Why modern men don’t want to believe in heaven

The top branches of the other trees of the forest now peeped through the clouds; they, too, were growing, lifting themselves up to the sky, toward the sun.  Bushes and flowers followed; some of them had freed themselves from the earth and were flying…

“But where are the little blue flowers from the pond?” shouted the oak tree.  “And the red harebell and the little primrose?”  The old oak did not want anyone to be forgotten.

“We are here, we are here!” sang voices all around it.

“But the woodruff from last summer and all the lilies of the valley from the summer before that, where are they?  I remember the year when the wild apples bloomed so beautifully.  Oh, so much beauty do I recall through all the years of my life!  If it only were all alive now and could be with us!”

“We are, we are,” came cries from somewhere higher up; they must have flown there earlier.

“That is the most marvelous of all,” rejoiced the old oak tree.  “Everything that I have known is here.  Nothing has been forgotten, not the tiniest flower or the smallest bird.  How is such joy possible?  Where is such happiness conceivable?”

“In heaven it is possible,” sang the voices.

And the tree felt its roots loosen their grasp on the earth.

— from “The Old Oak Tree’s Last Dream” by Hans Christian Andersen

Modern readers are bound to be surprised at the prominence of heaven in so many of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories.  “The Little Match Girl” has a vision of being reunited with her grandmother in heaven, and this adds some hope to an otherwise harrowing story of a little girl slowly freezing to death.  “The Dead Child” comforts his grieving mother before returning to God in heaven.  “The Little Mermaid” wants to become a human because she is in love with a prince, but most of all so she can have an immortal soul and spend eternity with God.

Modern Christians are clearly embarrassed by the idea of eternal beatitude, but this was not the case for our ancestors.  Saint Augustine and his dying mother famously speculated on the joys of heaven.  Pascal in Pensee 427 expresses astonishment that anyone could fail to find our fate after death the most important of topics.  In contrast, the 20th century’s best-known apologetic work, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, mostly confines discussion of heaven to a small chapter near the end on the virtue of hope.  Lewis’ understanding of the desire for heaven is based on a rare sort of aesthetic experience, one I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced.  Anglican theologian N. T. Wright wrote a book attacking the idea of heaven in popular piety.  By the end of the 20th century, Christianity had returned to an Old Testament-style reticence about the afterlife.

Many atheists imagine that the promise of happiness after death is what attaches people to Christianity, that we put up with the metaphysics and the moral restrictions just so we can, as they would put it, cling to this absurd fantasy and avoid facing our mortality.  In many cases, my own included, it’s quite the reverse.  My continued existence after death is the one doctrine I can’t make myself really, viscerally believe.  I accept it for the sake of the others, the doctrines about God, morality, and the sacraments that really recommend themselves to me.  I certainly don’t look down on my ancestors for whom the hope of heaven was a natural part of their imaginative universe.  I would not even scorn what are deemed vulgar visions of heaven, ones that mostly involved being reunited with lost family and friends.  So many of our ancestors had to bury their own children.

In a sense, the atheists are right, and the Fathers of the Church would have agreed with them:  this situation is bizarre.  Of all the revealed truths one could downplay or discard, why turn against what should be the most attractive one?

Is it that modern people are materialists and can’t make sense of a “me” existing outside “my body”.  A few of us may struggle with this, but for most, Cartesian dualism is alive and well.  I know of many people, all self-consciously modern and scientific, who look forward to a day when the contents of men’s brains can be uploaded onto computers, and that by thus programming a computer to do a suitably convincing impression of his thoughts, a man will have in some meaningful sense have achieved immortality for himself.  Now, to my way of thinking, anyone who believes this might as well start attending seances and rattling tables, but then I tend to be more anti-dualist than most moderns.

More interesting is why people don’t want to believe in heaven.

In times past, one powerful appeal in the idea of an afterlife was that if we just cease to exist when we die, then this life is absurd and meaningless.  Today, I sense that more people have the reverse intuition, that a life after this one threatens to rob this one of its significance.

The acceptance of mortality–not only our own, but of everything we know–the realization that significance must be found in the face of impermanence, is the most forceful spiritual epiphany in the lives of many modern men.  Such sentiments are quite common; one can find them in popular movies and television shows.  Nor are they limited to atheists–and nor should they be, since there’s a great deal of truth in them.  Robert Spaemann, who has recently done good work for orthodox Catholicism battling the Kasperite heresy, expresses the insight well in his book Persons (which I reviewed here).

“Significance” is meaning “toughened” by he consciousness of finitude–by which is understood that it asserts itself in the face of death, and is thus emancipated from time.  To enjoy the company of a friend oer an evening meal with a glass of wine in the midst of beautiful scenery satisfies a number of elementary needs; entertainment for the eyes and palate, the presence of a trusted companion, the free flow of thought.  The meaning of what satisfies needs is, the first instance, relative to those needs and therefore radically contingent.  Now let us assume that this is a farewell meal in the expectation of death.  Life has come to an end, and with it all that makes such an occasion meaningful.  Soon everything will be as though it never was, and no memory will endure.  One could say that the whole thing hardly repays the effort…

But an alternative response is possible.  A different feeling might surface in the course of that last encounter, a sense of preciousness that lifts the occasion out of its contingency:  “It is good so!”  Such a feeling would not be threatened by the imminent end of life and the the meanings that derive from life, but would actually be awakened by it.  “It is good so!” does not mean “It is good for me now, but the good will disappear when I do.”  It means, “It is, and will remain, good that this fleeting moment occurred and that its significance is unveiled.”  Meaning, together with the feeling it engenders, is pulled out of the contingent and relocated in the timelessness of significance…

