Sunday 25 October 2015

Christianity is an opt-in kind of thing (and how this relates to Hell)

I regard it as a fundamental error (although often genuinely well-intentioned) to argue theologically that Christianity, the Christian world view, is a non-optional reality. Christianity is, of course, true - and in that limited sense non-optional - but there is a tendency for apologists and theologians to assume that outside Christianity is only nonsense and evil.

But Christianity is, and always has been, an opt-in kind of thing. Someone can only become a Christian by choice, by faith - and choice cannot be compelled (or else it would not be choice) - so for Christians there is no such thing as a 'forced conversion'; it is an oxymoron - or a delusion.

But some of the wrong ideas are driven by fear of Hell, and the mistaken belief that there are only two options - Heaven or Hell - and that outside Christianity is only Hell (I mean Hell in the New Testament sense of a place of post-mortal everlasting torment).

The background assumption, which I regard as false, is that Hell is everything outside-of Christianity, and always has been. The idea that Christianity is and always has been the only escape from Hell.

This is, I think, a consequence of that philosophical view which sees reality as out-of-time - and everything existing then, now and always. So by this view, God's creation is once for all, from nothing.

(All this leads to the problem of omnipotence - I mean the nonsensical, incoherent consequences of assuming the omnipotence of God, when omnipotence is assumed to be absolute and mathematical, rather than quantitative. The greatness of God becomes regarded as infinite; and for Christians God is wholly Good - so when everything has been created from nothing by an omnipotent and wholly-Good God, then this implies that everything must be seen as wholly Good - past, present and future; here and everywhere and in all things must be wholly Good. There is no place for sin... yet Christianity is about redemption from sin, Christ came to save sinners - so where does sin come from? Free will is required to 'explain' sin. But free will can, in this scheme, only be a gift from God - when God is said to be omnipotent and to have created everything. So free will does not solve the problem of where evil comes from, in a universe created from nothing by an infinite omnipoent and wholly-good God. This, then, is the problem of omnipotence, as defined by Classical theology - the problem that it renders Christianity incoherent.) 

But if instead we take the (Mormon) view that God's creation is not a matter of making everything from nothing; but a matter of shaping, ordering, organizing primal chaos, a continuing process - then God's creation is more like an expanding island of order and meaning in a primordial chaos.

So the original condition of reality before creation was not evil, but chaotic; not evil in intent but lacking in intent.

And creation remains partial, albeit growing.

And Good is a property of God's creation. 

The domain of evil is the domain of the intention to destroy Good (evil is the purposive destruction of Good) - so evil came after creation.

Hell came after Heaven - and in a sense Hell came after Christ, because only after Christ was God's plan known such that it could intentionally be opposed.

(In the Old Testament - there is no torment of Hell but rather the loss of selfhood of Sheol - which is essentially conceptualized as being the same as Hades - viz an unorganized underworld of chaos.)

Evil therefore exists within God's domain, within God's creation - and not outside of it. (Because outwith God's domain is not evil, but chaos.) So, evil dwells entirely within God's domain and tries to destroy it.

The evilness of Evil is that of inflicting misery, taking joy in misery - a state of misery that want others to become like itself. Thus, evil is not irrational - but a choice.

Evil is not even incoherent - except in the limited sense of preferring incoherence to order.

The motivation for evil creatures is a desire to destroy Good because Good is not wholly themselves, but comes from God - this is pride. Or, even beyond this, a purely negative hatred of order, good, happiness - not a love of chaos (that makes no sense, because with chaos there is nothing remaining that is capable of love) - but a desire for universal extinction, for loss of awareness not just personal but imposed on all, loss of self-hood from the universe.

(A desire for personal extinction - that is, for oneself to return to chaos - is not evil; it is merely a choice - the personal choice not to participate in God's plan. But to preach the desirability of universal destruction, for destruction of others and everything - that is evil: to preach the goodness of extinction/ destruction of order, meaning, purpose, relations as a universal goal - that is evil.)

(The ultimate defeat of evil by Good is therefore not a consequence of God's supposed omnipotence; but a consequence of the self-weakening effect of evil enacted as a universal project for destruction of order. When evil is directed against the self it can succeed. But the more universal evil becomes, the more thoroughly evil succeeds, the more it weakens itself. Even a tiny last residue of purposeful self-growing order will be stronger than a vast sea of incoherent disorder.)

