Since reality is the product of a God who is not only creator, but also our good and loving Father; as a generalisation we (his children) are eventually given what we most profoundly want.
(Noting that agency is real, each of us is a separate centre of uncaused action; and we really do have control over what we most want - we really can choose.)
We can choose a destiny in eternal families, in a world of loving and creative relationships - including (but not restricted to) a personal relationship with The Father and The Son ...
Or (like the ascetic monastic tradition) if we want to be absorbed into the Godhead (and you understand God the Father as impersonal) - so that the self is extinguished In Love: then we will be granted that.
Or if (like a Buddhist) we regard life as suffering and seek relief from suffering above all; then freedom-from-suffering will be granted by a loving God (after all, as a life-goal, this is not really very difficult to achieve - general anaesthetics manage it).
Or if we want utter freedom from God, and escape from the constraints of human Love; then we will be given that... presumably by being enabled to live inside our own fantasies (not reality, of course - because that would harm others; but in a stable and long-term, self-controlled delusional state): such a person becomes his own God, creates his own 'reality'. This is 'damnation' (see below).
And if a self-gratifying delusional system is what a person most profoundly wants; then presumably that is what God will give - again, it is not, in principle, difficult, but something temporarily approximated by psychotic illnesses such as mania.
(Of course, in a self-controlled delusion, there will always be a tiny residue of awareness that it is a delusion, since self-gratificiation must be imposed by some part of the self which retains control over the fantasy. This is why delusion can never be a 100-percent-convincing simulation of reality. And this is the 'hellishness' of living in a solitary delusion.)
(You can see from the above that there is a certain irreversibility about damnation, because once you are inside a stable delusional system, it is hard to imagine how you ever get out? Something similar applies to the extinction of self. My hunch is that a loving Father would, from time to time, awaken the individual in these states and ask again: How is this working-out; is this what you really want.)
Sounds plausable and appealling at some intuitive level. If only I could just want what I want to want instead of...something else...The major caveat, for me at least, is that I constantly find that I dearly want things that I dont want to want. If I could figure out how to not want them I would be far better off but the reality is I pretend that I dont want things that I shouldnt want to want then eventually realise I am just deluding myself and the suppressed want or desire is still there waiting to be desired, craved and indulged. A wretched state of affairs and by your definition a kind of hell already really. There are times when I want what I should want and am at peace and feel like I am closer to home. But then along comes a temptation and sooner rather than later I cant resist it. A sorry state of affairs indeed. How to change this? I want to control what I want but this seems superhuman to me and unattainable. Is it possible for a mere mortal?
Interesting thoughts, Bruce. I haven't looked at things like that before but it makes a lot of sense. After all we do seem to be given what we want in this world, broadly speaking and collectively. Why not the next? To be given what you want is a frightening prospect though. I'd much rather be given what God wants me to have.
@David - Very fortunately for everyone, that is what Jesus did for us; by the infinite power of repentance. All we have to do is repent our false wants, and Christ's atonement does the rest.
@William - "I'd much rather be given what God wants me to have. "
Then *that* is what you want.
I see what you mean. But I was distinguishing between want as defined by personal likes and dislikes and want as in being what we are meant to be even though we may not yet be aware of that.
@William - That is, I infer, the gap consequential upon us being true agents; we must therefore voluntarily choose to accept what we were meant to be. It *cannot* be forced-upon us (even if God wanted to do this - which he would not).
Yes. Thats what I want too when I am wise enough not to be self-blinded. I trust that he has my best interests at heart.
Thank goodness for that then otherwise I really would be a lost cause.
Apropos of this you might be interested in certain spiritualist teachings which say that after death we gravitate to planes of consciousness corresponding to our spiritual state and there we can, to an extent, mould our outer reality according to our desires and imaginings. This would be something like the Muslim paradise with its gardens and virgins though there are also spheres of being which would suit a Buddhist focused on inner meditation. But all these exist on the so called astral and mental planes and so are not spiritual in a higher and more objective sense. They are personal. Moreover in all of them our reality is limited by the boundaries of our own self and so sooner or later it becomes boring. It may seem perfect but there is nothing new, nothing to challenge us or expand our horizons. And so we either stagnate or move on. Out of our perceived perfection into a greater but more challenging reality. But the point is it is one in which we can learn and grow.
@William - Sounds a reasonable approximate description (and all such descriptions are approximate) - but the important thing for a Christian is that any such scheme is presided over by the loving creator Father; and with his aims built-in.
Bruce, it seems to me that each state you describe can be "ranked" on a continuum of ego and sense of separate self -
Hell = extreme individuality characteristic of modern times.