From the point of view of vital meaning, it is absurd if someone loses his own life in a fruitless attempt to save someone else’s.  The failure of the action robs it of the positive value it might have had as serving someone’s good.  In the event nobody’s interest was serve.  If we celebrate this deed all the same and honour its memory, that is because there is significance in the very fact that it occurred.  It was a fine deed, once such as serves to justify the world.  It will always be good that it occurred.  The leap from vital meaning to significance corresponds to the leap from present tense to future perfect…

With the anticipation of death the whole of life is shifted into the timeless dimension of the future perfect tense…Persons exist by having their lives as a significant, and therefore precious, possession.  Anticipation of the end penetrates life to its innermost core.  It confers on us an experience of the significance of things which the “bad infinite” of temporal immortality would shatter, since if nothing were precious, nothing could be significant.  If anything done once could be repeated endlessly, indefinite anticipation would suffocate every human relation from the word go, for our relations are those of finite beings.  There could be no promising “forever”; there could be no promising at all, in fact, to engage our whole existence and bring our freedom to its height, if “forever” did not mean “till death”.  Anticipating death puts us in the position to relate to our lives as a whole, the position in which we have our life.  And that is how persons exist.

Even Christians feel we must distinguish the object of our hope from “temporal immortality”, meaning our ideas of heaven and hell must be very different from continued life in an ordinary sense, from an infinite sequence of post-life events.  I admit that I find the Mormon idea of perpetual marriage more appealing than the orthodox Christian idea of family life limited to this life, if that means limiting it to an infinitesimal part of our whole existence.  How can this not diminish its importance?  (I don’t think I need to be embarrassed by this preference.  C. S. Lewis himself, in his essay “Is Theology Poetry”, admitted that judged purely as mythology, he preferred Greek, Irish, and Norse myths to Christianity.  Truth is, of course, another matter.)

This worry can be answered by recovering older generations’ sense of the afterlife.  I was surprised when reading Dante’s Comedy that the souls blessed, damned, and in Purgatory were all still passionately interested in events on Earth.  I had expected Star Trek-style eye rolling from the shades over us silly mortals with our trivial disputes and our trivial concerns.  I had, in other words, expected the view from the next life to trivialize this one, but Dante never imagined such a thing.  The Christian agrees that we only have one life.  Heaven or hell is not another life, but the ultimate significance of this single life revealed and made definite.  Thus, in my own apologetic work, I emphasize the doctrine of a final judgment, which provides a resolution, and hence a new level of intelligibility, to each life story.

In fact, there is another powerful intuition which supports orthodoxy and has nothing to do with wish fulfillment.  We all strongly sense that a man’s spiritual state at death is a matter of utmost importance, in some ways even more important than the spiritual state he carried through most of his life.  A wicked man who repents at the end transforms his whole life into a redemption story; a good man who goes bad at the end makes his whole life absurd.  For a generally good man with one great sin unrepented and unconfessed, it makes all the difference that he confronts this last fault before the end.  Interestingly, I don’t believe this as a deduction of my faith in a judgment followed by heaven or hell.  The belief seems entirely primitive and serves rather to render the doctrines of judgment and the rest more plausible.

Men also prefer extinction for darker reasons.  For all our boasting about the glories of man, we don’t really like our species that much.  You have perhaps heard of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.  This group believes that the humans should stop reproducing so that our species eventually ceases to exist.  Why get rid of humanity?  Because we’re bad for the environment and other species of animals, mainly.  This is an extreme form of a common sentiment.  Modernity preached that man is free to create himself by his sovereign will, unimpeded by any normative human nature.  Thus the world was divided for the first time into a world of nature on the one hand, and a world of human artifice on the other, with we ourselves being the most artificial of all things in our artificial world.  Emancipating ourselves from nature was supposed to elevate us.  In fact, a being without a nature is not a god, but a monster.  The beauty of each kind of being comes from its nature.  Now that each of us is a monster whose very flesh is just raw material for his unguided will, it’s hard to like humanity very much or take any pleasure at the thought of its continued existence.

One day, I was thinking about the triumph of our enemies, the gay marriage advocates.  Could it be that they have succeeded in permanently abolishing the significance of biological sex?  Then a thought popped into my head, “Someday, the human race will be extinct, and what people believed won’t matter anymore.  It will be as if we never existed.”  Then a strange sense of peace came over me.  I do believe in human nature, but the thought that of us permanently ordering our civilizations in defiance of it makes humanity hateful to me.  I can’t help feeling that the world would indeed be be better without unnatural beings.

This may be the other reason modern men prefer not to believe in an afterlife, not even a pleasant one.  A part of us likes the idea of humanity ceasing to exist altogether.  The only cure to this is a recovery of the sense of humans as natural beings–and thus good and beautiful–or of heaven as the place of our ultimate reconciliation with nature.

59 thoughts on “Why modern men don’t want to believe in heaven

  1. I think you’ve somewhat mischaracterized N.T. Wright, whose main point is that the kingdom of heaven is already in existence now, and we need to do all that we can to help realize it in this life, including our political life. Basically, his writings are a long theological justification for Christendom, as opposed to Evangelicals’ long standing practice (prior to the 1970s) of keeping out of worldly politics, and only hoping for things to be put right in heaven. Now, Bishop Wright likes to throw in a few trendy left wing causes, like universal health care and global warming, into his call for a comprehensive Christian politics, but he’s also solidly in favour of other more traditional aspects of Christendom.

