Heaven, Hell, Immortality
The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Black Garnett, trans. (Modern Library: 1977), p. 244.
It's not that I don't accept God, you must understand, it's the world created by Him I don't and cannot accept. Let me make it plain. I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they've shed; that it will make it not only posible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men — but though all that may come to pass, I don't accept it. I won't accept it.
Mark Johnston (Princeton University Press: Dec 31, 2009), 408 pages.
In this extraordinary book, Mark Johnston sets out a new understanding of personal identity and the self, thereby providing a purely naturalistic account of surviving death. Death threatens our sense of the importance of goodness. The threat can be met if there is, as Socrates said, "something in death that is better for the good than for the bad." Yet, as Johnston shows, all existing theological conceptions of the afterlife are either incoherent or at odds with the workings of nature. These supernaturalist pictures of the rewards for goodness also obscure a striking consilience between the philosophical study of the self and an account of goodness common to Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism: the good person is one who has undergone a kind of death of the self and who lives a life transformed by entering imaginatively into the lives of others, anticipating their needs and true interests. As a caretaker of humanity who finds his or her own death comparatively unimportant, the good person can see through death. But this is not all. Johnston's closely argued claims that there is no persisting self and that our identities are in a particular way "Protean" imply that the good survive death. Given the future-directed concern that defines true goodness, the good quite literally live on in the onward rush of humankind. Every time a baby is born a good person acquires a new face. ~ Product Description
A while back Bradley Monton invited his friend and colleague, Nicole Hassoun, to post an incipient sketch of an argument against the existence or goodness of the Christian God. The basic thrust of her concern is as follows: "Perhaps I have the story wrong, ... but it seems to me that several things are true of love. First, if I love someone, I cannot believe that that person deserves eternal suffering. ... Second, when someone I love is hurt, that hurts me. I could not be perfectly happy if someone I loved was suffering for eternity. I cannot even conceive of such a thing. But then it seems there is a problem. For, I could be saved while someone I love is not saved. Then I could be perfectly happy in heaven while a person I love is burning in hell. But if I love someone, I cannot even think this is possible. So I should not, if I love, believe in this kind of Christianity. It could not be right unless my love would disappear at the gates of heaven (or some such) and why, I wonder, would that be? Wouldn´t it be better if heaven had my love in it? Wouldn’t I be happier in love?" My own cursory, and incipient, response follows...
"An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man" in This I Believe (1950).
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious — the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a god who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with the awareness of — and glimpse into — the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.
Henry Drummond (1851-1897)
By far the most original thing here is the simple conception of Heaven as a City. The idea of religion without a Church — "I saw no Temple therein" — is anomalous enough; but the association of the blessed life with a City — the one place in the world from which Heaven seems most far away — is something wholly new in religious thought. No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. The Greek, if he looked forward at all, awaited the Elysian Fields; the Eastern sought Nirvana. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands — passivities more or less aimless. Even to the majority among ourselves Heaven is a siesta and not a City. It remained for John to go straight to the other extreme and select the citadel of the world's fever, the ganglion of its unrest, the heart and focus of its most strenuous toil, as the framework for his ideal of the blessed life. ~ Excerpt
Stephen King on the Afterlife said...
"Stephen King's God Trip" by John Marks, at Salon.com (October 23, 2008), p3.
I'm not sure there is an afterlife. OK. If there is one, here's what I think it is. I think it's whatever you think you're going to get. Those suicide bombers, if they really believe that they are going to wind up in heaven with 71 virgins, yeah, that's probably what they're going to get in the afterlife. This is sort of predicated on the idea that there's a part of your mind programmed to create the way that dreams are created what you've been expecting to kind of ease you out of this life. Think of it this way. I think of the brain as this great, big, crenelated library with many rooms, billions and billions of books, rooms without number, but at the very end of all those rooms, there's a little tiny box that says "pull lever in case of emergency," because that's the door out, and when you go out, you get pretty much what you expected, because some chemical in your brain is programmed to give you that particular dream at the very end. If you're expecting [H.P. Lovecraft's] Yogg Sothoth, there he'll be, along with the 900 blind fiddlers, or whatever it is.
