Sunday 18 August 2013

The traditional Christian concept of marriage is too weak


The following is the Solemnization of Matrimony in the Church of England according to the Book of Common Prayer (the words by which I was married, in fact). 

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.  ...

WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live? ...

I take thee to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.


I we put aside for a moment the wonderful, incomparable, precision and beauty of this language - then we may consider the conceptualization of the nature of marriage which lies behind them.

(I take it, I assume here, that these words also represent closely-enough the understanding of marriage in all the main traditional Christian denominations.)


And we can see that in some ways the concept of marriage is extremely ambitious and demanding and spiritual; but in other ways it has a very negative (remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication) and expediency-based (for the procreation of children) approach to marriage.

But also, and most importantly, marriage is seen as wholly a worldly thing, part of this brief and fallen mortal existence (so long as ye both shall live... till death us do part)

To a modern secular person, to be married for one's whole life seems like something tremendously demanding and indeed overwhelming; but to a faithful Christian who perceives this life in the context of eternity, a lifetime of marriage is almost trivially brief - it is to make marriage one episode in the tiny spark of mortality.


Why Christianity should have such a low view of marriage (even of marriage at its very best) is perhaps related to the history of the church, and the fact that the highest spiritual status was accorded to ascetic celibacy.

Perhaps also the sense that the events of this world were simply a trial - a test which could be failed, but not the kind of experience which might assist our spiritual state in the next life.

Perhaps also it is derived from the sense that the body was inferior to the spirit, that the needs and desires of the body were bad and ought to be transcended, and therefore that a thing of the body such as marriage was a sub-optimal compromise.

But, whatever the reasons; I suspect that this fundamental weakness, or ambiguity, or error in understanding the positive status of marriage has eventually proved to be a near-fatal Achilles heel in the context of modern Leftist secularism - which has for more than two centuries unrelentingly focused on subverting and denigrating marriage (and thereby family) as its major tool for the overthrow of Christianity.


Against this long-term and wholesale cultural assault on marriage, the mainstream Christian response has been and remains disturbingly feeble.  

I see this feebleness as evidence of (and consistent with) a long-standing Christian ambiguity about marriage; and the covert but undermining conviction that marriage is a second rate spiritual path and a worldly expedient - especially among the spiritual leaders of the Churches.

If the denigration of marriage is intrinsic to Christianity, then so be it; but if it is a result of long-standing doctrinal error or incompleteness - then now would be a good time to set about correcting it!  



Nathan said...

Thank you for this post, Dr. Charlton - marriage is a topic that I have been contemplating a lot recently, and I'm glad to see some of my thoughts about it expressed here by you.

I wanted to mention a few things that came to mind with regard to your post and the Christian concept of marriage in general. First, I find the listing of the "causes for which Matrimony was ordained" to be a bit off, and potentially very misleading. It seems to me as though the first and the third causes should be flipped. If one looks at the original purpose of "marriage" between Adam and Eve, one will see that it was for mutual society, not for the procreation of children. Genesis 2:18 states quite clearly that "The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'" Nowadays this aspect of marriage (which I believe should actually be the true foundation of the institution) is mostly demonized. "Human loneliness" is completely removed from the equation , and along with this the idea that the union of one man and one woman is the solution to this problem.

I believe that this confusion about the true purpose of marriage plays a key factor in the subsequent confusion about things such as the acceptability of gay marriage. Most arguments that I have seen against gay marriage utilize only the fact that such a union cannot produce offspring. Well, this is true, but there are many instances of marriages between men and women who are physically unable to procreate. So, if one argues solely on the basis of procreation, one must either conclude that the ability to procreate does not matter (therefore gay marriage is acceptable) or that any infertile person ought not to marry. If, however, one considers the primary cause for Matrimony to be "mutual society", then one can factor in all of the psychological and physical differences that exist between man and woman. This, of course, would not mean that people would stop attacking the Christian concept of marriage, but it would provide a much more coherent (and I believe Biblical) defense.

