Sunday 13 October 2019

God's ethical problem: consequences of God making our primordial spirits into Children of God, without our consent

My understanding (mostly derived from Mormon theology) is that human beings began as what could be called primordial spirits - which had existed from eternity; and the first step in our development was to become Sons and Daughters of God.

That was God's most important act of creation, because it was the first step towards Men potentially becoming divine, mini-gods of the same kind as the resurrected and ascended Jesus.

The ethical problem, as I see it, is that as primrdial spirits we could not, therefore did not, consent to being made children of God. We could not consent because, until we became children of God, we were not capable of consent.

As primordial spirits we were incapable of understanding what it meant to become children of God, therefore it was something done to us.

We had first to become children of God, before we were able to consent to or choose anything; therefore it was an essential first step - nonetheless, that first step was coercive.

To put this in a nutshell; God bestowed consciousness upon us. This consciousness then made it possible for us to be agents, to have free will. Until there was consciousness, we could not choose to be conscious - therefore we were compelled, by God, to become conscious.  

There is a close analogy with raising children - here in our mortal lives. Parents have to begin by doing things to children - without the child's consent. Good parenting entails considerable compulsion.

A young child is (at least quantitatively) unable to consent; and it is not until later in development that consent becomes possible (for some, not all, people).

The factor that transcends the compulsion and 'makes it good' is love. When the parent is behaving with love, the compulsion is taken-up by the greater reality of love and seen as a means to the ends of love.

But if love is denied, or was not present, then we are left with the perception of plain compulsion of the child by the parents; with the parent merely compelling the child to follow the parent's agenda. 

Only during adolescence, does a child becomes able to consent; and an adolescent will often become (implicitly or explicitly) aware that much of their childhood entailed compulsion. They may see this as having been necessary and done with love; or they may instead conclude that they have been oppressed or exploited by their parents.

The adolescent coming-into adulthood may choose consciously to return to a loving relationship with parents; or may choose to sever all ties and reject the parents.

The fact of compulsion during development therefore necessarily (and rightly) leads to a crux, a time of decision. The parent makes a decision on behalf of the child; but for the situation to become right the mature child needs to endorse the parental decision.

This happens in an ultimate and divine sense. We must, sooner or later, decide whether we endorse the decision of God coercively to make us his children - or reject it.

I think it is the result of this choice that leads people to Heaven or not. To choose Heaven means to endorse God's decision, to be grateful for consciousness, to regard God as having been motivated by love. It means to dwell with God in divine creation, and to participate - whether passively, actively and fully - or something in-between - in that continuous work of creation.

(It can be seen how such an understanding of Heaven depends on the situation of love.)

To choose hell means that we resent God's choice, we regard it as having been made un-lovingly, for God's own purposes with which we disagree. Hell is the denial that God acted with love, or the denial that love is a sufficient reason for God to act.

This hell is what happens when a person is angry at God, at God's primal act of 'making' us his child. It is to accept the consciousness that was bestowed by God, but to reject God's purpose for which consciousness was bestowed. 

To choose hell therefore means that we choose to retain our consciousness and agency - despite its having being forced-upon us; but (motivated by hatred and resentment against God) to use this consciousness in opposition to God's purposes.

Hell is to use our powers of agency against the agenda of God - and instead for our own agenda.

There is another possibility. Some people dislike being conscious, and therefore would prefer to reverse the act of bestowing Sons and Daughters of God. This is broadly the choice of people that may be Hindus or Buddhists. They disagree with God's agenda of raising Men to a divine level of Being; and instead prefer to revert to the primordial state of Being. Being without awareness - simply being.

In principle this choice may well be made with full acknowledgement of God's loving intentions; but simply based on the conviction that 'consciousness is not for me'. God has made us his children, made us conscious - and as spiritual adolescents we say 'Thanks, but no thanks; I would rather not become divine'.

To such persons, God (I believe) offers Nirvana - which is a reversion to the primordial state of minimal consciousness, but dwelling in a situation of divine love, of 'bliss'. Simply being, moment by moment, unchanging, in a pleasant and comfortable state.

(Hence the impersonality, the foundational abstraction of 'Eastern' religions. It somes from the preference not to be persons, not to relate to God as a person - because these depend on consciousness.)

In sum, there is a moral problem at the heart of divine creation; which is the moment in our personal history when we were made children of God.

This was unavoidable; but the problem is dealt with when we each must later choose how we regard this act of bestowing consciousness, how we interpret it, what to do about it...

