Tuesday 4 October 2022

Problems with double-negative theology and the idea of being 'purged' from sin

I have often commented on the deep problems with the double-negative theology in mainstream Christianity. 

It is double-negative because it regards the problem of this life as sin, and the work of Jesus Christ as purging us of this sin - of removing this sin from us. 

This mortal life is therefore conceptualized negatively, as dominated by sin; and Jesus's work is the negation of this negative - i.e. removing sin, so that we can be resurrected into Heaven: a double-negative. 

This concept regards Heaven as a perfection, and mortal Men as imperfect due to sin; so we cannot enter Heaven until we are ridded of sin - and that is what Jesus made possible. 

So, by one means or another (and this means differs between Christian denominations), before we get to Heaven we go through a process whereby sin is removed (purged) from us, and what is left-over is wholly-good, and therefore we are allowed to enter Heaven.

To enter Heaven is understood as a willingness to undergo this purgation, this 'amputation' of our sinful elements.   

I find many problems with this set of ideas - which boil down to this concept being an implicit an assertion of the idea that God (the Creator and our loving Father) has put us into a sinful world, ourselves being riddled with sin; and that to reach Heaven we must have this sin stripped out from us - implying that what is allowed into Heaven is an incomplete version of ourselves... 

(Indeed, perhaps, for very sin-full people, there will not be much of ourselves remaining, by the time we are suitable for Heaven.)

The purpose of this mortal life - according to such theology - is to reject sin: a negative purpose.  

I find this kind of behaviour - imputed to God - incompatible with him being a loving Father; who might have created things differently and better.

And I find the idea of this mortal life as a negative motivation (against sin, which sin is against-God) both inadequate and somewhat repugnant. It points at the via negativa - a life of rejection that amounts to life turned-against life.

Whereas I feel in my heart (and from the example of Jesus Christ, who was incarnate, active, positive), that this mortal life is - or ought to have - a positive purpose. We ought to be able to become better through our living (experiencing and learning), rather than merely 'avoiding becoming worse'.   

Instead, I see 'sin' as essentially meaning 'death' (which is clear from the Fourth Gospel) - and also the other forms of anti-creative innate corruption and decay that lead up to death (and which modern physics terms entropy). 

Sin in this sense, is the severing of our souls from our bodies at death - and it is this 'death' which Jesus overcame himself, and made possible for those who followed his path. 

Sin, more broadly, is a turning-away from what God desires from us. And a turning-away is not dealt with by purgation but by turning us in the right direction - permanently!

In other words, the main thing that Jesus did is to bring the possibility of eternal life; and this life as a resurrection of our real selves, and with a body - destined for a Heaven where all beings are turned in a direction in harmony with divine creation. 

All beings in Heaven have made an eternal commitment to God's creative goals. 

Rather than a purgation of all that is worst in our-selves; I see the work of Jesus in terms of an amplification of our-selves at their best

In this mortal life we find ourselves, intermittently and infrequently - turned in a Heavenly direction. So we know from experience what it is like to live in harmony with divine creation - to work with (rather than against) God.

(We also know what it is like to be turned-away from God and creation - what this feels like, where it leads; and we may learn something of how to overcome this turned-away state in ourselves) 

To prepare us for life in Heaven is therefore something like making it possible for us to stay permanently turned in the direction of Heaven and Creation, in permanent harmony with God's creative will. 

For this to happen, we each must choose whether to allow it to happen. 

Do we want the best in ourselves to become our whole self - or not? 

(This naturally entails leaving-behind those things that can only be achieved by going against God and creation - but the positive reason is that we desire wholly to be our best selves; and because we want to dwell eternally in a situation where we can whole-heartedly and actively work for such goals.)

It is a matter of what we want, and what we want most

By analogy; if this mortal life is a walk; then it is a walk when we spin around: sometimes walking with God, sometimes off on a tangent, sometimes pushing against the direction of God. 

Those who choose to follow Jesus Christ, are those who value most - indeed, at root, deeply-value only - those times when they are walking with God (times when they are motivated by love, and participating in the work of divine creation). 

Those who choose Heaven are those who want to do this walking-in harmony with God and sharing God's goals all the time - because they value love and creativity above all else; and indeed these are ultimately the only things of mortal life that they truly, everlastingly value. 


Jacob Gittes said...

Thank you for this.
It makes me think about a woman/friend I've thought about a lot. A seemingly devout, conservative Christian woman. Very unhappy, and very depressed. When I told her recently that I felt we were here to learn lessons, at least partly, she became very angry, calling my view "new agey," and claiming that most New Agers are arrogant, always talking about "their evolution," and feeling superior.
I pointed out that arrogance was not restricted to New Agers, and that plenty of Christians suffer from that.
That, of course, didn't help.
She seems to be in despair of learning anything, saying, "How many lifetimes would it even take to learn these lessons?" She implied that she would make her only focus "serving God's will" and avoiding sin.
To me, that was such a bleak outlook, with its sole focus on the double-negative of avoiding sin, with no space for joyful creativity, that I recall shuddering.

The lessons I learned was that some Christians are in a pit of despair so deep that they find the idea of positive, creative learning about the divine to be offensive and irritating.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JG - I think the difficulty is that this double-negative conceptualization came into Christianity very early - perhaps because it is compatible with Neo-Platonism; and perhaps because of the lack of influence of the Fourth Gospel (which seems - from internal evidence - either not to have been known to the authors of the rest of the New Testament, or to have been ignored for some reason).

Therefore, the first and core thing that most churches teach about Jesus is that he came to save us from our sins - rather than to bring us everlasting resurrected life.

(Mormonism has been something of an exception to this - but that didn't emerge until from 1830, and is widely mocked and/or despised by most mainstream Christians.)