Thursday 27 August 2020

Perfect moments in life - their relation to Heaven

It is fairly common for atheists to feel that Heaven solves no problems . One idea is that Heaven is merely a continuation, a perpetuation of life, and not qualitatively different. Hence they assume that Heaven is more-of-the-same; therefore no answer to anything...

Or else, atheists feel that if Heaven is indeed qualitatively different from this mortal life, then such a different state would not so much solve, as obliterate, the problems of this mortal life. For instance, if Heaven is a state of ego-less bliss, then 'I' am no longer my-self; so 'my' problems have been removed only by removing 'me'...

(This idea of Heaven as inhabited by qualitatively-changed "unrecognisable" people is somewhat like 'solving' unhappiness by extreme intoxication, anaesthesia or some kind of destructive brain surgery... Yes we get rid of misery, but only by getting rid of any aware state of being; by reducing each specific individual human to something other, or less.) 

But there is another way of framing this business...

When I was a young man, I did not believe in any life but this mortal one; and I gravitated towards a 'philosophy' whereby life was 'about' perfect moments - (somehow, to be decided - I hoped) expanded to occupy total significance.

I envisaged that I may be able to experience perfect moments such that one would expand to occupy my total consciousness in a timeless kind of way - or else that I might project my-self into this state; and that perhaps death would take me while in such a timeless state.

So, I would sometimes experience a perfect moment, and I would know at that time that I was experiencing perfection. (And it was important that I did recognise and acknowledge these moments.) My intention was that I would live primarily to experience such moments; and my 'real' life was such moments - the rest being just preparation, filler or for bodily sustenance.

Consequently; if I found myself in a perfect moment, I would try to hold and sustain it as long as possible; wring every drop from it. With predictable results.)  

This has been a fairly common strategy for living since the 1800s among non-Christian, and not-supernaturalist, Romantics - for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson articulated such a philosophy, and James Joyce with his 'epiphanies' (I discovered and was much influenced by Joyce at age 19). CS Lewis describes (and analyses) such moments with great clarity in his autobiographical Surprised by Joy as being a focus of his pre-Christian life.

I would now regard this as a genuine but partial truth.

I believe that such perfect epiphanic moments are indeed possible, they are truly important, and they can happen - although they do not always happen. For example, I had many such moments as a late teen up to age about 21; but there were long periods afterwards when I did not have any such (no matter how I tried or wanted - and, of course, trying is a problem!).

So what do I now think about perfect moments?

My understanding is (stated briefly, and partially) that Heaven consists of life lived at the level of these mortal perfect moments. 

What, then, is the difference between epiphanies in mortal life and in Heaven?

The first is that perfect moments have a different purpose. In this mortal life the perfect moments are experiences from-which we are supposed to learn; for example, I have learned from them a foretaste of the many and various joys of Heaven - a vision that, when contemplated, may fill me with hope and clarify my aims.

But for one who believes that this mortal life is everything and death is extinction; the perfect moments are sad - they lead to the emotion which the German Romantics called Sehnsucht - a bittersweet yearning, which invades even the moments themselves (rapidly eroding their perfection).

Sehnsucht derives from our knowledge that the moment is inevitably transient; it will not last; our memory of the moment and our capacity to experience that memory will weaken and extinguish.

So that the perfect moment is gone, even as it is being recognised...

Yet when they are regarded as insights into the Heavenly state, the transience of perfect moments is not a problem but related to their function. Because the ultimate concern of mortal life is not 'cashed-out' in this life but the next; not mortal memory but the permanence of recollection in an immortal resurrected Man.  

(Because immortality is immunity to the entropic processes that are inevitable and intrinsic to mortal life. Immortality is perpetually-self-renewing.) 

Perfect moments, indeed, may give insight into what it is like to be a resurrected immortal living in Heaven.

We can potentially imagine what life would be like if it was lived as one perfect moment after another... Or more exactly, lived such that perfections blend-into a continuous, fluidly-changing state of being; a process of living. 

We can also see (from our experiences in mortal life) that such a Heavenly life would entail a world constituted people who all were committed to living in such a way; people for whom this was the most important way of being; and therefore people necessarily harmonised in means and ends, in methods and purposes, by their mutual love, freely consented.

I learned this need for a loving Heaven; because I recognised that so many people had no interest in perfect moments, did not recognise or value such moments; rejected the situations and attitudes that led to such moments. People who had other ideas of what life is for or about.

I presume such people would not want Heaven, and would not be found there (but some other place or places) - and therefore such people would not in Heaven (as they so often do here on earth) continually operate to prevent, sabotage and subvert perfect moments.

We can and should enjoy perfect moments, because their joyfulness is perhaps the best part of mortal life - but that is not all; that is not the end of the matter.

The joy of perfect moments is not used-up in current pleasure, nor limited by the durability of brain-based memory - because such joy signifies potential knowledge

It is up to each-of-us to recognise and live-by that knowledge.


Francis Berger said...

Yes, what you have outlined here about perfect moments makes sense to me. Oddly enough, I approached this subject in a blog post at the end of July, only within the broader context of joy and how Christians should respond it. I eventually reached the same conclusion Blake reached in one of his short poems:

"He who binds himself to joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise"

As I said above, the context is broader, but the underlying wisdom seems relevant to what you have expressed here concerning perfect moments.

Sean G. said...

@Bruce I had similar experiences in my youth when I began noticing these perfect moments. They were separated sometimes by days, sometimes by long years, and I KNEW there was nothing more important. But like you (and everyone, I assume) I would try desperately to hold on to it with predictable deflating results. In hindsight they all pointed me towards heaven and I had the exact wrong reaction every time, though some of the repeated lessons have started sinking in. Thank God for his endless patience.

@Francis That poem says it perfectly, I'm glad you shared it. Coincidentally, after reading Bruce's post I had a rare perfect moment last night and did as the poem would suggest. Lasted all of a minute but it in that moment it's eternal importance was apparent.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ Frank. Yes exactly. Blake is one of my masters, although it is only a small proportion of his work that I love. He has been ill served by the critics, who neglect that he was profoundly and pervasively Christian, in a way that should have served as a model for the future world.

Karl said...

He who binds to himself a joy