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  3. @Bonald – A fine, thoughtful and thought-provoking article.

    Overall, I think that, just as the single most important fact about the Christian message (according to the Apostle Paul) is the resurrection of Christ; it may be that the promise of resurrection and Heaven may be the most important doctrine of Christianity.

    That seems to have been at least one of the most important reasons for a pagan to become Christian – the stark contrast of hope. If it is believed, this hope can sustain all the rest (see excerpt below, which you probably already know).

    I think it is possible that the best possible evangelism in these times could perhaps be to create, sustain, and strengthen into confidence a belief in the reality of Heaven. This might just be the key.

    [King Edwin], hearing these words, answered, that he was both willing and bound to receive the faith which Paulinus taught; but that he would confer about it with his chief friends and counsellors, to the end that if they also were of his opinion, they might all together be consecrated to Christ in the font of life. Paulinus consenting, the king did as he said; for, holding a council with the wise men,’ he asked of every one in particular what he thought of this doctrine hitherto unknown to them, and the new worship of God that was preached? …

    Another of the king’s chief men, approving of his wise words and exhortations, added thereafter: “The present life of man upon earth, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the house wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your ealdormen and thegns, while the fire blazes in the midst, and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter into winter again.

    So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine tells us something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.” The other elders and king’s counsellors, by Divine prompting, spoke to the same effect.

    … Coifi, hearing his words, cried out, “This long time I have perceived that what we worshipped was naught; because the more diligently I sought after truth in that worship, the less I found it. But now I freely confess, that such truth evidently appears in this preaching as can confer on us the gifts of life, of salvation, and of eternal happiness. For which reason my counsel is, O king, that we instantly give up to ban and fire those temples and altars which we have consecrated without reaping any benefit from them.

    In brief, the king openly assented to the preaching of the Gospel by Paulinus, and renouncing idolatry, declared that he received the faith of Christ …

    From Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England, ed. by A.M. Sellar, [1907]

    http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/bede/hist048.htm

    • There’s all sorts of horrible thoughts that Christianity provides comfort from. The thought that someday your beautiful, beloved children will just die, be buried, their bodies will be corrupted and everything they ever were will be completely annihilated. That they will “exist” in someone’s memory (a common secularist observation) is of little comfort.

    • >That seems to have been at least one of the most important reasons for a pagan to become Christian – the stark contrast of hope.

      I don’t really understood why Paganism is seen as something pessimistic. The idea was to take reproduction seriously and basically live on in your kids and legacy and posthumus fame. The tragic part is only when you cannot expect your bloodline and fame, even the world to go on forever – the apocalyptic Ragnarok.

      I don’t know, I don’t really believe in anything much, so I could not really define as Pagan, but I never understood why I should look into something that could conserve my current “me”, be that heaven or cryonics. Why not just transform at death into a legacy and memories and all that? To become, eventually, the kind of deceased great-grandpa with his photo on the mantelpiece because he is still remembered as someone who made the family fortune and raised everybody well or something? This has appeal to me and this kind of appeal is I think at some level pagan. Because very reproduction oriented, very natural, very biological.

  4. > A wicked man who repents at the end transforms his whole life into a redemption story; a good man who goes bad at the end makes his whole life absurd.

    I never understood this. Any confession, even any thought or emotion can have a variable amount of sincerity. And it is hard to judge so much, for most people aren’t insincere through knowingly deceiving others, but first deceiving themselves then projecting it out.

    This is is really why I cannot believe in religions where confessions, words, beliefs, or anything similar – so basically where words matter. How easy it is to say “oh I yes I have totally regretted all my sins” even when you are not 100% sure you mean it sincerely? Especially when you are 80 and too tired to go on having fun with sinning, and thus you are not losing much by living like a monk from then on? And how easy it is to have fun and sin when young, believing you have a chance to wash it off by mere words later on?

    This is one of my core problems with Christianity – taking words too seriously. You never really know how sincere words are – not even your own words. It is a shaky foundation to build on – spirituality cannot be built upon something as flaky as people saying they believe this or that or regret / repent this or that. It requires something more solid, something harder to fake and harder to deceive yourself to – something like a real cost.

    I think spirituality should be seen more like body building – you cannot magically become strong by uttering three times, half-sincerely, that you believe in The Strong One now. It should be something more grindy, something that takes thousands of hours of investment.

    I like the part when your priests, after confession, tell people like say 20 Salve Marias. This is broadly how I could imagine an actual repentance. Spend a life happily sinning then confess it and get a task to say one hundred thousand Salve Marias. If you die before finishing it, no salvation for you. This is something I could take seriously. This is similar to what Buddhists do. It would be serious partially because only people who take it sincerely do such a task, and partially because doing just about anything so many times is supposed to have some sort of an actual effect on your mind / soul. Such as, really convincing yourself into believing it.

  5. Personally, heaven sounds too much like wishful thinking. Why assume the universe makes things for no other purpose than we liking it? It would be just “too nice”.

    But, of course, if you actually do believe in a loving god, which I don’t, it should not be too hard to viscerally believe in heaven – if I was you I would just take the kind of love I felt from my parents, wife and friends and multiply it with a very large number. That would be certainly very heavenly. Provided, of course, if one believes in a “cuddly” kind of divine love and not in some sort of a far harsher one. But even that could be excused – why would your god keep being harsh with folks who have passed the test of life and graduated?