If I fully consider it, I am almost tempted to believe that in a Christian sense the "procreation of children" should be so far down the ladder of causes for Matrimony that it should almost not be a reasonable cause at all. If we disregard the quite real possibility that God cares nothing about the quantity (as opposed to the quality) of His kingdom, then we are still left with a seemingly absurd Christian duty: that we "go at it" as often as possible in order, more or less, to "procreate Christians". In order to avoid this absurdity, perhaps the best way to view procreation is to see it simply as a potential outcome of the God-approved sexual relationship that exists between man and wife. This, of course, would mean that Christianity would have to re-evaluate its conception of the role of "the body" in relation to God. I do, however, have a suspicion that marriage ought not to be (and should not be portrayed as) an ascetic institution. I find it infinitely fascinating that Jesus's first miracle (which by itself has such a close tie with marriage) was not to turn wine into water, but to turn water into wine. This is quite a paradox, but so is an all-loving God!

JP said...

The "mutual society" aspect of marriage is not demonized by the Left. On the contrary, Leftists view this as the basic purpose of marriage, and as a reason gays should be allowed to marry. If it's about "mutual society" then there is no reason men should not be allowed to "marry" other men, enjoy each other's mutual society, and thus avoid loneliness. If "mutual society" is the main point then there is no reason men and women should not be allowed to dissolve the marriage the instant they are tired of each other's company, which is in fact the basis for the doctrine of no-fault divorce.

If you do not plan to have, and raise, children, there is little point to getting married at all. This is especially true from the man's perspective, inasmuch as marriage exposes him to a world of legal and financial obligation in return for something (sex and female company) he can readily obtain without marriage.

If, however, one considers the primary cause for Matrimony to be "mutual society", then one can factor in all of the psychological and physical differences that exist between man and woman.

The Left believes these differences are wholly artificial - the product of unjust social institutions. They will hardly accept this as an argument for heterosexual-only marriage and as a decisive objection to homosexual marriage.

one must either conclude that the ability to procreate does not matter (therefore gay marriage is acceptable) or that any infertile person ought not to marry.

Indeed I agree that infertile people ought not to marry, and that the Church was correct to view infertility as a legitimate basis for the annulment of marriage.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nathan - Well, I am arguing that the traditional concept of Christian marriage is too weak, and so I don't want to weaken it further by simplification!

@JP - I think your post shows the problem with the traditional view - in that you are apparently arguing marriage is 'merely' an expedient method of producing children without sin.

My critique here is very fundamental. - I think the traditional reasons for marriage sell it very short indeed! Marriage is said (in some Catholic traditions) to be 'a sacrament' - the question is what this actually means in spiritual terms.

I first came across a concentrated and rigorous critique of traditional/ mainstream Christian marriage in the work of Charles Williams - e.g. The Descent of the Dove and He Came Down From Heaven - who finds evidence of other neglected Christian traditions which he brought together under labels such as Romantic Theology, and the Via Positiva.

Then there is the Mormon doctrine that some marriages may be eternal - and that is indeed the spiritual ideal.

This feels right to me. So that is one thing.

Also, I do not think this is contradicted by Scripture (although neither is it supported directly) it *works* as a spiritual path; and of course Mormons are the only major church which is standing firm on the issue of marriage.

Further it links to other insights which have strong intuitive/ introspective appeal to me - such as that sex/ gender is a fundamental and spiritual attribute (not primarily biological) - that is that we are all either male or female in a spiritual sense. Which implies complementarity - which further implies marriage as the highest ideal.


But - if marriage is indeed an Achilles heel for Christianity, why should this only have become a problem in past century or so?

I think the answer is simple: Satan has been working on this for a long time, he has found the weakness, and he is exploiting it with horrific effect.

That is why we need an answer now - fortunately, I think we have one.

It is not that traditional ideas of marriage are wrong - but that they are very obviously insufficient and are being blown away.

The challenge for mainstream Christianity is to match or mimic Mormonism in doctrinal strengthening of marriage and family.

I'm not very hopeful that this will happen, but I believe it is what needs to happen and what should happen.

Wm Jas said...

Christianity's "low" view of marriage -- as something acceptable in this world but of no eternal importance -- seems to me to come straight from the Bible. See for example Luke 20:34-36, or 1 Corinthians 7.

Donald said...

I think there is certainly an opportunity within the Orthodox (and Eastern Catholic) context to emphasize the link between theosis and sacramental marriage. In fact on my understanding only a first marriage can have the crowning, and there is some thought that the marriage bond exists beyond death.