Evolved Christian Heaven - mid-level individuality. Ego and sense of individual self is significantly reduced by being one enmeshed in a network of relationships, but not obliterated - indeed retained to a degree far beyond traditional Christianity, and compatible with many modern ways of thinking like science, etc.
Buddhism, other Eastern approaches, and traditional Christianity - complete obliteration of self in Divine love. Extreme loss of ego and sense of individual self, to the point where most modern ways of thinking would have to be sacrificed.
Would you assent to this, Bruce?
No, that is not my understanding. Or rather, I would rank these states in terms of closeness to what God most hopes for from us.
I start with my understanding that what God ultimately wants from us is a loving personal relationship with grown-up Sons and Daughters of God. I can't really argue this - but my assumption is that God most wants us to become like him in nature and state, so that we can form a divine loving family.
For Christians God is a person, therefore to be like God we need to be, to remain, a person too.
But a loving personal relationship between selves can only be voluntary; and some people do not recognise God as a person, or do not want a personal relationship with God - yet they assent to God's loving goodness, and wish to be united with God, to lose-themselves in God.
These include some of the people who seek complete obliteration of the self in Divine love.
From God's perspective obliteration of the self is sub-optimal - but God allows them their desire.
And being a person in a loving relationship is halfway between extreme individualism (no relationship, no love, you're on your own) and obliteration of self (a relationship to God so close as to dissolve boundaries)
So what God most wants from us is to reach a point halfway between ancient man and modern man. The future is a sort of movement in Hegelian dialectic.
We started off with very weak sense of separate self, then swung to the opposite pole of extreme individuation of modern times, and after having experienced both, we must reach a synthesis of both. The reconciling of polar opposites.
That is why modern times are a kind of adolescence - where in order to develop a stable identity the individual goes initially to an extreme of separation from family and relationshio, and eventually returns to relationship but with a stronger identity.
Well - what I get from this is a difference of degree. Everyone interested in spirituality emphatically agrees that we must reduce ego and sense of individuality below that of modern times, but people disagree on how much.
I think this area of common ground is the most important thing - the basic thing is to recognize that the modern separation from God is untenable.
Do we keep some space between us and God while entering a loving relationship with him or do we, like some exceptionally intimate old couples, become so close to God as to practically dissolve our individuality and become a unit.
@Bryan - I don't see the goal as being half-way, but beyond - a qualitatively new kind of thing.
In terms of Barfield; we begin in Original Aprticipation with a very weak (almost absent) sense of a distinct Self, the childhood of man; then go to the Consciousness Soul which is the adolescence phase when we the Self is are cut off from the world, and even from our own thoughts.
The aimed-at/ destined 'adult' state of Final Participation is a further state beyond the Consciousness Soul, but not half-way back to OP. FP retains the strong distinct 'solid' and bounded Self from the CS phase; but in FP the participation is one of relationship between these distinct selves (whereas OP is a lack of distinction between selves, immersion in a 'sea' of consciousness where the selves are hardly distinct from the sea).
Is that clearer?
[In the following, please read any capitalised words as a mild, italicised emphasis, not a shout. Previously, I had copied messages from MS Word but lost the italicisation, which changed the emphasis of certain sentences quite considerably]:
A good parent of a child who only ever wanted to eat ice-cream would not give the child what he wants, but instead give them what they needed. However, is not the only PROFOUND desire possessed by ALL humans simply that of Union with God Himself? And so, yes, God has offered this to everyone in the Incarnation, and in those little nudges we all get when He asks us “How is this working out. Is this was you REALLY want?”. Orthodox Christians call this Actual Grace. So indeed, God already HAS offered us the only thing that will satisfy the most profound yearnings of our SOULS. But, as always, the body/mind often wants other things, and the more we choose these without repentance, the more we want these things in the future. NOTHING created can ever fully satisfy us – not even our wives and families. Only the Creator Himself can do this.
Which brings me on to the question of ascetic monasticism. You recently commented, Bruce, that elevating such a thing to primacy is wrong, because Marriage is the highest form of life. I believe you are half right, at most. Because elevating it to PRIMACY is incorrect. But doing the same thing with marriage is erroneous also. Though if we DID have to choose one as the greater, it would be monasticism. St Paul tells us that Chastity IS a higher thing than Marriage – but if accepting its challenge cannot be undertaken with Love (for example, if the person’s natural constitution would leave them in constant, teeth-grinding Lust) then one should not undertake the celibate life.