Then there will be (it is unavoidable) a decision - which we can now make, being agents with free will: the decison whether to accept the agenda of spiritual development towards divinity for which God made us consciousness; or to reject it.

And if we reject it; the decision whether we then consciously fight against God's agenda (since we regard God as selfishly-motivated); or simply opt-out of being Sons or Daughters of God - handing-back to God his unwanted gift of consciousness.


Gospel Beyond Belief said...

To solve the challenge of free will posed by the likes of philosophers such as Galen Strawson I am toying with the idea of self-determining beings. That would make free will beings like God. Of course, Strawson thinks this is incoherent and so God is incoherent. The problem is the infinite regress. We can never become free at some time because we are determined up until that time so none of the factors that go into a decision were freely chosen. Are Leibnitz monads such eternal beings? Though his solution to free will to me is not good.

Bruce Charlton said...

GBB - It depends on one's primary (metaphysical) assumptions. Some of these leave no space for free will/ personal agency. But Mormon theology does.

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

Many (I want to say 'most' but I'm not sure I can) Mormon theologians concluded that agency/consciousness is a quality that we always possessed from eternity, and God is not responsible for bestowing it on us. This was Nels Nelson and Brigham Roberts' position.

- Carter Craft

Bruce Charlton said...

In a sense, everything is a Being and has consciousness, and changes are quantitative. Becoming children of God is one stepwise increase, incarnation another, resurrection another, celestial marriage another. I assume each stage brings new creative possibilities.

a_probst said...

"Until there was consciousness, we could not choose to be conscious - therefore we were compelled, by God, to become conscious."

This would seem to reduce the operational difference between being created ex nihilo and existing from eternity.

"Some people dislike being conscious, and therefore would prefer to reverse the act of bestowing Sons and Daughters of God. This is broadly the choice of people that may be Hindus or Buddhists. They disagree with God's agenda of raising Men to a divine level of Being..."

I like to think that they do not 'disagree' but simply do not believe, that when presented with modes of consciousness beyond their earthly imaginings they embrace them.

Maybe some trendy bohemian adopters of Buddhism will carry into the next life a too-hip prideful attitude that will cause them to reject the offer without a moment's consideration, but I hope no one is that obtuse.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ap - I don't find to hard to suppose that some people may Not want (for themselves) the *personal* loving world that is Heaven - that there are some whose love is an abstract benign state.

I think this can be a valid personal choice.

However, I do not think it can be operationalised as a public policy/ religion any more than can the Christian salvation. These matters are personal, and ought to be regarded as personal - when they are regarded otherwise (and the individual is supposed to fit-into some general scheme) then a line has been crossed into evil. Christianity has been and is often thus perverted.

In the past this was less clear, because Men were more immersed-in society (including divine society) but nowadays, in the West, the distinction between individual and social has become clear and unavoidable. For religion to insist on the social is now totalitarian politics, or indistinguishable from it.

This is because of the developmental-evolution of consciousness.

a_probst said...

I suppose I was projecting my chronic annoyance at having Christianity derided as a childish system of belief, as well as the orientation I often forget I share with most peoples of Eastern and Western civilization--that "the individual is supposed to fit into some general scheme" as if what works for earthly society is true of the heavenly as well. And hoping for the disbelievers in a personal god to see that there are greater things in heaven than were dreamt of in their sophisticated philosophies.

A bit prideful (or spiteful?) myself there. Got to work on that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ap - What I am getting at, for my part, is that there are non-evil (neutral) reasons for rejecting Heaven. If heaven is a divinised loving dynamic creative extended family; I can easily see that not everybody wants to live in a loving creative dynamic extended family. Some might simply want to exist in a blissful static-feeling almost-unconscious state of love - but without relationships, creativity or any 'doing' of any kind.

I don't regard that wish as wicked - and I suppose God would allow this for those that want it.

This situation would feel almost the same as being a primordial Being, immersed in God's creation, I suppose. Or like deep (non-dreaming) sleep.

So it would be like undoing that original act of making Man children of God. That's how Nirvana strikes me - it is like saying that For Me Personally - the Big Experiment of creation has failed.

Since I regard each primordial individual as an unique self - it would not surprise me if Heaven did not suit everybody.

Lucinda said...

I think of the initiation into spiritual childhood as a matter of attraction. Like people getting married, even arranged marriage of the kind that requires the consent of parents as well as the intended spouses. They cannot fully know what they are getting into, particularly when you consider the possibility of eternal, yet voluntary, marriage. The initial attraction, or lack of rejection, makes a big difference.

