Monday 31 July 2023

What happens after death to those who reject resurrection?

What happens after death to those who reject resurrection? 

I find this an endlessly fascinating question, and one I feel impelled to return to; especially when I remember to take into account that everybody is, ultimately, an unique individual; and there is no reason why all unique humans should fall into a fixed number of categories. 

As I have often said; the first approximation is that what happens after death depends on what we want and choose. God "gives us what we want". 

But this applies primarily to our subjective experience after death - i.e. it is our post-mortal subjective experience that God gives us. 

So that those who want not-to-exist, that is who want to have themselves annihilated (as is the case for many atheists), will have that experience of annihilation. 

In other words, they will cease to be aware of their own existence; despite that (as I assume) beings are eternal and cannot be annihilated (although they can and do change, transform).

Those do not want to be resurrected (and dwell in the state of Heaven); but want to remain self-aware as spirits; will (I think) get what they want. But then the question arises as to where they go as spirits, and what they do?  

Some spirits become demons, and return to earth to do that stuff. Others seem to reject leaving earth in the first place, and after death of the body voluntarily remain 'attached' to the material in some way as what we call ghosts

Others who choose to reject resurrection and remain as spirits; seem mainly to be motivated by a desire to avoid all suffering, to rule-out all negative experience - they seek 'peace', 'bliss', non-being yet not to the degree of annihilation of awareness. They often also seek a kind of universal awareness (oneness), of a contemplative and passive kind; such that ideally they want to experience everything as Good, but not intervene, and not create (because that would be to add something from oneself, and would imply that reality was ultimately incomplete). 

My guess is that they would gravitate towards some kind of impersonal and abstract communion with God the Creator; but not recognizing God as a person; instead regarding God as a deity - as abstract tendencies and properties. In other words, these souls would take the side of creation (and therefore oppose Satan and the demons) - but by regarding creation as an abstract direction. 

Such an idea lies behind Platonism, Neo-Platonism (and their descendants) and the Life Force (and other names) which was popular among some intellectuals of the late 19th, early 20th century; and was seen as embodying positive values such as consciousness, intelligence, creativity - but in an abstract and impersonal way that 'used' Beings, and ultimately would discard Beings such as to exist in a purely spiritual, immaterial, ideal way. 

Then there are those who choose to be reincarnated, for what are apparently quite a wide range of reasons. By their own accounts; some who choose reincarnation just don't want to die from mortal life, and therefore they just want to repeat the experience of living. While others seek further mortal experiences, with the hope of learning more by having different kinds of experience. 

Some would-be reincarnators apparently regard reality as a test; and each incarnation as imposed upon them; as punishment from failure or a challenge to do better. Such a reality/ universe may be unchanging - or else cyclical  

By contrast; from what is known of hunter-gatherer tribal peoples; they seem to want to be reincarnated within a known circle of beings that include humans (mostly genetic relatives) and also some kinds of animals - or maybe even other more remote kinds of being (what we would term' vegetable' or 'mineral'). 

This comes from a perspective that sees the world, reality, as a fixed thing within-which energies cycle and Beings transform, so there is never an exact repetition yet everything - overall- remains the same. 

I have classified people above, but my exact understanding is that individual persons may want individual outcomes. Within these many and various individual outcomes there is the great division between those who take the side of God and creation, and those who oppose them. 

Christians are those who both take the side of God and creation; and also choose resurrection into Heaven. So, this means that in principle there are (many) ways of being on the right side, but not being a Christian.

But that is in principle, and not in practice. In practice - it seems to me that people are lying to themselves, and trying to fool themselves on a massive scale. They are telling other people, and glibly reassuring themselves that Of Course they want X - yet their lives and opinions suggest that they really want something else altogether. 

In particular, it seems to me that extremely few people really want the Christian destination of resurrection into Heaven. 

We first need to be honest with ourselves about what we really want - in an unconscious and habitual way.

And then - having brought to conscious and explicit awareness what has previously been unconscious and implicit  - we further need to decide whether that is really what we want for our-selves - on a timescale of eternity

Sin often deceives us by short-termism, and selfishness; and the deception works by an unexamined and automatic assumption that what we want in the short term will be what we want forever; and by the assumption that gratifying our purely selfish pleasures and personally avoiding suffering, will suffice as an entire way of living.

