Saturday 6 February 2021

What survives death? An intuitive account

What of us survives death? The same 'self' that survives through all the transformations of our mortal life; and that same self which came originally from before that embodied life when we were first formed on earth. 

As I look back on my life the memory seems like a dreamy vision which was inhabited by the same self. In my earliest childhood memories, through the development of growing -up and adolescence, and the now-strange events of my early adult life... Everything seems fuzzy, indistinct, dreamy (maybe nightmarish) - but the self continues. 

I can imagine my-self as a four year old, as nine, as thirteen, when I was twenty-one and so on - it is the same self but the situations are as different as can be, and mostly have the quality of a day-dream: fluid, imprecise, fuzzy... 

Was that really me in those situations, in those behaviours? Yet the self that observes these strange occurrences was the same. 

That inner self seem independent of the body - that body which changed so much. Independent of circumstance - which changed so much. 

I think "Was that really me?" about what I did, where I went - but I do not think that about the self that remembers. That was really me. 

It is that self, which was maintained through so many 'bodies' and situation which will be maintained through the transformation of biological death - and will remain.

But what then? What happens to the self when the body has not just changed, but died? It continues in some way, but how?

The tendency is for the self to lose its consecutiveness; its memory and its continuity; to break up into mere awareness of the moment. We have an inkling of this from some dreams, from recollection of descending into delirium... of losing grip on the situation, or our sense-of-being falling-apart; that perplexity, slippery-confusion-angst as we cannot recall how things became as they are, or what we are supposed to do. 

(We may see exactly this in demented people - as reality, purpose, their situation is always slipping away from them.)

This situation seems to be the 'natural', spontaneous fate of the self - called by the ancients names including Sheol and Hades. The self survives biological death to become a witless, demented ghost who does not remember who he is; merely reactive; incapable of purpose and choice. 

(The process of dying is the dwindling of the self towards this state.) 

Death is the state of mere-being, without memory, aware only of the instant now.

This state of Sheol/ Hades is what Jesus called death; it is what he came to save-us-from. Jesus is our saviour from the death that is mere-being of the self. 

We are saved from death by following Jesus. How can this 'following' be imagined? 

All will encounter Jesus after death, and before the dissolution of the self into a witless ghost. 

What is preventing immediate dissolution of the self? God does that  - God the creator - by divine creative power. If we love God; then we allow God to stop the dwindling to nothing, allow God to sustain our-self in a state in which we retain our memory, purpose etc. 

So we remain able to choose. 

We could imagine this choosing as meeting Jesus in a dream; and, as in a dream, we will know that it is Jesus. We realise that Jesus is present with us. And then we decide. 

So, instead of dwindling to mere-being; we will recognise Jesus, and will remember and know what he is offering us: resurrected life eternal in Heaven. And we decide whether to follow him to this everlasting life; or not. 

If we choose to follow Jesus - what then? It is the continual presence of Jesus that will guide us through the transformation of resurrection. It is the continual presence of Jesus that enables resurrection - and for this to happen we must actively wish for this transformation - which transformation is permanent and entails rebuilding from the remnant self wholly in the basis of love

If we cannot love, if we reject love, or if we want something else - then we will choose Not to follow Jesus. Indeed we cannot follow Jesus unless we are prepared to make a permanent and irreversible commitment to live only by love; to become forever incapable of not loving. 

As I implied earlier; if someone loves God, but does not want to follow Jesus (e.g. perhaps a theist but not a Christian) - he will Not be transformed. Instead he will remain in the state of consecutiveness of consciousness; being maintained thus by ongoing divine creation. He will be sustained in awareness wholly by God - thus aware only of himself and of God. 

This is the state sometimes called Nirvana; a blissful state of current awareness of God's love and of being in the state of loving God - an eternal now; without memory and without purpose. A passive state. 

Not mere being; but a state of being 'in' love. 

What of Hell? The demons themselves do not die, since they are never incarnated spirits. But what of the ex-Men in Hell: those selves who were once Men but have been through biological death?  

I suppose Hell to be the choice to prevent the dissolution of the self by continual infusion of life energy. So, instead of becoming a witless, demented ghost in the state of Sheol/ Hades; the self is maintained in this world, 'animated', energized by demonic actions. 

Divine creation is primary - it is (as we see it) something from nothing. It is originative and primary - adds to reality. Creation is the opposite of entropy. But creation entails love (in a crude sense, creation requires love). 

So, those who cannot love, or reject love, cannot creation.  

Since demons cannot create, they are bound by entropy

That life-energy that sustains continuity, memory and purpose is continually being used-up, needs continual replacement - like fuel in a car. 

Replacement life-energy to sustain a dead-self functionally-above the level of Sheol must therefore be taken from living beings, for example from living Men. 

The process is not creative but parasitic, vampiric. The sustaining life-energy is extracted from one being and redirected into another; just as we consume the energy of coal to warm ourselves when otherwise we would freeze. 

Crudely, one lives because another dies; one dies that another may live - but (because of entropy) only temporarily. 

The Hellish economy is therefore based upon destruction of energy. While Heaven grows as love grows; Hell is always shrinking. 

Hell's intent is to retain functional life without love of God. Hell maintains control of its denizens by the threat of death - if life-energy is not infused (by demonic action), the damned soul will to revert to the insensibility of Sheol. 

