Friday 3 August 2018

Why do modern people assume and believe that death is annihilation?

When CS Lewis was a young adult he had been far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and he even resented the fact that he had been created without his own permission. 

One advantage of the anti-Christian materialism that he clung to was its limited danger of pain. No disaster can be infinite if death ends all. And if this life becomes too painful, one can always commit suicide for an early escape. 

In contrast, the horrible thing about Christianity is that it offers no such escape. It assures each many that he is going to live forever. 

The Christian universe has no door marked exit. 

Perhaps a man's temper or his jealousy are getting worse so slowly that in seventy years they are not very noticeable. But in a million years they would be hell itself; "in fact if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be'."

Edited from CS Lewis: Mere Christian by Kathryn Ann Linskoog, 1773. Page 101.

This passage reveals how important it is to modern materialist ethics that death is regarded as annihilation, exit, escape.

The bland assurance that 'I have a right to do what I like' is only possible when death annihilates the individual. 

To guard this inversion - mainstream culture has manufactured and sustained an habitual, unthinking trope that anyone who (like nearly all humans through history and still today) believes that there is something (the soul or spirit) which survives death, is engaged in 'wishful thinking'.

So powerful is that 'wishful thinking' reflex that modern Man has ceased to examine the potentially 'horrible' consequences of survival beyond death as such (and without salvation); consequences that used to be almost universally recognised.

So, it may be seen that the death-as-annihilation assumption underpins the mainstream relativistic morality of hedonism; especially in the realm of sex and sexuality.  

Of course, regarding death as annihilation also renders futile all attempts to make meaning, purpose of relationships - this leads to despair (typically unconscious, and observable by the mass personal self-hatred illustrated by chosen childlessness, and the mass national self-hatred of the planned incremental self-destruction of the West.

In sum, the assumption that death is annihilation underpins both the hedonism and the despair of modern culture. Yet the assumption is far more effective at escaping pain than enabling happiness; in the sense that genuinely to contemplate all life as utterly ended by annihilation is a numbing, demotivating thing.

Distraction by surface pleasure remains possible, but not underlying happiness; short-termist self-interest remains possible, but not altruistic, long-term motivation. The modern condition in a nutshell...

Small wonder that this assumption is so aggressively defended.


Chiu ChunLing said...

It is not that the bland assurance that 'I have a right to do what I like' is only possible when death annihilates the individual. It is possible in any case. But if one is going to live forever with the consequences of what one has the right to do (whether or not one likes it), that assertion ceases entirely to be bland.

It is an irony that, instead of allowing evasion of existential despair, the belief in annihilation only removes all possible alternatives. One terrible secret about existential despair is that the hope of an eventual end to it at some point in the future doesn't lessen the pointless suffering of now.

And the great secret about annihilation is that, with the destruction of the self, you lose the capacity to discern the passage of time before the capacity to feel the pain and terror of imminent death. Whatever it may look like to anyone outside, those last moments feel infinite experienced from the inside.

And of course one can only annihilate the body, then the soul, and finally the spirit. The desire to live remains at the end, infinitely frustrated and impotent. Timeless and singular as it was from the beginning, doomed to be lured to any promise of escaping death.

Annihilation is possible for any who really want it enough. But if you wanted it enough to suffer through what it is really like, you wouldn't have been alive in the first place.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Interesting points, and they may well be true at the deepest level - in the sense that our loving Father, the creator, will give us what we want, in the end; and is capable of removing the self-awareness, consciousness, which he gifted us. (I.e. we would not be annihilated but would not know that we existed.) To genuinely want to revert to primordial unawareness is not of itself a sin, and does not seem to be impossible; however, in practice I think it is an extremely rare thing, and may never actually have happened. And if it has happened we would not, could not, know about it in any specifci instance - such a person would necessarily be silent about it. What *is* common is to use this asserted wish for un-consciousness as an excuse or disguise for crudely prideful, sinful objectives.

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

There is a timely juxtaposition here with Pope Francis's recent 'discovery' that capital punishment has always been wrong. I don't presume to question the Pope's orthodoxy, but he surely sounds heterodox, especially after he's been consorting with the atheist philosophers whom he appears to prefer to consult as he 'refines' Catholic theology.

