Wednesday 23 May 2018

Reverse engineering the meaning and purpose of Life - general and specific

When we think about the purpose of Life, there is an element of 'reverse engineering' - by which we try to infer the function from its nature. This, in turn, involves a basic decision about whether this world is - on the whole - the way God wants it; or else a failure.

If we regard this world as the way God wants it; then I think we are forced to recognise that Life is essentially and for everybody about incarnation and death: that is, about being born in a body and dying, because these are the only things that everybody does.

Most humans throughout history have, indeed, done this only, and not much more - because most people have died in the womb, during or shortly after birth.

If the world is well-designed for divine purpose, then this brief life must be sufficient (in general) - for those people who experience such lives.

Beyond the general meaning/ purpose of incarnation and death? Well, each and every life is different - and often very different indeed.

Aside from the differences due to being born in different times and places, and to different parents (or without one or both parents); every life differs in smaller but important details to do with family, friends, people around us, jobs, children, events, health...

So; it seems that - in such a world as actually is - each individual life, if it is meaningful, must be uniquely tailored to the needs of each individual.

In sum, we have two levels of meaning and purpose in our lives; that which is general and universal; and that which is utterly our own.

The first we can know, the second we can also know - but, because there are seven billion current lives, and similarly vast numbers in the past - we can know the specifics, if at all, then very-probably only for our-own-selves.

What we cannot know is the specific personal meaning of Life for all other people, especially for people we don't know, have never met, and don't love (people we know about only via the mass media, or gossip).

So when we are asked the question of 'why' does such and such a specific-thing happen-to a specific-person, at a specific-time... some-body drawn as an example from the seven billion unique lives some-place... this is nearly-always an unanswerable question.



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

The assumption behind this line of reasoning is that reincarnation is rare or nonexistent. It's possible that the general purpose of life includes much more than just being born (or, rather, conceived) and dying, and that those who die before they have a chance to realize that purpose -- including those who die in the womb or in infancy -- come back for another try.

That's probably one of the main problems reincarnation was posited to solve. If we only have one mortal life each, some people's seem absurdly inadequate.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I agree that that is, indeed, one of the main drivers behind the 'modern' belief in reincarnation as theosis - as something that builds up individual experience towards greater divinity.

(Most historical understandings of reincarnation are very different from this.)

But I just don't think reincarnation is true - and indeed, one reason why people feel compelled to posit it, is that they lack the concept - standard among Mormons, and coming from Joseph Smith - of incarnation as a step towards divinity...

This truth (as I regard it) is not considered but rejected, so much as it is something which does not cross the mind, and is never seriously considered.

Consequently, there is a tremendously powerful (because unconscious) intellectual prejudice, even among Christians (contra the resurrection), in favour of the idea/ assumption that the spirit is higher than the body; and that incarnation is a come-down.

This even applies to Steiner and Barfield. So 'getting a body' seems a trivial matter, or even 'a bad thing'... rather than being a vital and permanent step twoards full divinity.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I would here bring up the possibility of reincarnation, that while one does get only one life that really counts, one gets as many lives as necessary to have that one that really counts.

But whatever the doctrinal mechanic chosen, of more importance than what happens to us is what we ourselves do.

If you are murdered for your wallet tomorrow, that hardly can be supposed to matter to your eternal destiny. But it matters immensely to the eternity of the murderer. A murdered person may have not had a chance to make any very important decision in that life, or perhaps any of several that might precede or follow it. But the murderer has made a choice, and that choice counts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I am trying to hold fast to the assumption that although not everything which happens is the direct will of God (because 'free will' is real); nothing is random or determined.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I had understood that your position was that reincarnation was real but exceptional, only occurring in a few special cases. Do you now believe that it never occurs?

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - No, I haven't changed my mind. In medical school, I was always taught 'never say never' - so I suppose that reincarnations has happened sometimes, or could happen; but I would guess for some specific purpose.

As I have said, the possibility is fairly extensively discussed in the Fourth Gospel as to whether John the Baptist was a reincarnated Old Testament prophet - seemingly he was not, but the matter is discussed in a way that implies that the idea was not ruled-out in principle... he 'might have been'.

I suspect that if reincarnation was normal, then this would have been made clear in the Gospels.

The same *might* be asserted of pre-incarnated-mortal spirit life, which of course I (like Mormons) believe is universal... However, I think this is indeed referenced, not least in the case of Jesus himself, whose pre-mortal life is frequently alluded-to.