With this situation, it is a very pure and ideal form of choice we will make - it is not a matter of what we can manage to achieve among the problems and limitations of mortal life. It is simply a decision. 

Decisions rely upon motivations, and motivations are a fact. In this mortal life, weak motivations are useless - our behaviours is a product of strong motivations.  

But in eternal life; we may choose to endorse and live by our weak motivations: this is part of the gift of Jesus Christ.

Jesus made it so that we can choose our weak motivations as the basis for eternal life. We may be (most people are) dominated by sinful motivations, by selfishness, hedonism, spitefulness... But we can choose to recognize these as sins and repent them; which means that we leave them behind at resurrection, discard them in order to enter the state of Heaven.   

This, then, is something we can do now, with some reasonable hope that it will effect our 'final' decision after death. We can see our situation clearly - both in terms of the possibilities, and in terms of our real selves, and across the open-ended timescale of eternity. 

The powers of evil, that are hostile to divine creation, operate by keeping us unconscious of such distinctions, by inducing people to regard their own here-and-now inclinations as the best guide to eternal choices. 

And then the powers of evil work (tirelessly, across many human generations) to fill our unconscious motivations and habits with a mish-mash of selfishness, impulsivity, hedonism, fear, resentment, despair and all manner of 'sins' which share the tendency to make that 'final', post-mortal choice one that will serve the agenda of evil - and not what would be best for us in an eternal timescale. 

So often in modern life, the crucial requirement is to become aware of that which is unconscious, and to understand matters from the proper and larger perspective - in a situation where the opposite is encouraged and enforced.  

Such a framework will then interact with our own individual real nature; such that it is hardly to be expected that everyone will make the same choice; or that everyone will choose resurrection. 

Yet it may be that many of the other choices are being made on the basis of misunderstandings, or of too short-termist and selfish a consideration; without adequate thought: that is, on the basis of wrong understandings, from incomplete and false information. 

God will - broadly speaking - give each Being what he wants after death: where 'wants' is understood in personal-experiential terms, and so that it does not interfere with the salvation choices of other Beings. 

Yet that question of "what we really want", includes considering whether we really want it; and whether it is really 'us' that wants

This is where our hard spiritual work ought to be focused - in terms of conscious clarification and truthful consideration. And this is something that cannot be imposed, only encouraged; but we can only do this voluntarily, by and for ourselves.  


agraves said...

Bruce, agree with all your points. However you have to ask yourself, what lies beyond my imagining or thinking beyond what to expect. What we want to happen in Spirit I think must contain that which we cannot know or even wish for. My idea of heaven or being with God and his angels will greatly change once I find myself in that environment, I suspect it will be infinitely greater.

Deogolwulf said...

'My guess is that they would gravitate towards some kind of impersonal and abstract communion with God the Creator; but not recognizing God as a person; instead regarding God as a deity - as abstract tendencies and properties. In other words, these souls would take the side of creation (and therefore oppose Satan and the demons) - but by regarding creation as an abstract direction.

'Such an idea lies behind Platonism, Neo-Platonism (and their descendants)'

What you say about Platonism is so at odds with what Platonism holds that I have to wonder how and why you have come (repeatedly) to say it. Platonism holds The One God to be the realest of the real, the furthest and freest from abstraction it is possible to be, and likewise all divine beings and souls to be real and no mere abstractions. Nor does any Platonist regard creation as a whole or any concrete creature in particular as an abstraction. You are confusing the epistemic with the ontic, and projecting this confusion onto those who do not make the error. Platonists (along with you, me, and everyone else) use abstraction to gain knowledge and understanding of things beyond immediate acquaintance or sense-experience. There is nothing untoward or tricksy about it, and to give up on it would not make us more personal but more bestial. Yet Platonists, appreciating the limits of abstraction and discursive reasoning, particularly of course in regards to the ineffable, also deeply appreciate myth and metaphor. Famously and even infamously so! There is even a rather Platonic myth-maker of whom both you and I are very fond: J.R.R. Tolkien. If you knew Platonism, especially that of Plutarch, you would know that Ainulindalë is a decidedly Platonic work.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - I think we agree, probably.

I don't think it can be all one thing or the other. What we think and do in this mortal life is clearly important; equally, it is not everything.

So we can't ignore there here-and-now - and rely on 'everything being sorted out' after we die. On the other hand, there Will be other factors at work when the decision is made.

William Wright (WW) said...

