are His. But I don't know if that salvation that Jesus died to provide for our souls applies in the case of those who love Him and want Him exclusively but who contemporaneously, through deep wounds and human weakness, fail to completely overcome the obstacles we face in human life.

And then, if His salvation does apply to those of us who seldom ever receive any grade above an 'F' on our earthly report card, what then?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JI _ I tend to think of salvation (going to Heaven) and theosis (learning from this earthly life) as rather separate.

Salvation can be had on easy terms (by wanting it, by following Jesus - albeit there are many that apparently do not want salvation on these, or any, terms), and that is what matters most, eternally.

But while we are mortally alive there is always more we can learn, and the benefits will be eternal.

Also, if we fail to learn essential lessons, and make evil choices; then we will not repent these choices, which amounts to not wanting salvation. Evil tends to become self-reinforcing - unless repented.

As we seem to see all around us.

John Irwin said...

I'm going to disagree with part of your 2nd sentence. Jesus said that the road to destruction is broad and many will choose it and that the road to Heaven is narrow and few will find it. And, from my own experience it was difficult to undo and release and even pry myself loose and away from all I had become and then to turn, very often unwillingly, and kill my own nature and to find and follow the paths that led me back toward the Lord. I had help from the Holy Spirit of course but I wasn't aware of it and never suspected that even then God's Hand was pushing me along. I discovered later that I could have never walked away from my sins under my own power and that I had no authority over the Devil.

But somehow, I've kinda made it to the point of more understanding and constant prayers of surrender and for the Holy Spirit's direction. As I indicated above, I'm far more concerned about my inability to love my neighbor, the second part of the requirements that Jesus indicated were most important to God (the first, of course, being to love the Lord with all of my heart, etc.)

Forget loving them for the moment; while I would never intentionally harm any of those I dislike so much, I would have a very hard time to lovingly pull some of them from the deep end of a drowning pool because I do believe that the world would be a better place without them. And that attitude, to me, is a Hellish thing to bear.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JI (This blog is moderated, comments do not appear until approved)

I try to resist proof texting from the Bible, and this 'strait and narrow' is an example of why. I regard the Fourth Gospel ('John') as primary, and the others as secondary - and this is a secondary statement that is not a core aspect of Jesus's teaching.

At any rate, to the modern mind it gives a totally false notion of the Christian path as dictated by many rules and requirements and prohibitions, laid out before a person - with the only vital virtue being strict obedience. Such is actually the case for Judaism and Islam - but not for Christianity.

All I can suggest is to read the Fourth Gospel with as much intuition as possible, and setting aside everything else you think you know about Jesus.

As for neighbours, I suggest you consider what was meant by neighour, and what God would mean by neighbour (in requiring the behaviour of us) - in contrast to the kind of abstract and categorical way that the term is understood nowadays.

Also consider that all Men are sinners, sin is inevitable and intractable - and that Christianity is a religion of repentance - and Not a religion that pretends Men can cease from sinning.