Sunday, 12 December 2010

Changes in thought concerning the afterlife...

Every time I do this I end up apologising. I have a habit of declaring that I don't normally post things from Facebook discussions, yet I keep doing it. This time I won't apologise, as this is a good place for me to put this in order to refer back to it. Not long ago I was having a discussion about Heaven and Hell, when someone asked me to explain how my own views have changed. I was quite pleased with my impromptu description, so here it is, from two posts:

I think my original views of Heaven and Hell (ill thought out) were that they were some ethereal or torturous state of being after life; I likely thought nothing more or less (except perhaps that Hell was absence of God). I then moved on to the whole "we must bring Heaven here" view, believing that it can be a state here on Earth; I have not jettisoned this view, though I do think it is limited in scope despite its importance.

I think I then went on to see Heaven as "a joining in eternal spiritual being with God - a blissful state of fulfilled potential". At the same time my views of Hell flip flopped from Universalism (the naive kind which rejects Hell altogether) to believing that Hell was non-existence, to sometimes believing that Hell was "a state of being akin to self-pity, resentment and malice - self imposed and in denial of God".

I then started to explore the idea of the new creation and found that it made more sense, but that Heaven and Hell seemed very different. Heaven makes more sense as simply God's place, God's 'dimension'; we can, in a sense, bring it to Earth and that is what is intended, not for us to go there. At that time I began to like the idea of panentheism as eschatological fulfilment, where God truly becomes all in all and does not hold back His presence (there is no kenotic self-limiting). With this in mind Heaven and Earth meet in the new creation, but Hell is still tricky, unless you take an Orthodox view that Hell is being an unrepentant sinner fully in the presence of God (it is worth noting that God's omnipresence does not mean He acts the same everywhere; His actions may be manifested in different ways).

With this as a position it does not seem so outrageous to take a universalistic position, with Hell as a temporary state in the new creation, perhaps one we all partake in (I do not wish to use the term 'purgatory' as it has too many connotations). Hell is not ignored, but is a necessity to reach the Heavenly state in the new creation. The bringing about of the new creation began with Christ and is carried out through us until we reach another point of singularity wherein God achieves His end.

As for the main intention of this thread, I cannot say what the new creation will be like. Symbols in Revelation and other books lead me to believe that chaos is vanquished and death defeated, but that tells us little and I have not looked into it in much depth.

I may be missing a view or two I once held, as they jumped around so frivolously at times.

Part 2:

It just occurred to me that my description of my changing views with regards to the afterlife is incomplete. A key philosophical change is missing, one which underlies one of the main trends in my changing beliefs. With regards to anthropology I began with a substance dualist understanding of what constitutes a human; a common view which I had not yet questioned. I did not know what a soul was, a fact which made me uncomfortable for a while, until I was able to explore it in more detail.

With a dualist anthropology it is easy to imagine some part of us detaching and going on to an afterlife. Seeing Heaven as "joining in eternal spiritual being" is not a difficult concept to grasp from this perspective. The new creation can also fit with this anthropology, as it sees the souls becoming reunited with their bodies, ready for new life on the new Earth.

When I eventually addressed the nature of the soul my anthropology shifted to Christian monism (which is also sometimes referred to as theistic monism, holism, Hebraic monism and dual aspect monism). It is an anthropological view, not to be muddled with the cosmological view (which I do hold, but is also too easily muddled with the more metaphysically materialist monism which denies the supernatural altogether). A human is one substance, a whole, though can be viewed in many ways. From a biological perspective we are a collection of interdependent cells organised into organs which function in systems; from a theological perspective we are souls - spiritual wholes created by God. Christian monism, unlike a materialist monism, requires this spiritual and theological perspective.

When monism is accepted the idea of part of us detaching and going "somewhere else" stops making sense. The only afterlife possibilities which make sense are full body resurrection or non-existence.

A couple of tangents (not aimed at____)...

1) In the new creation it seems that natural creative processes may come to an end, after all, the creative processes we witness require a balance of chaos and law. As Revelation hints at chaos finally being defeated (Genesis and other texts show that it is currently present, though subdued) then creative processes as we know them will cease to be. Spiritual processes, however, may continue, allowing for the idea that one can continue one's spiritual journey in the new creation (echoes of Dante's Divine Comedy?).

2) Timing - if God truly wants all and His love knows no bounds, then does it not follow that the timing of the end will be in the far distant future (billions of years) perhaps when the universe, through natural processes, changes state? (A "Big Crunch" for example.)

3) The concept of self is one which can heavily influence whether we see Salvation as universal or restricted. If I am an individual, as the competitive modern western world would have me believe, then this question of Salvation remains open. However, if the concept of individual is an illusion and a person is a person only through other people, then in order for this "me" to achieve Salvation all others must be present too.


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