Monday 3 April 2023

How did so many people (including far too many Christians) get the idea that Christians regard this mortal life as unimportant?

The truth is that Christianity (properly understood!) says that this mortal life is of vital importance - and this importance derives-from the destination of personal, resurrected eternal life. 

But the idea that this temporary and sin-ridden mortal life is unimportant apparently entered Christianity very early; and I believe it came along with the idea that salvation is only available by means of each Christian adhering to stringent behavioural criteria (e.g. and especially, membership of and obedience to the requirements of The True Church). 

I regard this kind of (de facto) anti-Christian Pharisee-ism as ultimately a consequence of some early decisions to make (the one true) Church an essential mediator between each Man and Salvation; without which damnation was the default. 

It never was metaphysically essential for Christians to be obedient Church-obeyers; but there was a practical reason why churches became regarded as essential - which was that human individuality was much less in the early years (probably at least 3/4 of the years) of Christian history. 

Since individual Christians were essentially communal and social beings; in practice they had-to be Christians via churches.

But now, humans are individuals (like it or not) and it is not just possible but unavoidable that we each take personal responsibility for our faith, and behaviours. We can no longer obey external authority (such as churches) spontaneously and unconsciously; and we should not try to do so - precisely because we now Can take personal responsibility.

(*In particular, it is overdue that Christians ceased to spend their lives circling around-and-around a perpetual and unassuageable worry about their own salvation, sometimes returning to this theme every time they pray, like a hamsters trapped a wheel - or, worse, like being chained to a never-stopping treadmill of pleading, propitiation and rumination on the same theme. Read again the Fourth Gospel - is there the slightest indication that Jesus wanted us to live this way?) 

I am confident that the original teaching of Jesus Christ was that anyone who truly desires resurrected eternal life in Heaven can have it, after our physical death; through the simple means of following The Good Shepherd who will guide us to that destination; and - at that time - doing whatever is required of us to follow Him. 

This means that salvation is Not A Problem for those who want it, and 'believe-on' Jesus as The Way to achieve it. 

The difficult thing may be getting people to want it, or to believe the claims of Jesus as The Way - although the Truth about Jesus should become apparent after death, to anyone who really wants resurrection. 

When salvation ceases to be our primary concern; then we can and should focus on living well this mortal life; which (in a nutshell) means learning from the teachings, the life-lessons, that God the Creator will provide for each of us during the time He sustains this life. 

In other words; the importance of this mortal life is learning from it; and such lessons are important only because they have relevance to us (personally) for eternity. 

...After all, mortal life-lessons are not very important for someone whose individuality is extinguished by death - such as atheists on the one hand, and on the other those who believe the individuality is dissolved into 'the divine' after death. 

Far from Christians regarding this mortal life as un-important; Christians are just about the only people who regard this life as genuinely important: as vitally important, everlastingly important; and important to both the individual and all the other 'inhabitants' of Heaven.   

(*Note added - see above)


The Social Pathologist said...

But the idea that this temporary and sin-ridden mortal life is unimportant apparently entered Christianity very early

After reading extensively on this subject, I believe that this state of affairs came about as a result of human cognitive biases being applied to the Christian faith. People are dumb. It a small step from Augustinianism to Platoism to Manicheanism. "Purity" culture pushes strongly towards abstraction and the immaterial.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - In other words, you assume that modern Western people, and ancient Hebrews and Romans, are essentially identical in their way of relating to the world and each other. Man is the same, always and everywhere; including Man's cognitive 'biases'...

(Biased compared with what? Dumb compared with what?)

But I assume that we are different from them, in significant ways - which can be seen in all we know of language, culture, science etc. I assume that they experienced life differently from us, thought differently, their world was different. We can *imagine* this, but it is not what drives us.

The Social Pathologist said...


In other words, you assume that modern Western people, and ancient Hebrews and Romans, are essentially identical in their way of relating to the world and each other.

I think that the modern West does not relate to the world in the same way as the ancients did. There is clearly a loss of the sense of the supernatural in the modern world. This loss of "enchantment" as Charles Taylor would argue has many causes which is beyond the scope of this comment.

What I'm saying is that human nature is predisposed to certain cognitive biases which lead to repetitive errors in thinking. When people start getting "spritual" they downplay the material eventually starting to despise it.

GK Chestertons book on St Thomas Aquinas puts forward the notion that Aquinas, with his emphasis on the goodness of the material, was an antidote to some of the manichaeism that had crept in with Augustine. i.e. the Church needs to consistently reassert that the world is good when asceticism goes wrong.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - Fair enough. Yet, I would say that this problem in orthodox/ classical Christianity is related to the inability to give a reason why we are incarnated, why we have bodies rather than being spirits; and further why we are resurrected after death, rather than becoming spirits. This seems to me an important question - and one that arises naturally nowadays given our knowledge of Hinduism and Buddhism in which the spirit is regarded as straightforwardly higher and better than bodies/ 'matter'.