The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Black Garnett, trans. (Modern Library: 1977), p. 254.
There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one of those men — somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then — who, retiring from the service into a life of leisure, are convinced that they’ve earned absolute power over the lives of their subjects. There were such men then. So our general, settled on his property of two thousand souls, lives in pomp, and domineers over his poor neighbours as though they were dependents and buffoons. He has kennels of hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred dog-boys — all mounted, and in uniform. One day a serf-boy, a little child of eight, threw a stone in play and hurt the paw of the general’s favourite hound. ‘Why is my favourite dog lame?’ He is told that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog’s paw. ‘So you did it.’ The general looked the child up and down. ‘Take him.’ He was taken — taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning the general comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog-boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are summoned for their edification, and in front of them all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the lock-up. It’s a gloomy, cold, foggy, autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The general orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry.... ‘Make him run,’ commands the general. ‘Run! run!’ shout the dog-boys. The boy runs.... ‘At him!’ yells the general, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his mother’s eyes!... I believe the general was afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates. Well — what did he deserve? To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of our moral feelings? Speak, Alyosha!
Bertrand Russell on Immortality said...
Religion and Science (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 108-09.
But in the present state of psychology and physiology, belief in immortality can, at any rate, claim no support from science, and such arguments as are possible on the subject point to the probable extinction of personality at death. We may regret the thought that we shall not survive, but is a comfort to think that all the persecutors and Jew-baiters and humbugs will not continue to exist for all eternity. We may be told that they would improve in time, but I doubt it.
"Truth Commissions and Judicial Trials" in The Provocations of Amnesty (New Africa Books: 2003) p. 69-70.
The agents of atrocities have a self-interest in keeping their acts invisible, buried, and publicly forgotten. The Nazis meant to plough under every death camp, and Himmler once consoled his SS cohorts that, while the German public would never know the full scope of their service to racial cleansing of the nation, they should always take pride in their work. In South African torture cells, the torturers taunted their victims with the prediction that, just as no one could hear their present screams, no one would remember them in the future either. The moral damages of amnesia are multiple: to victims, whose final indignity in survival or in death is to have their suffering forgotten; to perpetrators, whose moral health cannot be restored without confrontation of their immorality; and — not least — to a public that has every prudent self-interest in knowing enough about an evil past to be put on alert against its repetition.
Carol Zaleski on Dualism said...
First Things 105 (August/September 2000): 36-42.
As for dualism, much has been said of the violence it does to our unity as psycho-physical creatures, but this is questionable. Multiplicity and disunity are as strong a feature of our existence as psychosomatic unity. We are legion, as the demons say. It is a marvel that all our different parts work together. At best, we are a symphony; but the second violins have quarreled with the wind section, and as we age these quarrels increase. Why should it surprise us if at death the soul separates from the body? Separating is the order of our lives as we tend toward death. If a man's jowls can sink down while his brow stays up, why can't his soul rise up when his body sinks down? All of our flesh is being pulled downward by the gravity of the grave; every day our skin is sloughing off cell by cell; at each stage of life we slough off the skin of a previous stage; and at death we lose what was left of those skins. Perhaps that will be the chance to emerge as the person one was meant to be.
Carol Zaleski on the Afterlife said...
First Things 105 (August/September 2000): 36-42.
Although social surveys indicate that roughly 80 percent of Americans believe in life after death, it is a belief cherished against the grain of perceived official skepticism; and among academically trained religious thinkers, one finds a greater measure of skepticism than in the population at large. For many, immortality is not a matter for reasoned debate, but is simply ruled out of play, along with guardian angels and statues that weep. It is taken for granted, as if it were a premise accepted by all reasonable people, that no one seriously believes in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, in the life of the soul, the resurrection of the body, or the personality of God as the concrete realities they were once imagined to be.
Philip Yancey on Hell said...
"The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance" in Christianity Today (September 6, 1999), pg. 120
Still, I must insist that the most important question about heaven and hell — who goes where, whether there are second chances, what form the judgments and rewards take, intermediate states after death — are opaque at best. Increasingly, I am grateful for that ignorance and grateful that the God who revealed himself in Jesus is the one who knows the answers.
