Saturday 14 November 2020

For this mortal life to have meaning and purpose; we must have eternal life *and* an unique, individual outcome in that eternity

Philosophers - or indeed authors more generally - who assume that this mortal life (bounded by conception and death) is the unit of meaning; always fall into one of two categories. 

The optimists say that real life is 'life at its best', the bad stuff is due to wrong persepective, wrong choices; and our problem is that the best is infequent, does not last, or may be absent. 

The pessimists (more common) assert that real life is 'life at worst' - i.e. the reality is suffering, disease, decay... And that the best bits of living are ultimately evanescent illusions - wishful-thinking, self-deception; a personal delusion, a temporary mania...


The two attempted escapes from this, are either to assert ultimate one-ness - which attempts to remove the difference between the good and bad bits, by removing individual awareness of that discernment. Or else, versions of 'living in the moment' - which (in effect) say that the instantaneous moment is the true unit of life. Life is therefore static; and whatever is in the moment is everything. 

(This collapses when one moment changes to another - then what? Or when the moment is bad and there is no counterbalance or context for its badness - e.g. pain is totality.)

My conclusion is that there is no possible coherence attainable when the unit of life is regarded as being bounded by conception and death. Because what meaning and purpose in my life is possible when my life (and every life) is temporary and inevitably ends in death? 

Life and living is then finite; death and nothingness the only infinite.


But this point can be generalised. If all individual lives converge on the same identical outcome, then there can be no meaning to those individual lives. An assumption of convergence is itself lethal to meaning.

If all human lives end-up in the same and identical state of anything (whether bliss or suffering or nothingness); then individual life has no meaning. Indeed individuality is then a problem - The Problem. 

Conversely put; if we all end-up the same (and if that situation is eternal) then the only situation that could provide meaning and purpose to my own individual life; would be if individual lives lead to unique outcomes... 


This problem of convergence onto a common end-state seems to be something I observe in many atheists, many religions and spiritual belief systems, and among many Christians (who seem to regard their anticipated life in Heaven in terms of some kind of de-differentiated glowing sexless angel, ecstatically praising God with music and chanting, forever - in an unchanging situation beyond time). 

Obviously I am being hyperbolic and mocking; but some such convergence of outcome, some such definition of Heaven in terms of negation, seems common among self-identified Christians through history, especially of the intellectual sort. 

And such convergence is lethal to meaning in our own mortal life. Indeed such Christians often have a theology that itself converges-onto 'Eastern Religions' of a deistic type, with this life as maya (illusion), and the-self (with its mortal attachment) being seen as the enemy, and dissolving of all individuality into unity... 


In sum: If my life converges eternally with other lives to any common end; then my mortal life is futile - because everything that is me is washed-away, and what remains is depersonalised. 

(The individual self is a mere changing blink in time, and the 'me' that remains eternal has nothing uniquely 'me' about it.)


Take it a step further - if the-above, then there is no point in me existing in the first place

Why bother having me-personally, or any other individual persons; if they are just going to be washed-away by convergence-onto some common outcome? 

No point. We might as well (should have) gone directly to the final and eternal state... without any of this tedious and mucking-about in mortal life.

(Mortal life would be deleted, and existence would be like a Go To Jail card: "Go to eternity; go directly to eternity; do not pass mortal life; do not collect 200 pounds.")


My conclusion is that for my actual mortal life (this life) to have genuine meaning and purpose; then my eternal destiny (the situation I end-up-in forever) must be unique to me

If this is indeed so, then God's main problem is to make an eternal Heaven from a bunch of unique individuals. 

And this is just what Jesus Christ, and the resurrection he brought, is all about: enabling each of us to become an unique individual, who can live eternally together with other unique individuals, in Heaven. 



David Stanley said...

This is very helpful but I need to re read several times to understand. I have been unable to talk about this area at my home group and it is frustrating as I feel I get labelled as a pan theist or a skeptic or someone who thinks himself "special".

Bruce Charlton said...

@DS - I wouldn't bother trying. Even people interested in and knowledgeable about philosophy nearly-always refuse to examine their metaphysical assumptions, or to acknowledge that these might be the problem. People get used to living in an incoherent mish-mash, give their trust to it; and use one incoherence to prop-up another.

I speak from experience. It took me many years of effort to get things sorted out in my mind; and I know of very few people who spend even as much time and effort as I do on this kind of thinking. (My main virtue as a thinker - and as a scientist - is a spontaneous long term discomfort with incoherence, which keeps me chipping away at problems long after others have made up their minds and moved-on.)

For the typical modern person, who is literally incapable of thinking on the same line for two minutes, who cannot take more than a single step in reasoning without getting distracted - And who is not interested in the first place!... there is zero chance of being convinced of something fundamentally different.

agraves said...

My experience in this physical life and experiences with Spirit tell me that at this time I don't know what my future spiritual family will consist of. Many contacts with known and unknown persons/places have shown a range of deep philosophy to former family members feeling quite cozy. As far as talking to people goes I find that most are made very uncomfortable about really examining spiritual experiences in their lives, they will quickly change the subject or make a joke out of it, which is when I reach for my second glass of wine. Cheers!