The emphasis on marriage needs to be a path to theosis, probably the single most important path for most Christians within the Church, and that you are there to aid one another in salvation. It is most fundamentally a spiritual endeavor - both a martyrdom and a feast. Out of this truth flows the more natural duties such as child-rearing and avoiding (lustful) sin, but they must be subordinate to this higher good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I don't see that these passages are transparent or explicit on this question, taken in context. Indeed, I attended a sermon recently (conservative evangelical and in the 'innerancy' tradition of Bible reading) which argued that the Corinthians section was - properly understood - pro-marriage.

Interestingly, according to Rodney Stark, in historical context it was the pro-marriage, pro-family aspects of Christianity which set it apart from other Roman religions, and which were responsible for its extremely rapid demographic growth.

So, taken overall, Christianity was probably seen as extremely pro-marriage at the time it emerged.

(Stark also showed that the rate of growth of Mormonism has been almost exactly the same as early Christianity - but of course in a world with a much greater already-existing population.)

@Donald - that sounds like an excellent line to take on marriage - I shall look into it further.

The Crow said...

My wife and I have come to see marriage as a means of overcoming individuality and ego.
Entered into as a union, rather than each one for oneself, it is an incomparable state.
It entails self-discipline and humility.
It's general demise renders society a far bleaker place.

? said...

I'm surprised the obvious passage in Corinthians can be even attempted to be seen as other than it is. Paul was clear it's better to stay unmarried - it's about as literal as it can get.

If the denigration of marriage is intrinsic to Christianity, then so be it

I don't see how it can be seen as otherwise. At minimum marriage is regarded as lesser to celibacy devoted to spiritual development.

I'd be interested in hearing how extremely pro-marriage views are extracted from the Bible, although I'm wary of what must be some extreme latitude in interpretation.

Arakawa said...

(The below comment is about something I'm very uncertain of, so I'd appreciate any and all evidence/arguments that I may not have encountered yet to help me decide.)

For whatever reason, my basic intuitions are very unsympathetic to the notion that gender is an essential attribute of the soul.

Partly because, long before I'd heard of Mormonism and how it uses the doctrine to support the notion of celestial marriage, I heard one too many times the claptrap about "female/male/animal/vegetable/mineral soul trapped inside a male/female body" that relies on the same exact assumption about gender. If the soul is non-gendered or androgynous, however, this argument holds no water.

Partly because, outside of the Mormon framework of materialism (where a male/female soul is presumably just a rarefied and indestructible male/female body?) I can't bring myself to understand what a soul having a gender actually means. In earthly terms, I understand gender as a set of limitations or strictures (which have ascetic value, but do not seem to me essential aspects of existence such that they must be retained even in Heaven), or the expression a particular polarity in the relation of headship (per CS Lewis, who then goes on to say that everyone is feminine with respect to God), or a set of particular virtues which must be developed by the corresponding gender, but which the other gender is generally not barred from (i.e. a woman lacking the characteristic feminine virtues is deficient as a woman, but I do not see how she is morally barred from developing masculine virtues so long as she is capable of doing so, and they do not preclude those virtues essential to her gender; likewise for a man).

Those are my intuitions, however. Speaking from reason, I have no reason to suppose one way or the other. But the notion of souls having gender is one of those trivial things in Mormonism that somehow rubs me the wrong way, out of all proportion to its actual importance.

So, I don't know; are souls gendered or androgynous? It strikes me as a question where a much more careful argument is needed either way, than 'answering it this way is a means towards supporting the correct attitude towards marriage'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@? - I can't remember - and since I don't find that kind of argument compelling I can't reconstruct it.

"At minimum marriage is regarded as lesser to celibacy devoted to spiritual development."

And yet such a life has almost disappeared as well. So Christianity is left with... not much.

As I say, this issue could be the Achilles heel of Christianity - and yet of course compared with the mainstream secular culture, Christians are tremendously pro-marriage, and among few of the defenders of the institution.

So the situation is paradoxical - but it is a paradox which Satan can, and presumably will, continue to exploit.


@A - What you seem to be saying is that you do NOT have an intuition about something which as you describe it sounds like an abstract scientific - or metaphysical - hypothesis concerning sexual difference in the structure of the universe...