    • Shenpen writes: “if you [I suppose that he means we Orthosphereans] actually do believe in a loving god, which I don’t…” Etcetera. The surd is unimportant, so I omit it. Which god does Shenpen “believe in”? A non-loving one, a non-existent one (this is the usual choice of contemporary atheists, who are fervent believers), a hating one (Allah or Dionysus), a bloodthirsty one (Allah or Dionysus), an indifferent one – how about Olaf Stapledon’s “Star Maker”? Is the non-existent god also an indifferent one?

      Does Shenpen not believe in any god? But which god is Any God? Is she the deity of generic Modern Goodthink?

      I offer a variant on one of Shenpen’s stock figures: Personally, the rational, secular, multicultural utopia sounds too much like wishful thinking. Why assume that all the sensitive non-believers from the different cultures will just naturally “get along”? It would be just “too nice.”

      • I am not sure I understand your answer… why do you think not believing in god means believing in progressivism? Multicultural utopia etc. God = agency behind the universe, progressivism = agency behind history (immanentizing the eschathon) so the standard default skeptical position should be to believe in neither. Yes, I know people who don’t believe in one tend to believe in the other, but that is more of a weakness of the soul – the need to hope, the need to not feel existentially depressed – than a logical connection.

  6. I am so appalled by this statement I hardly know where to begin:
    “Modern Christians are clearly embarrassed by the idea of eternal beatitude.”
    You mean, I’m sure, APOSTATE Christians are clearly embarrassed by the idea of eternal beatitude.
    And of course they are.
    But no REAL Christian is embarrassed. Of that I can assure you.

    • Bonald’s formulation of “modern Christians,” with the emphasis on modern, is the equivalent of “phony Christians,” “apostates,” or Unitarians. Even Christians, however, and I mean non-modern ones, should be wary of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. If, after all, embarrassment were related to modesty, then your “REAL Christian,” being genuinely modest, might well, publicly, wish not to stake a claim beyond the Pearly Gates until he had indeed arrived at them and passed customs; and he might again feel properly embarrassed were others to praise him for any putative saintliness and advance him to a reward prematurely. (Saints know that they are sinners.) As Soren Kierkegaard put it, the Knight of Faith might well look like a stodgy old bourgeois gentilhomme – and that would be for the good reason that ostentatious piety is a contradiction in terms.

      I expect to cycle for a Blakean “vast age” through Purgatory, with both an extra rinse and an extra spin. I shall be delighted and a good deal embarrassed should the aloha girls of Beulah Land garland me, without first my many expiations, with lovely flowers.

      Mahalo.

      • I appreciate your gracious reply.
        Simul justis et peccator resonates strongly with us Lutherans.
        But we know ultimately we are beggars before God and He owes us nothing.
        And so it is not in any ostentatious manner that we cling to God’s promises that none of His children will Jesus lose. We trust not ourselves one whit; we trust that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it: that is to say, that He will continue to draw us to His Word through which the Holy Spirit will feed us and keep us in the one true faith. And we earnestly seek to bring that gospel message to others.

        Doubting God’s promises is not of faith, but rather from the sinner dwelling in us, sins of which we must repent daily. All natural religion wants to add something that we do to earn our way to heaven. But that is not the way of the Gospel, which is foolishness to man.

        Our Lord Jesus Christ has paid in full the price of our redemption, “Nothing to thy cross I bring,” and thus our good works are the result of our redemption, not the cause of it. So I can say that if it were left to me, I would be utterly and completely lost; but it is God who works in me to do His good will — and our assignment, as it were, is to trust that our immutable and merciful God keeps His word, just as surely as he kept His word in Genesis 3:15 of providing a redeemer to save us from our sins.

        Thank you for clarifying for me the term “modern Christian” in the manner in which our author intended us to take it.

        Is it any wonder there was a Reformation in 1517 with such divergent beliefs as we’ve demonstrated here?

      • A thoroughly modern Christian is a thoroughly unChristian Christian. However, most of us are contaminated by modern prejudices to some degree. So while I’d agree that any Christian who is uncomfortable with the idea of an afterlife has a defect, I’m not willing to say that he’s necessarily not a real Christian.

  7. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I’ve been involved in a long, long discussion with a Buddhist Modernist about what Buddhism is. Buddhist Modernism or Protestant Buddhism is the religion developed by 19th and 20th century European scholars of Buddhism who tended to be more interested in finding a godless religion that lined up with the presuppositions of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. This Buddhist Modernism is the Buddhism that has been widely disseminated in the West and is related to traditional Asian Buddhism about as closely as Unitarianism is related to Russian Orthodoxy. Protestant Buddhism basically holds in contradiction to Orthodox Buddhism:

    Everyone can potentially attain enlightenment
    Religious practice is your personal responsibility; no one can do it for you
    You don’t necessarily have to have help from monks to practice Buddhism effectively
    Non-monks can teach Buddhism; celibacy is not essential to religious leadership
    Ordinary people can and should meditate; meditation is the main Buddhist practice
    Careful observation of your own inner thoughts and feelings is the essence of meditation
    Ordinary people can, and should, read and interpret Buddhist texts, which should be available in translation
    Ritual is not necessary; it’s a late cultural accretion on the original, rational Buddhist teachings
    Magic, used to accomplish practical goals, is not part of Buddhism
    Buddhism doesn’t believe in gods or spirits or demons; or at any rate, they should be ignored as unimportant
    Buddhism doesn’t believe in idols (statues inhabited by gods)
    Buddhist institutions can be useful, but not necessary; they tend to become corrupt, and we should be suspicious of them
    Everyday life is sacred

    Since Tradition is done away with, each individual is free to establish his own morality, usually something in line with the DNC’s platform. The thought of having external moral standards that will determine his postmortem destination distresses modern man to no end. To believe in Heaven, a man must believe in Hell. To believe in Hell, a man must believe that he’ll have to answer for the wicked things you’ve done, not for the things he thinks were wicked, but for the things that are truly wicked, regardless of what he thinks. A man is absolutely responsible, a most terrifying thought that can best be ignored by willful blindness.