Mormonism gives a clear answer - which is that we begin as pre-mortal spirits, and must have mortal bodies en route to our eternal resurrected bodies. But by the Mormon understanding, God is not-omnipotent, so it is understandable that we can reach incarnation only by going through certain steps.

But still we need an explanation for why embodiment is superior to the spirit state. Mormons say it is to do with freedom (and that God the Father is also, naturally, incarnate) - and I think this is true, but incomplete. We need to understand how it is that incarnation enables greater freedom.


But the problem I was highlighting (or trying to highlight) was meant to be the excessive/ exclusive focus on salvation; and the inability therefore to look beyond - indeed a superstitious fear of 'taking salvation for granted' on the basis that this, of itself, will ensure damnation.

Part if this is that normal Christian theology really does not have much to say about the basic reason For this mortal life - except a double-negative theology on the lines that we need to undo the effects of the Fall. The result of the Fall has (supposedly) been that Men are 'default-damned' - and so go to Hell unless salvation is 'achieved'.

This set-up for mortal life naturally creates a climate of fear - which is then wide-open to exploitation.

Yet it seems clear that Jesus did Not want Men to live in fear, and quite the opposite - which suggests that this 'undoing the fall'/ default-damnation idea of what Jesus did for us was a mistaken interpretation.

Again from the Gospels (especially Fourth) I gather that Jesus brought positive and additional good, an addition to life. he came to save those who followed Him from actual death (in His contemporary terms, from Sheol - the discarnate, ghostly, demented state in which, it seems, all the Jews expected to find themselves after biological death).

That's why I regard the Good Shepherd as the essence of Jesus's teaching - He was telling us that all we needed to do was recognize and follow Him.

Many Christians believe that such an attitude would be interpreted as meaning Christians can 'do what they like' (i.e. sin without worry) - but that assumes that people don't *really* intend and expect to follow Jesus, and renounce all sin in order to attain resurrection into Heaven.

This attitude seems to assume we are sitting some kind of exam in which it is possible to cheat - whereas we ourselves will decide whether or not we follow Jesus to Heaven. The problem with unrepentant sinning is not that God will 'exclude' us from Heaven, but that - after voluntarily choosing to corrupt our-selves by the denial and inversion of sin - we ourselves will not want Heaven at the time it comes to choose.

The problem with a life of deliberate sinning is that we will (in the end) voluntarily (and self-righteously) exclude our-selves from Heaven.

This is seen all around us as an everyday observation. The mass of modern people would refuse Heaven if they saw it plainly in front of them; because they have come to regard virtue as vice and sin as Good - and they would recoil with revulsion from the opportunity (which Jesus made for us, by his life/ death/ resurrection) eternally to renounce all evil.

The Social Pathologist said...


There's a lot there to comment on and expand on.

Genesis teaches us that the the the Created "fleshy" world was considered good by God.
Therefore the archetypical "form" of man is hylomorphic i.e a composite of Spirit and Flesh. Any renewal of the world, after the resurrection is going therefore be a restoration of the original state.

"and one that arises naturally nowadays given our knowledge of Hinduism and Buddhism in which the spirit is regarded as straightforwardly higher and better than bodies/ 'matter'. "

Well.....this the position of the Manichees and was seen as a heresy.

Yet it seems clear that Jesus did Not want Men to live in fear

I agree. He isn't a "hanging judge" though many would like to paint Him so. I mean the whole thing about his Passion is just how far he is prepared to go to save us. Furthermore, his sacrifice means that we are not "default damned". I think people lose sight of this fact. God WANTS to save us. But... I think he also wants us to put some effort in, not simply sit back and take things for granted. He is not permissive but He is understanding.

Scripture teaches that Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. This is a point that gets downplayed a lot in modern theology. I've never bought into the theory that the gates to Hell are locked from the inside. I think that God actively casts people into Hell who deserve to go there. Divine wrath cannot be explained away. I think a lot of the pain of Hell comes from the sense of loss than men experience once God rejects them. I have no doubt that when staring at the face of God, all else will be as nothing. The pleasure of this world will pale at it and men will more acutely desire beatitude when exposed to it. The real pain comes with being kicked out of its presence.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - Well, as your comments confirm to me - Orthodox theology tries to have things both ways; which is almost inevitable given that (as I have often explained) the underlying metaphysics doesn't hold together, or, rather pulls in opposite directions... At least, at the 'common sense' level which is the one that really matters.

For me this is not good enough, and therefore the situation (as described by classical theology) Must Be being-misunderstood.

The Social Pathologist said...


Legitimate question: In what way does orthodox Christianity want it "both ways"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - Innumerable ways I have pointed out ad nauseam on this blog, but which are blandly denied or 'explained' with bewildering abstractions, or as 'mysteries'.

This is something each must discover, and resolve, for himself.