Sunday 30 September 2018

Death as dreaming sleep (and the coming of Hell)

What is it like to be dead?

Modern materialist Man seems to have decided that to be dead is like being permanently in deep sleep, unaware of the self, unaware of anything.

The ancient world also seems to have regarded death as like being asleep; but like dreaming sleep. The Hades of the Greeks and Sheol of the Jews were states of being much like the world of dreams - the self was feeble, agency was feeble, the individual had little control and was merely swept-along by events.

In the ancient underworlds, as in dreams; memories slipped away almost as soon as formed, motivations likewise; understanding likewise. To be dead was thus to be delirious, or demented - to become a ghost - living in a perpetual present mostly dominated (like dreams) by perplexed incomprehension, confusion, angst - but presumably with interludes of pleasure and satisfaction. 

We should note, therefore, that the ancient understanding of death as underworld, Hades, Sheol was Not that all men 'went to Hell'. The state of dead souls was one to be dreaded, as a modern Man would dread delirium or dementia - but it was Not a state of perpetual misery or torment.


Among Rudolf Steiner's ideas is that our self is spiritual and not located, and our body is like a mirror for the external self; the self sees-itself in the body. A similar idea from Rupert Sheldrake is that memory is like an electromagnetic field - a radio signal - and the brain is like a receiver - a radio - which intercepts this field, interprets and broadcasts it.

Common to such ideas is the notion that the human brain, the body, are not the origin of our-selves; but these solid things are necessary for our immaterial/ extensive selves to become centred, focused, autonomous, agent...

Back to Steiner... he suggested that during sleep the consciousness and the self left-behind the living body - so deep sleep without dreams is our experience of merely being alive in the body, rather like a plant; whereas dreaming sleep was when we became 'located' with the consciousness outside the body, in the spirit.

By such an account, sleep is closely analogous to death; because with death the physical body dies - but not human consciousness. The body dies, but the soul continues. If our awareness becomes cut-off from our bodies; we might expect that the remaining consciousness would be incomplete, and we would experience its life much as does the dreamer.

An immortal soul detached from its living body is in much the same situation as the dreaming consciousness. 


So - until the work of Jesus Christ - Man's death was universally like sleep, but like dreaming sleep; and this state seemed to be the permanent fate of the dead.

But since Jesus; the universal fate of Men has been resurrection; and resurrection reunites consciousness with the body; but with a permanent immortal body.

This suggests that resurrection would be analogous to awakening from dreaming sleep; and with a similar sense of renewed agency, freedom, self-awareness, control. The consciousness returns to its living body - but not to the mortal body left-behind a few hours ago; but instead to to a new living body, the resurrected eternal body.

The choice of Heaven of Hell is a choice of where this resurrected Man will dwell. Indeed, Hell was not possible until resurrection had been instituted.

In sum; BC there was universal Sheol but no Hell; after Christ Sheol was abolished, there was universal resurrection and the possibility of Heaven - but the coming of Christ was also the coming of Hell.

With Sheol there was no possibility of Men choosing Hell, because the dead lacked free will, so the dead could not choose. But Christ's gift of life everlasting brought the post-mortal capacity to choose - to choose evil, as well as to choose Good.


Matthew T said...

I had meant to ask you this on a previous post about dreams, Bruce: for a long time I have wondered why some people seem to remember their dreams better than others. Would you agree that perhaps people who are "rememberers" are so because there is some Lesson that they are in greater need of?

William Wildblood said...

Very interesting piece, Bruce. I don't think it is sufficiently realised how the advent of Jesus Christ changed everything for everybody not just those who chose to become Christians. For example, both Hinduism and Buddhism developed in ways that were clear responses to the Christ impulse of love. That can't be proved since it was an inner response but to me it's self-evident.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MT - I think I wrote a post on this at some time (you could try word searching dreams or dreaming) - but in a nutshell I believe that (in general) our dreams are experiences and we learn from them; but like much of our learning we are not explicitly aware of it. So we do not remember (most) dreams because we do not need to remember them - they do their good at a 'subconscious' level.

So, as you suggest, there is probably something different about dreams we do remember (although sometimes this is arbitrary due to the circumstances of waking, or because we are making a special effort). Perhaps these are those rarer dreams it would be good for us to remember explicitly.

However, the meaning of dreams seems to lie at a different level from their surface detail - another idea of Steiner's was (I think) that the meaning of dreams was in the feelings they evoked... I belive something of that sort is correct.

By analogy conisder a myth: what is *The* myth of King Arthur, or Robin Hood or Merlin? The answer is that there is no canonical or definitive myth, but only many different *versions*; yet somehow we feel that behind all the versions is a true myth, which operates without words or pictures but at a level of feelings.

So the idea would be that *that* is the true meaning of a dream: the myth behind the dream - the same deep myth might lead to many different surface dreams.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Judaism too, I understand.

I have heard it suggested that this can be understaood as different human understandings of the same divine revelation, known directly (potentially) by all people, operating across the world.

Something of the sort rings true to me; that everybody everywhere could potentially know about the birth and death of Jesus, his resurrection and the coming of the Holy Ghost. This might be known communally, as religion; or in all Men's hearts, by direct revelation.

(Exactly this is described wrt the ancient Americans in The Book of Mormon.)

Chiu ChunLing said...

I would agree that resurrection is like being awakened from a dream, but not everyone particularly likes being conscious rather than asleep.

I know I don't.

Dreams are most likely to be consciously remembered if one wakes during one. This can be a result of the intensity of experience in a dream resulting in waking up, in which case the dream is likely to be related concepts or memories of particular felt significance to the dreamer. Otherwise the memory of the dream will be unconscious, or perhaps it is better to say that the effect will be a reconciliation of subconscious contradictions.

Thus most dreams one remembers do have significance which one has a reason to be consciously aware of them. One can be thankful to God that it is so, but many choose to believe that this felicity is nothing but a chance of accumulated random mutations.

I'm reasonably certain that the latter will have worse dreams. Denial of foundational truths about the nature and purpose of one's own existence causes profound subconscious conflicts. I used to have absolutely terrible dreams back when I rejected my own fundamental nature and purpose.