      • I am going to begin calling myself “Arrogant Prig II” – or perhaps “The Unitarian.”

    • Nilakantha:

      This is a fascinating list. Could you please specify what are for Buddhism the orthodox doctrines that stand in contradistinction to those you here list? I mean, obviously they are often quite clear – e.g., ritual is *obviously* necessary – but I would find it fascinating nonetheless to learn how orthodox Buddhism would respond to the demotic Western appropriation of her truths.

      My suspicion is that often the orthodox Buddhist doctrine is not even on the same vector as the Western appropriations. So that, in other words, the orthodox position is not the opposite of the liberal position, but somewhere else altogether, in a completely different universe. Orthogonal to the liberal weltanschauung, as we here would say.

      • In traditional Buddhism, this world is the worst of all possible worlds. We have trapped ourselves here by our ignorance and evil. Our only hope is to escape. As the Monk Genshin said: Leaving the Unclean World means to abhor and to depart from this impure world. It means to depart not only from this human world but also from the entire Six Realms. These all taken together constitute what is called the Three Worlds. There is no peace in the Three Realms. The Buddha explained them by comparing them with a burning house and by saying that it is like living in a house which is on fire. It is a thing above all others from which to separate oneself with a feeling of disgust.

        Traditional Buddhist practice then centers around two poles: separation from evil and the accumulation of good. Separation from evil is achieved by morality as described in the Five Precepts:

        The Five Precepts (I include an extended explanation of sexual misconduct because modern man is so perverse about this particularly tacky aspect of life.):
        1. As all Buddhas refrained from killing until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from killing until the end of my life.
        2. As all Buddhas refrained from stealing until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from stealing until the end of my life.
        3. As all Buddhas refrained from sexual misconduct until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from sexual misconduct until the end of my life.

        (The Mahāyāna consensus on what constitutes sexual misconduct as presented by Tson-kha-pa: There are four possible bases of sexual misconduct: a person with whom you should not have intercourse, inappropriate body parts, inappropriate places, and inappropriate times. Those with whom one should not have intercourse in the case of men are women with whom you should not copulate, all men, and eunuchs. The Compendium of Determinations refers to the first:
        “Those indicated in the sutras-such as your mother and those protected by mothers-are “those with whom you should not have intercourse.”
        The meaning of this is as the scholar Aśvaghoṣa said:
        “Those with whom you should not copulate”
        Are those held by another, those having a religious insignia,
        Those under the protection of family or king,
        A prostitute who has been taken by another,
        And those related to you
        These are the ones with whom you should not copulate.
        “Those held by another” are others’ wives. “Those who have a religious insignia” are renunciate women. “Those protected by family” are those who have not yet become brides and are protected by kinsfolk such as their fathers, who are protected by a father-in-law or a mother-in-law, who are protected by a guard, or who-in the absence of these-are protected even by themselves. “Those protected by a king” or his representative are those concerning whom a punitive law has been laid down. The line stating that sex with a prostitute for whom another has paid is sexual misconduct shows that there is no sexual misconduct in hiring a prostitute yourself. The Great Elder also taught this in a similar way.
        “Men,” the second in the list of those with whom you should not have intercourse, refers both to oneself and to others.
        Inappropriate body parts are body parts other than the vagina. The master Aśvaghoṣa says:
        What are inappropriate body parts? The mouth, the anus, the calves or Thighs pressed together, and the hand in motion.
        This accords with what the Great Elder says:
        The “inappropriate body parts” are the mouth, the anus, the front or rear orifices of a boy or girl, and your own hand.
        Inappropriate places are areas such as the vicinity of gurus, for instance; a place where there is a stupa; in the presence of many people; and on uneven or hard places that are harmful to the person with whom you are having intercourse. The Master Aśvaghoṣa says:
        In this case, inappropriate places
        Are ones that are locations of the sublime teaching,
        Stupas, images, and the like, and bodhisattvas;
        And the vicinity of an abbot, a preceptor, or one’s parents.
        Do not have intercourse in these inappropriate places.
        The Great Elder also taught this.
        Inappropriate times are when the woman is menstruating, when she is at the end of a term of pregnancy, when she has an infant who is nursing, when she is observing a one-day vow, and when she has an illness which makes sexual intercourse inappropriate. Sexual intercourse is also inappropriate in excess of a proper amount. A proper amount is having intercourse up to five times a night. The master Aśvaghoṣa says:
        In that case, inappropriate times are when
        A woman is menstruating, pregnant,
        Has an infant, is unwilling,
        Is in pain or is unhappy and the like,
        Or is maintaining the eight-part one-day vow.
        Again, the Great Elder is similar to Aśvaghoṣa with the difference that he says that daytime is an inappropriate time.
        Given that the three bases-sexual intercourse using inappropriate body parts, in an inappropriate place, or at an inappropriate time-become sexual misconduct even in regard to your own wife, it is certainly the case that they become sexual misconduct in regard to others.)