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers, 1993).
Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually-abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last "trick" whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the death-bed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust and raped the earth. "But how?" we ask. Then the voice says, "They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." There they are. There we are — the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith.
J.P. Moreland, Review: Self, God, and Immortality: A Jamesian Investigation by Eugene Fontinell, in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32 (June 1989), pp. 244-5.
This work is a technical monograph in pragmatist, process metaphysics. It seeks to answer this question: Given the inadequacies of materialism and classical dualism, can we still believe in personal immortality today? Fontinell answers with a tentative "yes" (in keeping with his pragmatism) by developing a doctrine of the self along Jamesian lines in two steps. Chapters 1-6 focus on the possibility of life after death, and chaps. 7-8 discuss the desirability of an afterlife.
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), 3.
If a thing makes no difference, it is a waste of time to think about it. We should begin, then, with the question, What difference does Heaven make to earth, to now, to our lives? Only the difference between hope and despair in the end, between two totally different visions of life, between "chance or the dance." At death we find out which vision is true: does it all go down the drain in the end, or are all the loose threads finally tied together into a gloriously perfect tapestry? Do the tangled paths through the forest of life lead to the golden castle or over the cliff and into the abyss? Is death a door or a hole?
Peter Kreeft on Heaven said...
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), 3.
To medieval Christendom, it was the world beyond the world that made all the difference in the world to this world. The Heaven beyond the sun made the earth "under the sun" something more than "vanity of vanities." Earth was Heaven's womb, Heaven's nursery, Heaven's dress rehearsal. Heaven was the meaning of the earth. Nietzsche had not yet popularized the serpent's tempting alternative: " You are the meaning of the earth." Kant had not yet disseminated "the poison of subjectivism" by his "Copernican revolution in philosophy," in which the human mind does not discover truth but makes it, like the divine mind. Descartes had not yet replaced the divine I AM with the human "I think, therefore I am" as the "Archimedean point," had not yet replaced theocentrism with anthropocentrism. Medieval man was still his Father's child, however prodigal, and his world was meaningful because it was "my Father's world" and he believed his Father's promise to take him home after death.
Life After Life (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), 21-25, 181-84.
Despite the wide variation in the circumstances surrounding close calls with death and in the types of persons undergoing them, it remains true that there b a striking similarity among the accounts of the experiences themselves. In fact the similarities among various reports are so great that one can easily pick out about fifteen separate elements which recur again and again in the mass of narrative that I have collected. On the basis of these points of likeness, let me now construe a brief, theoretically "ideal" or "complete" experience which embodies all of the common elements, in the order in which it is typical for them to occur. ¶ A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a low ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himself outside of his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval. ¶ After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a "body," but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before — a being of light — appears before him. This being asks him a question, nonverbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences.
Antony Flew on Hell said...
The Presumption of Atheism: God, Freedom, and Immortality, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1984), p. 84.
Now, if anything at all can be known to be wrong, it seems to me to be unshakably certain that it would be wrong to make any sentient being suffer eternally for any offence whatever.
"Death is Homecoming", in Jewish Reflection on Death, ed. Jack Riemer (New York: Schocken Books, 1974), 62.
Paradoxically, the problem of man arises more frequently as the problem of death than as the problem of life. It is an important fact, however, that unlike other Oriental religions, where the preoccupation with death was the central issue of religious thinking, the Bible rarely deals with death as a problem. There is no rebellion against death, no bitterness over its sting, no preoccupation with the afterlife. In striking contrast to its two great neighboring civilizations — Egypt with its intense preoccupation with the afterlife, and Babylonia with the epic of Gilgamesh who wonders in search of immortal life, the story of the descent of Ishtar, and the legend of Nergal and Ereshkigal — the Bible is reticent in speaking about these issue. The Hebrew Bible calls for concern for the problem of living rather than the problem of dying. It's central concern is not, as in the Gilgamesh epic, how to escape death, but rather how to sanctify life.