In assuming that marriage is SUPERIOR, you have made the assumption that all humans have the same calling from God. But the Church is the Body of Christ. Different people have different functions, some being the head, some the hands etc. Some are called to the Active life, others the Contemplative. I estimate you, Bruce, as the latter, so hopefully the following will be of interest you. As I mentioned yesterday, the main Vocation (calling from God) for all humans is towards Holiness. But each of us then gets a specific calling – to Marriage (most of us) or to Holy Orders (celibate priesthood and monasticism). Neither is better, both simply serve different functions.
To the man who says ‘but what Good can one do by only staying in a monastery?’, I would reply: what Good does Prayer perform? If you were an aid-worker, you could help certain individuals. A monk, however, prays for the ENTIRE world. He helps EVERYODY. He ignores the worthless desires of his own mind/body to (hopefully) unite his Will with God’s. Let us not forget: Jesus told us to follow Him, to the point of leaving our homes and families. He didn’t say follow me, then get married and have a pleasurable earthly existence on the way (though, of course, I am not arguing that marriage is incompatible with following Christ) He even said that if a man loves his own mother and father as much as Himself, then such a man is not WORTHY of him. Would any Christian have the audacity to claim that such monks don’t Love Him much more generously than all other Christians (on average)?
Men and women do not join monasteries BECAUSE they are better than average Christians. They are called to make this sacrifice - pure folly to the World - almost against their Wills, hopefully achieving Holiness on the way. It is amazing how many NON-CATHOLICS received this strange call and have nonetheless ended up in monasteries. They give up all their possessions to live in Common and, in certain Orders, never see their families again (even once). How many of us would be prepared even to CONSIDER making such a sacrifice?
Monks also serve one other, chief function: being examples to those of us who remain in the World that one CAN live on God alone. Everything that the World says you need – wealth, power, sex - these cenobites renounce. Let us look at one particular Order, the Carthusians. These are probably the most ascetic of all the Western Orders. They do not even speak to EACHOTHER! Each one lives alone in his cell for about 20 hours a day, till the end of their lives. They eat one main meal a day (and never meat), which is posted through a box into their cells. They rise at 11.30pm. Yes, PM! Here they begin Matins in the oratory at midnight. Here, they chant the psalter for up to 3 HOURS, praying solely for the Good of the whole world, especially all those who are out at night – the burglars and prostitutes etc. Then they have a few more hours sleep before rising at 6.30am. They do manual work to support themselves (eg. Making beer) and pray the seven Hours of Divine Office, normally alone. For more detail:
For these men and women, NOTHING is to be preferred to the praise of Christ. Their entire earthly existence is dedicated purely to Contemplation. Not everybody is called to do this (if for no other reason than the human race would soon die out!) but for those who do, and for that tiny proportion who endure the 7-year formation without being drawn back out into the pleasures of the World, many find perfect Union with God IN THIS LIFE.
Observe this 94-year Carthusian. How many men who WE know could become blind, yet still THANK God for blinding them (and the joy in his face shows he means it, too):
Observe the faces of the following monks. It is clear that most of them have found Him/It. The serenity and happiness on their faces lends the lie to the Devil’s call that earthly pleasure and prestige is needed for fulfilment:
In 1984, a film-maker asked to be granted access to one of their monasteries. They said they needed time to think about it. SIXTEEN YEARS later, they contacted him to say yes (these fellas operate on a different Time to us chaps). The outcome of this was the film ‘Into Great Silence’, which is where the above clips came from. Please, please, please watch it all…if you have time:
For those who do not have the time, here is the first part of a much shorter, wonderful documentary about them, this time with more interviews with the Fathers and Brothers:
And here’s the first part of another:
Here’s one about the Trappists (Cistercians of the Strict Observance):
Here is an old video of some Carmelite nuns. Please especially observe the look of radiant joy on the younger womens’ faces when they are describing their vocation (from 17 minutes onwards). For these women, the highlight of their whole YEARS is the annual ‘retreat’ when they get to live alone in a wooden shed for a week! These women have rose above their sinful natures in a way few of us will ever realise:
If you’d like to see a contrast with these faces, turn on your TV right now – on one of channels there will certainly be a ‘Kardashians’ show or ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’, or wherever. Look at THEIR faces: from the very second you switch it on, you will detect only worry, nastiness and anti-fulfilment etched onto them, at all times, despite having MORE of everything the world says one needs for happiness.
These monks and nuns are provided for US by God as proof, for those who need it, that only HE can fulfil us. Here we have a Trappist monk explain the relationship between Christian Contemplation and Buddhist meditation, having spent 60 years in a Trappist monastery before being allowed to leave to spread the Word (very unusually). It gets better after the first few minutes. He approaches this through the concept of ‘Oneness’, but obviously he is not the last word on the matter, either.