        4. As all Buddhas refrained from false speech until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from false speech until the end of my life.
        5. As all Buddhas refrained from alcohol until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from alcohol until the end of my life.
        Separation from evil also comes through the apotropaic theurgy of mantras, and a whole panoply of what might be called sacramentals in the West, e.g. holy water, blessed medallions, sacred tattoos, exorcisms, blessings of homes, cars, etc. Watch if you feel like it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrSR5RMlTfs, and, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0r8-R2VUD0. This is really what monks spend much of their time doing. The Chinese liturgy is largely taken up with protective mantras and Dharanis, warding off the stifling number of demonic forces that inhabit our world. Here’s a link to the Morning Office in a Chinese Monastery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtSlCA0TYmM. It’s an hour and a half long, so just watch a little to get a feel for what monks do. And, of course, the most fundamental practice in Buddhism, for monks and laymen alike, is repentance. In East Asian Buddhism, rituals of repentance are held regularly in Temples for the laity and confession and repentance are daily parts of morning and evening prayers.

        The accumulation of merit, the other pole of Buddhist practice, is done by worship paid to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, their images, reliquaries, honor paid to monks and the support given them. You also accumulate merit by giving charity to beings in the form of food, clothing, shelter, teaching, kindness, etc. You can go on pilgrimages, recite scriptures, maintain pure eating (a vegetarian diet free from the five noxious herbs, e.g. garlic), and take the eight precepts on a regular basis:
        The Eight Precepts:
        1. I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
        2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
        3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.
        4. I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
        5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
        6. I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).
        7. I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.
        8. I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

        Traditional Buddhism pervades every aspect of a culture, with the Holy mediated through holy men, most usually monks. It functions a lot like Medieval Catholicism functioned in Europe.

      • Protestant Buddhism:

        Many Western Buddhists would consider the following ideas obviously true, and perhaps as defining Buddhism:

        1. Everyone can potentially attain enlightenment
        2. Religious practice is your personal responsibility; no one can do it for you
        3. You don’t necessarily have to have help from monks to practice Buddhism effectively
        4. Non-monks can teach Buddhism; celibacy is not essential to religious leadership
        5. Ordinary people can and should meditate; meditation is the main Buddhist practice
        6. Careful observation of your own inner thoughts and feelings is the essence of meditation
        7. Ordinary people can, and should, read and interpret Buddhist texts, which should be available in translation
        8. Ritual is not necessary; it’s a late cultural accretion on the original, rational Buddhist teachings
        9. Magic, used to accomplish practical goals, is not part of Buddhism
        10. Buddhism doesn’t believe in gods or spirits or demons; or at any rate, they should be ignored as unimportant
        11. Buddhism doesn’t believe in idols (statues inhabited by gods)
        12. Buddhist institutions can be useful, but not necessary; they tend to become corrupt, and we should be suspicious of them
        13. Everyday life is sacred

        These ideas come mainly from Protestant Christianity, not traditional Buddhism. They are not entirely absent in traditional Buddhism. However, mostly, in traditional Buddhism:

        1. Only monks can potentially attain enlightenment
        2. Religious practice is your personal responsibility; no one can do it for you
        3. There is no Buddhism without monks
        4. Only monks can teach Buddhism, and celibacy is critical to being a monk
        5. Only monks meditate, and very few of them; meditation is a marginal practice
        6. Meditation is mainly on subjects other than one’s self
        7. Only monks read Buddhist texts, their interpretation is fixed by tradition, and they are available only in ancient, dead languages
        8. Essentially all Buddhist practice is public ritual
        9. Much of Buddhist practice aims at practical, this-world goals, by magically influencing spirits
        10. Gods and demons are the main subject of Buddhist ritual
        11. Buddhists worship idols that are understood to be the dwelling-places of spirits
        12. All reverence is due to the monastic, institutional Sangha, which is the sole holder of the Dharma
        13. Everyday life is defiled, contaminating, and must be abandoned if you want to make spiritual progress

        Buddhism is still understood and practiced this way in much of Asia.

  8. From its inception, anti-Christian polemics have made two contradictory claims about Christianity: (1) Christianity terrifies people with empty threats of Hell, and (2) Christianity seduced people with empty promises of Heaven. It’s really hard to keep straight whether they think Christians are hag ridden with fear of eternal damnation or punch drunk with hopes of eternal bliss.

    Regarding Spaeman’s reflections: Why is it that postmodern man, when moved to excrete some thought on life’s most significant moment, always ends up on some deck, overlooking a mountain lake, with a glass of wine in his hand? I enjoy tippling in the mountains as much as the next fellow, but I don’t mistake it for transcendence. This is an Epicurean sentiment, not a Christian sentiment. Good conversation, good wine, good scenery, good death–its all good. Sure, I’ll have another. Up to here.

  9. Pingback: Death and transcendence | Throne and Altar

  10. Having been raised in a large Irish-Algonquin Catholic family in Vermont (A Catholicism that aped the severe puritanistic praxis in the Piemonte region of his birthplace), this man was learnt by his Dad to think of Heaven as essentially an ever-lasting extension of our best, healthiest, and happiest years on earth; Dad thought he and his brother would be eternaly happy in Heaven forever going on long fishing trips.

    Maybe that was one reason ABS found marijuana so welcoming, for that is more Hell than Heaven.