Karl said...

Jesus does say there will be no marriage in heaven, so whatever may await it cannot be an *exact* copy of this, ie Life 2.0. But assumedly there must be, as you say, some form of individuation for it to be meaningful.

Also there are surely many millions whose main hope for an afterlife is to be reunited with lost loved ones.

Mystery and Faith go hand in hand.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - Well I am not someone whose Christian belief rests on proof-texting, and especially not when a synoptic gospel goes against the spirit of the fourth. But you may wish to consider other ways of interpreting that notorious passage.

On the whole, where it is known, I think ordinary people often interpret Christianity more accurately than the theologians, because they are not trying to fit Christianity into the framework of abstract Greek-Roman philosophy (as all mainstream theologians do - but as the Fourth Gospel does not, nor even the Synoptics).

The mainstream theologians generally push Christianity towards a Platonism that regards the spirit as higher than the incarnated, regards procreation as a bad (or regrettable) thing, and the spirit as sexless.

I - instead - have the opposite views (as do Mormons, from whom I learned this) and regard the division into men and women as ultimate reality, and procreation as the highest form of creation.

Epimetheus said...

This is very unique (!) thinking.

We moderns use adjectives to describe our uniqueness, as if we are like Dungeon & Dragons characters - I am X percent this and Y percent that, "speaking as a disabled woman of color" etc. etc. But, ultimately, human qualities do not exist. We are not formed by moving little sliding bars around on a computer screen.

In truth, all we can say is that Bob is very Bobbish; he is very much Bob.

In the parable of the sower and the seed, Christ talked about the good seed bearing fruit thirty-fold, fifty-fold, and a hundred-fold, and the mustard seed growing into a mighty tree. Maybe our personalities will grow thirty, fifty, or a hundred times bigger inside, more beautiful, intricate, detailed, and distinct. Maybe the human consciousness is actually a living pocket-universe, and the human is the god of this universe, and in Heaven the real God pumps some real life and size into the thing and weaves it seamlessly into His real universe.

Thought-provoking post, thanks.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Epi - Most religious people assume (and apparently always have) that we start the same and are 'made' different. I assume the opposite (again, I got this from Mormon metaphysics): that in our essential self/ being, we were not created but are eternal.

We 'always have been' Beings of some kind - and have transformed/ been-transformed though Time. So that God's creation of you and me should be regarded as a transformation of a being which always existed (and is co-eternal with God).

There seem to be three major, qualitative transformations of our primordial selves: into the spirit children of God, into incarnate mortals on earth - and then 'biological death' and what follows after - which is, for Christians, resurrection into eternal heavenly life.

There may be other transformations. Because once you realise that were are unique from eternity, there is no reason why God should have a 'standard process' which is always applied to all souls. For instance, reincarnation, of various types, may be helpful for some Beings.

What unifies this activity and makes for coherence is God's creation, and the purpose within it of God raising his children towards his own level (Sons and Daughters of God). For this to happen entails that each his children thus-raised must *want* and *choose* to be thus raised.

If someone does not want to be raised, or for any reason chooses against it, then it will not happen.

BSRK Aditya said...

> who seem to regard their anticipated life in Heaven in terms of some kind of de-differentiated glowing sexless angel, ecstatically praising God with music and chanting, forever - in an unchanging situation beyond time

This is a mostly accurate description of a particular kind of heaven. And a celibate-ascetic can develop divine ear to the point of being able to hear this.

De-differentiated is only mostly accurate. It is more correct to say that it is a gathering of people who are harmonising to the same perspective.

Will "most Christians" end up here? No. This is a fairly hard to achieve state, though I praise it as greater than the heavens you are admiring. The beings there certainly have a greater beauty, greater sovereignty, and greater life-span.

Heaven can be classified in ascending order as:
1) Multiplicity in form and Multiplicity in perspective <- (what you and most people want)
2) Multiplicity in form and Singleness in perspective <- (what someone like William wants. There are particular spiritual & moral objectives that are to be achieved, and the community is intent on that to the exclusion of other activities)
3) Singleness in form and Multiplicity in perspective <- (Like the radiant masters or the beautiful black masters. Rather then speculate about what this like you should get the direct information from a source like this
4) Singleness in form and Singleness in Perspective <- (The divine sound is the sound of the breath. Like a person who is content with just breathing)

Bruce Charlton said...

BSRK - My understanding of God is of Father and Mother in Heaven, who are the creator, who are incarnate and are of the same kind as Men. Creation came from their mutual love. They wish more than anything that some Men become raised (each by choice) to the full creator-procreative level of our Heavenly Parents.

Cererean said...

The funny thing with eternal growth is, we can grow ever more distinct from each other *whilst simultaneously becoming more similar.



Hopefully this illustration will show up correctly. The dots grow a space apart in each step, yet at the same time they grow from non-overlapping to overlapping. So may two different people - the centre of who they are grows ever more distinct, yet because they are growing, they also become more like the other in some areas. Convergence only occurs if their growth is ultimately limited.