One heterodox novelty Pope Francis has advanced recently is that the Damned do not end in Hell, however imagined, but are simply annihilated at death. Rather than eternal punishment, they are, in effect, granted the primordial unawareness Dr. Charlton mentions just above.

Might that help explain Pope Francis's aversion to capital punishment? While the Church has always taught that, with sincere repentance and amendment of life, Heaven and the Beatific Vision are freely given gifts available to even the worst of men right up to the moment of death, perhaps our (secular?) Pope thinks that to kill a man, including by carrying out the just sentence of a legitimate court, is to annihilate him altogether, and that one should not do that - not deprive anyone of even an instant of this life - before natural death, because that is all of life that person will ever have. Does the Pope believe in the Life that Jesus Christ teaches us of in the Fourth Gospel, or is he indeed fully materialist in his evident Leftism? The one does usually go with the other.

The Church has also always taught that suicide is a mortal sin, subject to the crucial caveat that we cannot know the state of a suicide's soul and the possibility of his repentance at the point of death. Suicide is sinful because it is the rejection of God's gift of life, which is not ours to cast away. Perhaps the Church's ancient doctrine re suicide will be next on Pope Francis's agenda for amelioration.

Given the Christian view of suicide as sinful because it is the self-chosen annihilation of our God-given mortal life and given what Christians are taught about Man's purpose as a child of God, I'm not sure Dr. Charlton is right to say that "genuinely [to] want to revert to primordial unawareness is not of itself a sin[.]"

In its opening sentences, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church - which I'll take the liberty of considering representative of traditional Christian belief with respect to these life-and-death questions - states that God "freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life." Further, that God "calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength." And that "God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life." All of this in the first paragraph of the Prologue. It is a concise statement of Man's purpose; the first thing the Catechism addresses.

The call is to share in God's blessed Life, to seek him, know him, love him, and to become heirs of God's blessed Life. This is the trajectory Saint Peter writes of in 2 Peter 1:4 about our becoming partakers of the divine nature: to seek theosis in this life to prepare ourselves for the Life eternal.

Man's purpose as set forth in the Catechism cannot be achieved entirely in our mortal life. The first stated purpose, to share in God's blessed life, doesn't seem possible to achieve fully in this life. Accordingly, would not choosing to revert to primordial unawareness after mortal death be a sinful rejection of God's gifts to us with respect to eternal Life in the same way as suicide is a sinful rejection of God's gift to us of this mortal life?

I shudder to think what Pope Francis will spring on us next, and I fear de-sinning suicide, with all the horrible consequences that would have for moral behaviour, may not be far off.

Chiu ChunLing said...

If one takes the (basically utilitarian) argument that we must at all costs avoid anyone being killed while in a state of sin who might otherwise have repented, then capital punishment becomes all the more essential because it provides the maximum certainty about the need and time frame for repentance while also helping to reduce the scale of chaotic deaths due to murders by both disorganized and organized crime.

Indeed, if avoiding the annihilation of any soul were our main concern, then we should desire that nearly all crimes that involve endangerment of any human life be punished by torture resulting in death (it is to be noted that torture tends to distort the perception of time, so while making it clear that death will occur before the torture ends is essential, a fixed time of death according to external measurements is of less utility than in the case of death without torture).

One might well question whether a widespread program of torturing people to death (with priests in attendance to hear their confessions) does not do unacceptable harm to the souls of those engaged in it. But if one really believes that soul annihilation is a great evil that ought to be averted even at the cost of encouraging rampant criminality (both within and without the government), it would be well to consider.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I print this comment either for forensic reasons; or on the assumption that you are doing a Jonathan Swift 'Modest Proposal' satire. Or else as an example of what happens when you take a simplifed model that you know leaves-out vital elements, run the simulation, and then (forgetting your original omissions) regard the result as if true.

Chiu ChunLing said...

It's a form of proof by absurdity.

If we really believed that we were responsible for making sure soul annihilation didn't occur, then we would rapidly fall into moral absurdity. I don't wish to convey the impression that 'moral absurdity' should keep us from confronting difficult truths. But we do have to face the moral absurdity which results from accepting something as true.

I have better (to me) grounds for finding soul annihilation to be an unsound doctrine.

But for some, the moral absurdity we very quickly encounter if we were to believe it is the best argument against it.