    In any event, reading the Roman Catechism was radically re-orienting in many ways as this man began to accept its teaching that God created us for Happiness and, that being so, ABS could not raise his children as he was raised – basically a rules and regulation regimen that must be adhered to if one was to attain unto Salvation – rather than understanding that Jesus established His One True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church for two ends and Catechesis had to begin with love not rules, and as one who is the same age as Israel, that was quite a radical beak with the New England version of Catholicism ABS was raised in.

    The two ends as ABS understands it:

    Salvation
    Sanctification

    and the Holy means to those ends are Holy Orders, Mass, Sacraments, indulgences, Purgatory, etc and that, if having been saved and sanctified, ABS will see his creator as He really is and that, and that alone, is infinitely superior to one trillion fishing trips with a brother on a pristine lake situated in a beautiful mountainous region of heaven.

  11. In graduate school, I learned about Derek Parfit’s strange theory about personal identity that he describes in his book called Reasons and Persons.” Say you’re on the Starship Enterprise. You wander into a transporter, press the “transport” button, and stay aboard. You ask Scottie what went wrong. “I’m sorry,” he replies. “That one broke. Here on the ship, you’ll die in a few months, but don’t worry. On the planet, you’ll live another 40 years.”

    Scottie takes you a screen where you talk to your “clone” on the planet. He believes everything you believe, except may that you’ll die on the ship, he knows what you know. Is he you? Parfit believes that each person is a set of memories, beliefs, hopes, dreams, feelings, and so forth, who can survive in a brain or even in a computer. You are, if you, will a portable program who can live in any “hardware” that can “run” you. A machine wouldn’t imitate you. You would be in it. You’re something like a universal, a property that more than one object can have at the same time.

    • We use the word identity in two ways, and our understanding of personal identity will vary accordingly. Identity properly means the state of being “one and the same,” although usage permits us to use the word to mean “the same in all respects.” In classical philosophy, the “problem of personal identity” was the problem how, for instance, the infant, youthful and middle-aged JMSmith could be “one and the same person,” even though he was at these stages of life very far from being “the same in all respects.” Some philosophers grounded identity in an unchanging personal substance–the soul, the self, or the I. Others explained it as nothing more than accumulated memories and persistent propensities. This second definition leads to Parfit, since a perfect copy of me, with memories and propensities the same in all respects, would be me.

      This strikes me as nonsense. In your example from Star Trek, you are still with Scottie in the Transporter Room, and your replica on the planet’s surface is an object of your consciousness. He is really nothing more than an identical twin.

      • A difficulty arises when we consider how to take account of the state of affairs if there had been no problem with the transporter. The Star Trekker would have disappeared from the transporter room and reappeared on the planet. But the two instantiations would have nothing material in common. How could we say that they were the same guy?

        Nor is this an odd scenario. It is reproduced every time we experience a new moment in our lives, for at every moment our material constituents change.

        But then, the same difficulty arises for those material constituents. An atom is a configuration of fields, which varies from moment to moment. Given that variation, how can we blithely say that two differently configured moments are moments of just one particle?

        In general, how do you cobble together a life of one substantial entity from disparate moments? It would seem that reference to a form of some sort, a soul or essence, is needful for this purpose. Parfit’s pattern theory of personal identity takes this same step; the pattern of his theory is the soul of Aristotle’s. Aristotle’s accidental properties are of some assistance here. The Star Trekker on the planet has a different soul than the Star Trekker on the ship; their different memories and experiences since the transportation was triggered are different accidental properties of their two souls. They are different persons.

        If on the other hand the transportation had worked properly, there would be only one person, one soul with one set of accidental properties (including memories and experiences of being on the planet). Parfit then agrees with Aristotle that the material implementation of the soul in this or that particular array of matter does not constitute it a person. It is rather the implementation of that one soul in *some material matrix or other* that constitutes the soul a substantial entity, and a personal life. [NB here that by “matter” I do not mean corporeal “stuff” but rather “the potential to individuate,” a category of which corporeal stuff is a department. [Although to be precise, the corporeal stuff we apprehend is the relic of such individuations – is a sort of fossil.]]

        So Parfit is not wrong, except insofar as he believes that the Trekker on the ship and his clone on the planet are the same person.

        Where this all gets really weird is with gods or angels. In the ancient Near East, it was commonly understood that gods could have multiple bodies at the same time, this being part of the theoretical basis for the worship of idols. The god was embodied in his statue in Athens *and* in his statue in Miletus *and* on Olympos. Likewise was he embodied in his worshippers. It sounds crazy, but really it is no crazier than our own ability to integrate in our own experience the experiences of millions of sensory cells and of billions of neurons downstream of them, each a different animal from all its fellows. And it casts an interesting light on omnipresence, Providence, inspiration, Incarnation, transfiguration, ecclesiology, marriage, and resurrection – and on telepathy, bilocation, prescience, déjà vu, and so forth. Not to mention demonic possession.

      • Kristor @ I have only second-hand knowledge of Parfit’s thought experiment, and this led me to suppose he was advocating a Lockean notion of personal identity. One weakness that I see in the transporter parable is that it assumes that we, or at least the crew of the starship Enterprise, actually know how the transporter works. We and they say that the corpuscles of a body are disintegrated, converted into some sort of energy, and then reassembled at a distance, but it could well be that this is only a functionally adequate description. It strikes me that eliminative materialism is written into the parable from the beginning. Read it with slightly different assumptions and the split man dies in both incarnations, his spiritual substance detached from both bodies. Or perhaps stretched between the two bodies like a string of chewing gum.