Well, I don't have any such intuition either and nor do Mormons - so far as I can tell.

My intuition is that I am male, and that no matter how deep I introspectively dig I am still a man - there is no bottom to it, no point at which I stop being a man and become an undifferentiated human.

Indeed, I cannot even imagine an undifferentated human, but always must metaphorize as man or woman.

For example, when I was a child I assumed angels were women (since they were played by girls in Nativity Plays), then I learned that the named Biblical angles were men (and that Gabriel was a man's name!) so I thought of angels as men; later I learned they were supposedly, sort of, of no sex... but I cannot stop thinking of angels as men and/or women (and indeed the sex of angels depends on the theory of angelology being used, of which I have come across several quite contrasting ones).

That is what I mean by intuition. How I think by default.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - This was not quite correct: "My intuition is that I am male, and that no matter how deep I introspectively dig I am still a man - there is no bottom to it, no point at which I stop being a man and become an undifferentiated human. "

What I should have said is that - at the point where I stop being a man is the part where I stop being my-self.

And that point is irrelevant to Christian salvation, because we will remain our-selves for eternity - so stripping away of sexuality is literally in-conceivable to be - I cannot conceive it.

From this, the rest follows...

Arakawa said...


Well, the basis for my intuition comes from years and years of reading stories (modern or mythological) that involve shapechanging of one sort or another. This before I had any concern or interest in Christianity, so this is probably best characterized as another pagan intuition that produces a stumbling block for me, like animism.

e.g. I understand your point that a being (even an angel) cannot be imagined without a gender, but the notion that gender is an essential attribute does not follow for me. What does that make of something like the myth of Tiresias? i.e. is it a metaphysical impossibility, like asserting two plus two equals five (and in that case, why did so many cultures get this intuition so egregiously wrong?), or would we have to understand that each transformation destroys Tiresias' soul and replaces it with a new one, or is it just deeply morally unnatural in a way that the Greeks were tone-deaf to?

(I think you can start to see why I tried to keep this discussion abstract....)

Arakawa said...


And I will agree with you here:

"And that point is irrelevant to Christian salvation...." -- one way, or the other; since (to my mind) it doesn't change any of our moral obligations.

But asserting either answer as a denominational doctrine, I think, would put one or the other of us firmly and involuntarily on the wrong side of said doctrine.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - I have never come across the 'myth' of Tiresias before, and looking at it on Wikipedia it seems silly/ decadent rather than some kind of cultural universal!

Indeed, I wonder if it was an example of Greek perversion, a specialist pornographic story in which the male reader is invited to imagine himself inhabiting a woman's body with 'interesting' consequences.

Indeed, this seems like the only interest to the idea - and if there was not some such dissonance between mind and body, why would Tiresias want to change back to a man?


But if marriage is to be more than the traditional mainstream Christian concept, if for example it is to be a major way of theosis - then this would (I think) need to be a consequence of the fundamental nature of sex differentiation and therefore the significant degree of incompleteness of one sex alone.

Perhaps this is yet another example of the monism/ pluralism divide in people? Monists presumably believe that perfection is a simple unity - and therefore sex/gender cannot be of fundamental importance - and Man has no sex.

Pluralists - on the other hand - are happy to accept that bottom line reality is more-then-one - and that therefore (as it happens) the bottom line unity of Man happens to be a dyad of man and woman.

Donald said...

I like Peter Kreeft's take on sexuality and the priesthood:

As an aside, it is interesting to note that Orthodoxy is a bit more "pluralist" as you describe it.

Also it is fascinating to see the range of conceptions of G-d from Mormonism which is very anthropomorphized - then 'theistic personalists' (mainly protestants such as William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantiga, Richard Swineburne) who are sort of in between with conceptions like G-d has emotions like us, He is in time at the point of creation, deny divine simplicity, molinism/middle knowledge, social trinity (not that they don't have differences between them) and then Aristotelian-Thomists or Platonists who categorize G-d not a being but the be-er (beer!) who is fully actual, etc. Like a 'spectrum' of sorts.

Arakawa said...

*sigh* I suppose I'm reaping the fruit of a vaguely classically-leaning education administered by secular teachers, in terms of these intuitions.