Thus the economy of Hell is one of mutual exploitation, of 'dog-eat-dog' - one ex-Man survives only at the price of another Man being consumed (either consumed partially, or - eventually - consumed wholly). 

...Until only one remains - and he will then inevitably die. 

In the end, all will die; so life in Hell is a deferral of ultimate death - the ever more frantic desire to live a little longer, to be the last to die.

In conclusion. When we die biologically, our self will survive; but the state of that self is a matter of choice. And the choices seem to be fourfold: Heaven eternally, Nirvana, Hell - en route to Sheol, or Sheol and the extinction of self awareness. 

In a deep sense, after death we get what we want. And what is that?  

From what most people are saying nowadays, it seems that Heaven is currently the least popular of these destinations - Sheol-direct (i.e. perceived death, annihilation, cessation of all awareness of the self) perhaps the most sought-after. 

And the other two possibilities of Nirvana and Hell, maybe ranking somewhere in between?  

Just a guess... 


Sean G. said...


"All will encounter Jesus after death, and *before* the dissolution of the self into a witless ghost."

I recall that you had written about following Christ *from* a demented state and that Jesus was quite literally a shepherd that we could follow if we recognized and loved him (presumably without the possibility of deliberative thinking.)

Quote from you: "What is led? The soul, after death. But why does it need to be led - why can't it find its own way to salvation? Because after death the soul becomes 'helpless', lacks agency - like a young child, a ghost, a sheep.

If unable to help itself, how then can the soul follow Jesus? Because - like a young child, or sheep - the dead soul still can recognise and love; and 'follow'."


Is this a departure from that idea? This is a very intriguing topic.

The closest I can relate to a witless ghost is in dreams or when waking in the night during slow wave sleep. For over a decade it was not an unusual occurrence for me to awaken in the night suddenly terrified of death. It was a very witless, base feeling that disappeared quickly as I gathered my senses. After my belief and trust in Christ grew from abstract to something real (thanks in no small part to shattering the SuperGod Delusion), it never happened again.

I'm wondering if this isn't a better indication of where we stand then our carefully articulated thoughts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Sean - All such accounts of theology are super-simplified models of a reality consisting of billions of unique individuals across vast eras of time.

But sometimes a clear model can provide a breakthrough in understanding, after which it may be discarded.

That's certainly the way my own understanding has grown - by zig-zags not by a cumulative progression. Only after something has been clearly stated can it be evaluated and corrected.

I'd say this post has some intuited truths that were original to me, joined with 'manufactured filler' - but I can't yet clearly distinguish them: that's the way it goes with such matters.

Sean G. said...

@Bruce I understand and I didn't mean to put you on the spot. I just noticed your emphasis on *before* and wondering if you had some new insight there.

Bruce Charlton said...

@S - I suppose I now find it hard to reconcile the full Sheol state of self, with a capacity to recognise anyone - even Jesus.

TonguelessYoungMan said...

What of the Mohammedans "paradise"?

Bruce Charlton said...

In general - I think that adherents of religions *broadly* get what their religions promise - or the subjective experience of it - insofar as this does not impinge against others.* That would seem to be what a loving God would aim to do for his children.

*It is striking that no religion offers a universal, unconditional ecstasy/ paradise/ Heaven - and many offer a very bleak post-mortal future - suggesting a basic honesty.

David Earle said...

Slightly off topic, but how do you think the Rapture plays into this? Is Jesus returning physically or spiritually? Will believers suddenly start to die from natural causes? Mandated genocide? Miraculous ascension to Heaven? Will it be obvious to everybody still living that the Rapture has taken place or would it be explained-away like everything else?

Bruce Charlton said...

@isl - Because I regard the Fourth ('John') Gospel as the first and most authoritative by far - I do not believe there is (or will be) a 'second coming' of Jesus.

Jesus accomplished everything he set-out to achieve, and thus there is nothing for a second coming to do.

I presume that the mistaken notion of a second coming was developed by the Jews who expected the Messiah to be another David, and set up an independent earthly kingdom of the Jews - and therefore Jesus would need to come again to finish his earthly mission.

This seems to me to be missing the point in a big way (why should we, here, now - feel a need to get enmeshed in interpreting the minutiae of ancient Jewish prophecy?). This blocks a proper understanding of the simple reality of what Jesus actually did - which was bring us the possibility of eternal resurrected life in Heaven, as is made clear in the Fourth Gospel.

John irwin said...

Dr. Charlton, based upon your comments in this article, what do you suppose occurs to the souls of people who are born with and who live their entire lives with physical and/or mental, psychological deficiences, or who develop these things during their lives?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JI - I regard each person as having an unique destiny - in the sense that there are certain things that people need to experience and learn from in their mortal lives. After all, most people in history have died shortly after conception, in the womb, at birth or shortly after birth.

To be born with some particular pathology is an all-but universal human experience. What a particular pathology means for a specific person is not knowable from general principle - it does not need to be knowable. What matters is whether that person learns what is most necessary from their actual experience - in terms of the eternal outcome of resurrection.

See today's post for a fuller answer.

John irwin said...

Dr. Charlton, I woke up this morning wondering if you might reply to my question but before coming to this answer I read today's post which did address my questions. Thanks for answering it.