Lucinda said...

I believe children come into families as a matter of spiritual attraction to one or both parents, especially mothers. This may be wishful thinking, but I try to live with it in mind, and it helps me as a mother to be gateful for my children.

Bruce Charlton said...

@L - I certainly believe that it is not 'random' - and that people are 'placed' with parents for a range of reasons, related to their needs - the need for certain types of experience, and the needs of others. And then this continues through life. But of course this can be and is 'sabotaged' to varying degrees by human choices. For example choosing to regard the whole thing as random and meaningless will tend to make it so.

Robert Brockman said...

The Buddhists I am associated with are emphatically *not* interested in Being without Awareness, or in passive bliss of any kind. They consider both excessive pleasure and misery to be dangerous distractions from the primary task of purifying their awareness. Their goal is the eradication of all of one’s distortion and delusion, which cannot be completely attained without the liberation of others from their distortions and delusions.

From the point of view of the Buddhists I know, dramatic progress is associated with an extension of one’s awareness far beyond limits posited by materialism, however ultimate victory requires *total* awareness — thus their conception of nirvana is the exact opposite of oblivion. Supreme sainthood for these Buddhists is not characterized by a desire to spend eternity in a pleasurable bliss, but rather the strength and love needed to descend into Hell and liberate those trapped there.

These Buddhists do believe that achieving a very long term (millions of years) state of effortless pleasurable bliss is possible, but not desirable. In contrast, they believe that mortal humans are in a very privileged position from the perspective of achieving enlightenment, and thus extreme diligence in advancing our spiritual development in this life is warranted.

We should not be surprised that western “Buddhists”, especially those who have abandoned traditional Buddhist precepts with respect to sexuality, etc. would be viewed by those as with an authentic lineage as being dangerous heretics.

— Robert Brockman

Bruce Charlton said...

@RB - Plenty of Christians, and non-religious people, seem to hope for something like Nirvana - it's not necessarily specific to a denomination. But my point is about individuals, and about the value and virtue of various possibilities.

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

Would any of you actual or theoretical Mormons recommend a good one-volume introduction to Mormonism, covering the origins and history of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, beliefs and practices, and theology - including where those expand beyond and differ from orthodox (a descriptive term here, not a judgment) Christianity, one written for non-Mormon readers? Does such a single book exist?
Many thanks in advance for replies.

Bruce Charlton said...

@HRS - The best book - and it is an excellent book - is:

Terryl & Fiona Givens. The God who weeps: How Mormonism makes sense of life. Shadow Mountain Publishing: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, 2012

For an overview of the history Mormonism - from an outsiders but pretty fair POV - the PBS documentary The Mormons is good: it lasts about 2 hours.

I found that exploring the Mormons own 'in house' material on was very worthwhile, browsing the General Conference talks, educational/ inspirational videos and articles (including those for children), looking at the missionary teaching manuals etc.

But the book that unlocked the theology for me was Sterling McMurrin's dual volume The Philosophical Foundations of Mormon Theology, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion - but this is only for someone who knows a fair bit of the history of philosophy and theology already.

(PBS you may be confused or offput that the CJCLDS are currently engaged in a top-down attempted purge of the 'Mormon' name, and a 'rebranding'. This will only affect the new material on the website.)

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

My own recommendation for a single volume introduction to Latter Day Saint theology is 'The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: The Roberts-Van Der Donckt Discussion', consisting of a short exchange between LDS philosopher Brigham H. Roberts and a Catholic priest on the key differences between the Restored Gospel and other religious traditions. It's a rather old book but all of the important subjects it touches on are explained in terms a modern-day member of the Church would readily recognize and assent to. I definitely think it's the best starting point for examining how LDS metaphysics relates to conventional Catholic/Protestant views.

The complete text is available on Project Gutenberg:

- Carter Craft

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

Bruce: Many thanks for the recommendations. I'll start with Givens (I see they've written many things); it looks appealing and approachable. I've not looked at before, but certainly will.
Carter: Thanks to you as well. I like your recommendation; I'm Catholic myself, so it should offer good compare-and-contrast. The fact that it's a rather old book means its Catholic perspective is less likely to be distorted by all the confusion that has enmeshed the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.
I take it the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has not (yet) had a Vatican II equivalent. For Mormonism's sake, I hope not!