Saturday 2 January 2021

The asymmetry of Heavenly Good and hellish evil

Asymmetry is usual - especially when it comes to Good and evil; because Good is (roughly speaking) taking the side of God and creation - which is a positive commitment towards the divine destiny; while evil is to be opposed to these - which is negative, oppositional. 

So to become permanently Good is different from becoming permanently evil - in each case 'permanent' has a qualitatively different meaning. 


As I understand it; the choice to follow Jesus Christ leads through resurrection to Heaven. It is, therefore, a transformation - a transformation from this transitional, temporary, mortal embodied life, to a final, permanent, eternal embodied life.  

The resurrected life entails that we are prepared to make a permanent commitment to God's creation. 


The idea of eternity and permanence should not be thought to mean that Heavenly existence is some kind of unchanging stasis. I think it is better understood in the above terms as a final transformation

After resurrection there is no further transformation: the resurrected Man is qualitatively final in form - although he can develop further, towards creative divinity. 


In the resurrected condition this eternal commitment is possible in a way that is not possible on earth. 

Earthly life is 'entropic', change cannot be prevented, and change tends to be degenerative (towards chaos)...

But Heavenly life is eternally self-generating - there is no entropic tendency, but instead creation is the dominant reality. 


Anyway; the path to salvation is by following Jesus to Heaven; and once that has been accomplished, that situation is irrevocable

The resurrected man has made a free and conscious choice to make a permanent, positive commitment, and that commitment is - from then onwards - permanent! 

We could say (just as a model summary) that there is something like a special provision made that such a permanent commitment to Good is possible; or we could simply say that if permanent commitment to Good was not possible, then Heaven would be impossible - since (across eternity) members would all be prone to lapse and reverse; and Heaven might become hell...  

The situation for evil is different. There is no 'special provision' that enables any individual to make a permanent commitment to evil. Therefore, all commitment to evil is ultimately contingent; there is no 'philosophically principled' reason that actively prevents any individual (up to and including Satan) from repenting.

But it would be an error to infer from this that repentance is in practice possible for everyone. What prevents repentance is essentially Not Wanting to Repent. 

With evil, there is a kind of spiral of probabilities against wanting to repent. Unprepented sin leads to more unrepented sin (as we see from everyday observation); so that individuals get deeper then deeper into evil; and the desire to repent and live in Heavenly harmony with God's creation gets less and less - while opposition to God and creation gets more habitual and stronger. 


As a person becomes more evil; he develops stronger habits of untruthfulness (lying is intrinsic to evil); he practices moral inversion - such that all possible 'evidence' is understood as confirming his existing evil assumptions.

For example, other peoples' moral concern and forgiveness is interpreted as stupidity and weakness; the misery and pain of others leads to positively-reinforcing feelings of excitement, power, sexual arousal; successful dominance leads to despising those dominated; but defeat and failure leads to resentment and plans for revenge - etc. 

Whatever happens, it only serves to fuel the commitment to evil, the oppositional goals. 


We talk of an evil person 'selling his soul' to Satan - but this is a process, rather than a one-off transformation like salvation. 

A Man chooses to enter a path of evil; and every further choice to continue the path gets easier - while repentance (while still always theoretically possible) inflicts higher and higher costs in terms of unpleasant/ crippling feelings of remorse. 

It is always easier to become more evil, and it gets more and more difficult to repent.    

Thus, permanent Good is asymmetrical with permanent evil: the decision permanently to choose the side of Good being qualitatively irrevocable; while the decision to choose evil is a matter of becoming more-and-more quantitatively irrevocable - more-and-more permanent; in a positive feedback fashion: with each deviation leading to further deviation in the same direction. 


Ron Tomlinson said...

How do Jack Kerouac and Samuel Taylor Coleridge fit in? Did they made an irrevocable/permanent choice during mortal life to follow Jesus into heaven, thus gaining their extraordinary capacity for repentance, or is the final choice only possible upon death?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ron - Of course I don't *know* in an objective way; but I am confident that both followed Jesus to Heaven. As you imply, it is the willingness to repent that is decisive; and when it comes to salvation, nothing else matters.

Doktor Jeep said...

I have more respect for someone who dons the proverbial black robes of evil, says "muah ha ha ha!" to the mirror, then goes out and does evil.
They know they are doing evil and committed to it.
The worst are the ones who think they are doing good.
The only difference, in the scope of justice, between the two is that the former will be silent as the firing squad readies their aim while the latter will blubber and wail pathetically.

Bruce Charlton said...

DJ - Well, I know what you mean - someone like Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera, who goes into the flames of hell proudly unrepentant (and singing in a magnificent bass-baritone!); or the Antichrist as I saw him depicted in the Chester Mystery Plays - who, when everyone else evil was being hunted, grabbed and tossed screaming through the door to hell (including some children - very powerful and disturbing!) - shrugged-off the demonic grabbers and coolly strutted and sauntered through the flaming door.

But, artistic depictions are one thing; and I don't know whether any such thing really happens. From what I have heard, the opposite usually seems to happen to the great evil people of history - they break-down more like the wailing ones you describe, or blame everybody but themselves for what happens.

(Bearing also in mind, that the great wicked folk of the past often had strong virtues such as courage (in particular) or loyalty, which seem all but absent nowadays.)

Either way, such matters of superficial style perhaps don't really count for much. My best guess is that the decision is made after biological death; and God ensures that there is at least a moment of clarity so the choice is made in full consciousness - as CS Lewis describes for the baddies in That Hideous Strength.

Doktor Jeep said...

Saddam Hussein was evil for the most part. Evil enough for ruling his people anyway. His exit was somewhat bold.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DJ - Maybe drifting off topic here...

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

This makes sense in principle, but it’s hard to imagine what it would be like in practice to be *unable* to make evil choices.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - That's the wrong way to frame what is going on. Good is a matter of being 'on the side of' God's creation.

It is not different from being a member of a loving family, such what one does is in line with loving the members of the family.

IMO Heaven is not any kind of 'perfection', as if nobody ever puts a foot out of line - rather there is trial and error but always in the context of love 9which holds everything together) and the loving-nature of God's creation.

If the members of the Heavenly family are all p'ointing in the same creative direction' (as it were), and always love one another, so that everything is always considered and always being mutually adjusted - then the Good project of Heaven will cohere on that basis, over the long term.