(That specific portion of Tiresias' biography I remember mostly from having had to parse/research every major allusion in TS Eliot's The Waste Land.)

What seriously worries me is that, if there is a perversion involved in the production of such stories, it would be a metaphysical one (an actively warped understanding of what attributes are an immutable part of the self throughout eternity), and the content of the stories would be just a consequence. Which would make the fact that my intuitions allow this a serious problem.

But my usual recourse when such questions come up is to quickly find and ask some other question which is more urgent / in doctrinally safer territory. Which requires me to treat the fact that my intuitions allow this as a not-serious problem (basically, as a huge distraction).

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - The problem we have now in these end times, is that so many arguments which used to work have been so thoroughly undermined. Of course, that does not mean that the old arguments were wrong - or have been refuted, but that they lack traction or are too weak (e.g. too complex and multi-step) for the purpose. Hence the difficulty of modern apologetics - to work on common assumptions, it must go very deep - deeper than at any time before.

Agellius said...

I can't understand your saying that Christianity has "such a low view of marriage". You might want to read the section on marriage from the Catechism:

I simply don't agree that to believe marriage is for this world only is a denigration of marriage. As you say, it's only in the past century or so that marriage has been so severely weakened. For the previous nineteen centuries, it was only Christianity that managed to make marriage permanent even in this world. Whatever strength marriage possessed in Joseph Smith's time was due to the teachings and culture of traditional Christianity. If it has now been weakened in societies that were formerly Christian, I would look to cultural causes outside the Church, since the Church's teaching on marriage has not changed (speaking now of the Catholic Church specifically).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Agellius - I don't understand what you don't understand!

My writing is clear and simple enough, surely - all your remarks are covered in the post or my comments to it.

I think you must mean you don't agree with me, rather than that you don't understand me. If you disagree then briefly state your grounds for disagreement!

The Catholic churches all regard marriage as inferior to celibacy, and to that extent expedient - Mormons regard marriage as the highest state.

Catholics also regard all marriages as, like all worldly things done for expediency, dissolved at death - Mormonism regards the best marriages as eternal.

Is it therefore surprising that Mormons are doing so much better a job of speaking out in defence of marriage, getting married, getting married young, staying married and having children, and having more than two children - than are Catholics?

Are these facts unrelated? I think not.

Bruce Charlton said...

Agellius says:

"...If the default view of marriage were that it was for eternity, and then someone came along and said it should only be for this life, then you might be "denigrating" it by taking something that is properly eternal and making it merely temporal. But if it's properly temporal, then calling it temporal is just calling it what it is, which does not denigrate it. You might say that calling it eternal magnifies or exalts it, but not-exalting something is not the same as denigrating it. ...
In the Catholic view, celibacy is a higher state because it requires giving up natural human goods in order to devote oneself entirely to God. This makes perfect sense within that context. Yet this doesn't denigrate marriage. In the same way, giving away one's money is a higher state than keeping it, yet that doesn't denigrate keeping your money, as if you should be ashamed of yourself for having a checking account. And again, turning the other cheek is a higher state than fighting to defend yourself or your property; yet fighting in self-defense is by no means considered a bad thing."

Arakawa said...


In the end, I think, I'm willing to entertain arguments for why the notion of changing essential attributes of a soul / combining them in ways that are impossible on Earth should be considered perverse / evil, but not for why it should be seen as metaphysically inconceivable.

Though, if I had to invent a description for an optimal state of being, I would go with something like celestial marriage with the total execution of the Second Commandment, which is the prerequisite for it being possible and pleasant (rather than invasive and horrific) for even the innermost thoughts and experiences to be shared from one spouse to the other. In that sense 'the bottom line unity of Man is a dyad' would be an apt phrase.

But the bit about sharing of experience is something I just made up without scriptural and doctrinal support, beyond perhaps a tenuous analogy to the unity of persons in the Trinity....

Though, even taken as a metaphor, I find this is the best / most clarifying / most motivating answer I have so far.


And now back to our regular programming....