Here we have described the enclosed, Contemplative, monastic orders. But other people are called to lives intermediate to these. Some live in community (monks), others to go out into the World (friars). Such men and women are instead called to the Active orders instead, such as the charity workers of the Franciscans, the Theologians of the Dominicans, or to the many orders of Canon’s Regular, such as the Norbertines. Observe the happiness of these Norbertine Sisters:
So yes, I’m pretty sure that the very WORST of these monks and nuns is Holier than even the best of any of us who are reading this right now. Because, unlike us, they have obeyed Jesus and gave EVERYTHING of themselves. How many of us can say the same thing? I’m sure all of our intuitions are right now telling us that these people are living Christianity more than any of us are. But this offends our Pride and egos. So prepare yourself for what is almost inevitable - the Devil to start tempting out Intellects to think of reasons why, after all, these are not beautifully Holy people. I’m sure he will have already started! Be very aware, as Envy of another’s spiritual Good is one of the sins against the Holy Ghost.
But we all have Free Will, and at any moment can choose to follow God along whatever Vocation He is calling us to. Every single one of us has a Vocation, and it is through contemplation/prayer where we will find this. Yes, God often speaks to us in ‘life-events’, but the MEANING of these are only discerned in contemplative prayer. We can either choose to use our Gifts and Virtues to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to help build up this Body, or we can become a cancer on it that is best excised. Whatever we do, as long as God is our only aim - not seeing loved ones in the afterlife, and such - then we are on the right path. If we have Faith till the end, and TOTALY surrender ourselves to God’s Will, He will provide for the most profound desires of our Souls, in this life and the next.
I don't usually publish long comments with lots of links that I can't check - anyway, I think you may be under the impression I am ignorant of Eastern Orthodoxy. In fact I have read quite a lot about it, used to blog a lot about it; and had a firm intention of becoming Orthodox back in 2010 (i.e. briefly became a catechumen at a Russian Orthodox church). Although I describe myself as Mere Christian, and favour all sincere Christian churches (i.e. not 'Liberal') and attend a conservative evangelical Anglican church; from further knowledge and reflection my current conviction is that the Mormon revelation was genuine, and has added to the previous Christian revelation, clarifying the true nature of Christ's message, and of metaphysics and theology.
I have sent an email to your outlook.com address, reference this comment.
As for Mormonism, it is something I have absolutely no knowledge of. My whole notion of it comes via the liberal media, and I would normally have dismissed it without a second thought. But having a man such as yourself not only look into it, but also see value in it, means this is something I will have to rectify. I will start to read your theoretical-Mormon blog straight away.
Thanks Bruce, it is clearer.
But entering into a relationship means a reduction of individuality - indeed you very eloquently explain in another post how someone might reject relationships (heaven) because it involves a loss of individuality and autonomy.
So FP cannot retain the full level of 'solid' self developed in an earlier phase, but by dint of forming relationships must reduce its sense of atomized individuality.
Anyway, I think on the larger picture we probably agree even if we disagree on details.
Thanks for explaining.
@Bryan - Is it right to say it reduces individuality? It certainly entails selflessness, or concern for the other, but that seems to be a gain really rather than a loss. We can think of Christ as giving Himself more fully than any other, but I don't think we'd say He has lost any individuality.
These monks and nuns are provided for US by God as proof, for those who need it, that only HE can fulfil us.
This is the most startling insight I've seen all year. I've *always* thought monasticism was stupid, until now.
@Nathan Well, I would consider selflessness and concern for others as a reduction of individuality, ego, self ("selflessness" = without self). God, Christ, is the ultimate non individual as he literally exists in everything. He manifests to us in his personal aspect, but that is not the ultimate. I consider part of Christ's mission to have been to show us how to become selfless, and that it is necessary. We too have this dual nature of self and eternal spirit, and our earthly task is to live more and more out of our eternal spirit and less and less out of our self.
This is even consistent with Mormon theology whose God is not the final, absolute God, but a limited personal God for this world, as far ad I understand.
Modern Westerners have a terrible fear of truly reducing self hood and individuality, as the modern Western identity is built on exactly a rejection of this principle.
I now recognize that modern Westerners need a bridge back to spirituality - they cannot simply abandon modern modes of thought, but have to fuse the two temporarily.
Two hundred years ago Barfield, Steiner, etc would have been a bad sign of decline, but in today's times they are hopeful half way houses back.
@Bryan - Your persepctive implicitly rejects the Barfield Steiner analysis - so the must seem like a half way house. But if the persepctive is accepted, they are advocating something new and previoously not known or possible.
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