God is therefore responsible for evil - in the limited sense that there can only be evil after there is Good; and there can only be Good in the domain of God's creation.

Evil is the purposive un-doing of God's creation.

Back to choice. Christianity is chosen; and evil is the choice to oppose, to destroy, God's creation. Hell is the fate of those who, from reasons of Pride, choose actively to destroy Good - the conscious wreckers of created order.

Hell is therefore chosen, always chosen (not a 'judgement' in the modern sense of a judge sentencing a prisoner without regard for the prisoner's wishes) - because everybody knows Good - everybody being part of Good; and it is always a choice to oppose and destroy Good.


David said...

@ Bruce - Now *this* is what I needed to complete my jigsaw puzzle of understanding! You've just helped me slot a few key pieces into position. This helps to clarify and remove some age old stumbling blocks for me to understand the nature of evil as a destructive principle and the action of love as an ordering principle in the Cosmos. In particular, the concepts of primordial intelligences (the ultimate of which is God) working within chaos to *build* works of creation through love, but constantly imperilled by evil choices and subversion of free will. It all makes perfect sense. Eureka! Thanks, Bruce.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - That sounds like great news - I hope it works out.

Rich said...

Unbelievably well put. Very grateful for this post, one of your best yet.

Bruce B. said...

Bruce, I was reading Hebrews yesterday. Hebrews 11:3 seems to indicate that creation was ex-nihilo and that our faith allows us to understand (accept) that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - Hebrews 11:3King James Version (KJV). 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

In the first place I think it is wrong to read the Bible a verse at a time, secondly I don't think that something so abstract and unnatural to spontaneous thought as creation from nothing can be established in a sentence, thirdly although I agree that although this sentence is indeed consistent-with creation from nothing - it does not clearly state it as a doctrine.

But the deepest problem is that even were such a thing stated in scripture, it would have to be a mistake! - because of the reasons set out above.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ads - Thank you. This is one of the posts I wrote with something of a feeling of being externally inspired, and not fully understanding it myself.

Bruce B. said...

Right now* I’m of the mindset that any verse can stand on its own since it’s the word of God. The only problem with this view is that the meaning of any individual verse can be obscured particularly by its degree of literal vs. figurative meaning. All Christians are selectively literalist and figurative-ist depending on the piece scripture in question.
So in a way, I don’t disagree with your “broad brush” view of getting at the truth of scripture.
However, I think where I differ with you is that I think every word of the Bible is perfect and true and that the Bible isn’t true only in some aggregate sense (hopefully, I haven’t misstated your position).

*I say “right now” because my views are unstable - one reason I’m here is to work my way to a stable positions on a variety of things.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - That is a fair statement of my view.

I think that the whole of the Bible is divinely inspired, but *not* that every word (as it were) is correct - because it was not dictated by God, but came by inspiration to Men (who are imperfect).

(This is the standard Mormon view; and it also applies to the Book of Mormon, D&C and Pearl of Great Price - although the BoM is said to be the *most* perfect book.)

I believe that the whole of the Bible is relevant to Mankind - but not all equally relevant at all points in history.

I further believe that the Authroized Version (King James Bible) was specifically inspired by God for the use of English speaking peoples - and this does not apply to any other English version.

I hope that makes matters clearer!

Nathaniel said...

Your description strikes me as innately true. It appeals to our inner sense and feeling of reality, time, and purpose.

I don't want to go off-topic too much... but do you believe Our Father is responsible for all the visible and potentially known vast universe (planets, stars, etc.) and the order they exhibit was part of His order? I mean that, perhaps beyond what we assume are the boundaries of the Universe would be the uncreated chaos, but the order within it is all to Him (perhaps the C.S. Lewis view that appears to be shared in the space trilogy) or is His work primarily of our planet or that other Gods would be responsible for the matter and order elsewhere (that we are aware of anyway)?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nathaniel - I broadly believe something like that - although I haven't really thought it through in detail. But not everything even in the known universe is 'organized'.

About other Gods - I tend to think there is only one God the Father (and Heavenly Mother) and that everything starts there.

But I know some Mormons believe (as implied by the King Follet sermon) that there are other remote, separate and autonomous universes each with another God...

It is perhaps a purely theoretical matter. A matter of opinion.