My impressions of marriage and the Christian case for it are that marriage is based on sheer common sense in most cultures; and widespread opposition to it in most historical instances was based on fairly blatant hypocrisy. (I was convinced of the common-sense basis for marriage much more after the experience of trying to argue various people round to my point of view.) Thus Christianity did not have to actively defend marriage, so much as 'merely' battle against hypocrisy, in order to be pro-marriage in net effect, as compared to increasingly corrupt and hypocritical surroundings. Thus the BCP doesn't have any need to justify marriage as being a superior path over fornication (which it obviously and intuitively is, so long as we discard ulterior motives that urge us to claim otherwise), so much as defend it as being a reasonable path next to celibacy.

The current collapse is different in that the hypocrisy inherent in it is obscured beneath layers and layers of fiendishly clever rationalization. So now it really is necessary, in a way it never was before, to explain / discover theological reasons or rewards to justify the intuition of marriage being better than fornication. *sigh*

Bruce Charlton said...


I think our discussion should be interpreted in the light of my argument that Christianity is prior to metaphysics - that one can in principle be Christian with any metaphysical system; and that each metaphysical system will have its advantages and disadvantages.

I don't think it is coherent to argue that (for example) Mormon theology is true (or truly Christian) and Thomistic Roman Catholicism is false; or the opposite.

Both are compatible with being Christian, but clearly such different things have different sets of pros and cons!

One big and currently relevant advantage of Mormon theology is in relation to marriage and the family - BUT it comes at the cost of a complete destruction of the monastic, ascetic, celibate tradition. Mormon theology is commonsensical and understandable, but it comes at the cost of tending to bring everything to the mundane level of common sense and clarity.

I think Mormonism is more or less what is needed today in the West, because its major strengths are what is needed to combat the major deficiencies of the West.

But that doesn't mean that the non-Mormon churches are wrong - they are not wrong, they are right! They have other strengths which are also important.

And these strengths may indeed be the priority for certain people in certain times and places. I am not just being theoretical here.

For example, I can quite easily imagine situations in which I would (or should) become a Catholic monk (whether Anglo-, Roman- or Orthodox-Catholic).

Bruce Charlton said...

@wmJas "Christianity's "low" view of marriage -- as something acceptable in this world but of no eternal importance -- seems to me to come straight from the Bible. See for example Luke 20:34-36, or 1 Corinthians 7. "

In reference specifically to 1 Corinthians 7 - it seems to me that Protestants in practice don't *really* believe this section of scripture - at least they don't believe it if it is taken in what seems to be a superficially literal sense.

Indeed Protestants *cannot* believe this passage in its apparently obvious meaning, given their foundational anti-monasticism; and therefore they are forced to read the passage in a contextualized way.

Protestants don't really have a place or role for lifelong celibates - each is seen as a one-off who needs to find his own path.

The unsatisfactoriness of this omission is probably covered by some Calvinistic-style rationale about us all being miserable and undeserving sinners - so what would we expect?

Arakawa said...


Yes, part of the difficulty is that most of the considerations on both sides are only valid under certain metaphysical assumptions and not others, and you can't really argue about those....

I think the issue with discussing the possibilities / impossibilities of Heaven is that -- on the one hand, we must determine clearly which earthly goods bear fruit in Eternity, and which don't, and which of our desires point to God and Heaven and which are perverted away from them (and the latter things must therefore be considered a distraction), and to do so nowadays, we need a definite story or picture of what Heaven is like. On the other hand, making any positive assertions about what Heaven contains feels a bit like writing a check that God is expected to cash for you.

(Or, if we make the qualifying assertion "well, I am sure that if I am wrong about Heaven, God has something much better in store for the faithful", making a bid that God is invited to overtop.)

e.g. this is a somewhat different post that left me with that kind of feeling:

I also seem to remember Kristor doing a similar kind of post on the Orthosphere....

Still, it is necessary/unavoidable to have a convincing guess (convincing on a motivational level) as a basis to choose between alternatives -- with the proviso that we will have to accept that the guess turns out to be wrong at least in some details, and perhaps in many of them, or in absolutely crucial respects.

This can probably be understood as a general human tendency to envision Heaven too much in our image -- something everyone (even -- perhaps especially -- contemplative ascetics) is guilty of to an extent.


... or as a monk once stated about something slightly different, 'all these things are profitable for salvation, but the exact profit will only be known at the time of the judgment' (or something to that effect).