Assuming time cannot be rolled back and that choices have consequences, I do not believe any of us have the power to 'reject' resurrection. My understanding is that Jesus' resurrection gives him the power to draw all Men to him through their own resurrections... resurrection not being a choice now, but a consequence of being of the race of Men given what Jesus did. So, all who have chosen to be born as Men, have also chosen resurrection, whether they like it or not, or even know about it. Its a package deal: be born as a Man, be resurrected. Birth is the choice, resurrection is the result.

Consequently, I think the only beings who have any choice on the matter anymore are those who have not yet made the decision to born as Men, which obviously doesn't include us.

And while we may not be able to choose whether we are resurrected, we very much still have the power to choose the quality of that resurrection and the life that it leads to.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - I called myself a Platonist at one time - it is a broad term that goes far beyond what Plato said or believed. One who regards timeless and eternal reality as an ideal world of spirit, and seeks communion, or even oneness, with that ideal world - may count himself a Platonist.

@WW - I'm sure that must be wrong, because it amounts either to compulsion of will, or even denial of the reality of agency.

William Wright (WW) said...


I don't believe resurrection is any more an act of compulsion or a denial of agency than death itself.

One may choose all they want to not die, and complain when they are faced with it that their agency on the matter has been denied, but that is how it goes. It is a natural process we all must pass because we were born as Men. So it is with the resurrection also, I believe - it is just as natural as death (now, after Jesus), and something we will all experience because we have been born as Men.

Anyway, like I said, I think there was a choice in the matter, but that choice was in being born. Once that choice was made, one accepts all that comes with it, including death and resurrection.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WW - It seem to make sense, as well as to be stated in the Fourth Gospel, that resurrection means everlasting life in Heaven i.e. salvation.

I realize that orthodox Christians often believe that everybody is resurrected - like it or not - resurrected either into Heaven or Hell (this being the 'judgment') - but I think this was either an error or a later theological interpolation.

I think Jesus meant resurrection to be life everlasting and a Good Thing - and lack of resurrection to mean "death" which he seemed to equate with Hell and be a bad thing. I conclude that the only resurrection is into Heaven/ the Heavenly State.

Deogolwulf said...

It has never been a requirement of the Platonist that he must say or believe only what Plato said or believed. It is not a tradition of verbatim regurgitation. The field of Platonism is broad and fruitful, but there are nonetheless essential beliefs and concerns (or boundary-hedges, as it were), none of which has anything to do with this other thing you call ‘Platonism’, which apparently regards real actions and entities (including God) as ‘abstract tendencies and properties’. (Wouldn’t that be a mathematico-empiricistic or instrumental-scientistic view at odds with Platonism, even should it take its name?) Funnily enough, the accusation against Platonism usually goes the other way round: that it all-too-readily reifies. But if ‘Platonism’ is not one awful thing, it’s another! As is to be expected. Platonism is radically opposed to modernism, to the whole complex of naturalism, materialism, atheism, empiricism, scientism, relativism, nominalism, and irrationalism, and so we should expect every kind of slander and "everyone-knows" kind of rumour against it. (Popper and Rorty are the two most prominent examples of anti-Platonists in recent times.) The enemy it faces is not concerned with truth, nor with the divine, but rather with the demonic.

Anyway, I shall leave you with Plutarch on the subject of Morgoth’s Ring:

‘The fact is that it is impossible for anything bad whatsoever to be engendered where God is the Author of all, or anything good where God is the Author of nothing [...]


‘For if it is the law of Nature that nothing comes into being without a cause, and if the good cannot provide a cause for evil, then it follows that Nature must have in herself the source and origin of evil, just as she contains the source and origin of good.
‘The great majority and the wisest of men hold this opinion: they believe that there are two gods, rivals as it were, the one the Artificer of good and the other of evil. There are also those who call the better one a god and the other a daemon [...]’

Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 369A-E, in Moralia, Vol. V, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936), pp. 109-11. [Bear in mind that daemon usually means a lesser god or powerful spirit, not necessarily evil, though in this case it is.]

‘The fact is that the creation and constitution of this world is complex, resulting, as it does, from opposing influences, which, however, are not of equal strength, but the predominance rests with the better. Yet it is impossible for the bad to be completely eradicated, since it is innate, in large amount, in the body and likewise in the soul of the Universe, and is always fighting a hard fight against the better.’

Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 371A, in Moralia, Vol. V, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936), p. 120.