        I’m a substance dualist, although a lazy substance dualist who hasn’t bothered to hunt down all that is entailed in this position. I think it is reasonable to suppose that there are created spiritual beings, such as angels or demigods, and that these beings are in no particular place because, lacking extension, they have no physical relation to bodies. It appears that they can, at will, assume a position and affect bodies, but I have no idea how they manage this. Of course I have no idea how my spiritual substance manages to set my fingers to typing, either.

      • I don’t think we have a physical relation to our bodies. We have a spiritual relation to our bodies. We are the lives of our bodies; our souls are the forms of our bodies – which is to say, of our lives as implemented in our bodies.

        You type; so your body types. Not as the result of your typing, as if you operated on your body the way one billiard ball operates upon another, but as the material manifestation of your typing, the hyle of the morphe of typing.

        The key thing is to remember that the state of the body at time B is a relic, a function, an artifact, and as it were a fossil, of the state of the spirit – of the living, substantial soul – at time A. When we look back on, feel, apprehend the state of our body at time B, we do so from the perspective of the spirit, the living, substantial soul, at time C, future to B. The state of our body that we apprehend – as suffused with pain, or pleasure, or confusion, or drunkenness, or sleepiness, whatever – is always in our past; it is the matter of our current moment.

        Substance dualism supposes that the now of experience is a different substance than the object of that experience (including, and encoded in, embodied in, the whole past of the body). It is. But it is not a different *kind* of substance than that of the object of experience. It differs from its objects only in that it is not yet itself an object of its feeling, but is rather just the feeling. The present feeling is not yet over and done with, wholly defined and as it were put to bed. The object of the present feeling is over and done with (except perhaps to itself).

        Experience as such is not extensive. It is not located anywhere. It is intensive. So, our lives are like those of the angels. Where are the angels? We may appropriately ask only, where they have so far been, ex post.

        No act of being is located anywhere, in and for itself. Location is a feature of what is past. Where is your present moment? It is not in the location you apprehend, for that is in its past, and is no longer present. One of the things your present moment does is ascertain its own location; this location is a feature of its final character. To become is to locate.

      • Well, sort of; close. Christ is in – or rather, *just is* – every *consecrated* host. But – a quibble of diction, perhaps – what is consecrated is not necessarily yet quite wholly *sanctified,* a far higher bar. A victim consecrated to the god is *intended* to sanctification, and dedicated thereto. But until he is actually sacrificed and the consecration thereby totally and irrevocably effected, he is not yet quite utterly holy.

        The host is indeed sanctified at and in its consecration, but only in virtue of that prior Perfect Sacrifice, which is eternally efficacious, and in which as consecrated it participates. The host is not after the epiklesis merely consecrated to the god, or even just holy, or an instance of him, but rather *is him;* in virtue of which is its consecration, his Presence in it, ergo its holiness and sanctifying efficacy.

        A quibble, verily; yet, in the lives of consecrated religious, a huge and lively and practical issue out of all their trials and afflictions. Would that we were all sanctified by our consecrations!

        A man as erudite as Nilakantha knows all this, of course. I hope someday that I understand Buddhism so well as he understands paganism and Christianity.

      • Kristor,
        You unphilosophically take fundamental particles to be prior to the corporeal bodies. But the fundamental particles are results of long chains of inferences that commence in a person registering a corporeal body (such as a man reading an instrument dial). The corporeal bodies are thus to be regarded as logically prior to the fundamental particles of physics.
        Thus, you would avoid all kinds of paradoxes you list.

      • You unphilosophically take fundamental particles to be prior to the corporeal bodies.

        No. I don’t. Where’d you get that idea?

        The corporeal bodies are thus to be regarded as logically prior to the fundamental particles of physics … Thus, you would avoid all kinds of paradoxes you list.

        For the Star Trek gedanken experiment, it doesn’t matter whether we treat the bodies involved in the terms of atomic physics. At the moment of the duplication you’ve got 2 putatively identical bodies, no matter how you treat of those bodies.

      • “At the moment of the duplication you’ve got 2 putatively identical bodies”
        If you talk in Aristotlean terms, the original body is a substance but the duplicate “body” is an artifact. Thus lifeless and possessing no memory, personality etc whatsoever. The duplicate object is not going to have any accidental properties –since properties etc pertain to substances and not to artifacts.

        So perhaps you would prefer to speak in scientic terms and assume that the duplicate object possesses life, memory, personaltiy merely by virtue of being physical duplicate of a living person. But then you have lost the right to speak in Aristotlean terms altogether, not to mention the fact that life, memory, personality can not be understood in scientic terms.

        So, the gendkenexperiment does not work.

      • Thanks, Vishmehr, these are really useful challenges.

        Rational souls are created directly by God.

        True; he seems to instantiate them in substantial beings by making them material, with bodies that have parts. The material factors of a human life conflue – its historical factors that together contribute to its compossibility (parents, for example) – and whammo, he ensouls the confluence.

        In the Star Trek gedanken experiment, the material factors of a person conflue asexually. Is God thereby prevented from ensouling their confluence? Did the lack of sexual factors prevent the ensoulment of Adam?

        Evidently God can ensoul a human whenever the material factors admit of it. Indeed, he does not even need the material factors. The body of Lazarus was dead, was no longer such as could naturally support a continued embodied life. It had begun to rot. That did not stop God from ensouling that body.

        No Star Trek experiment could produce two persons out of one.

        Sure. No creature, nor any congeries of creatures, is capable of creating anything, let alone a person. Nevertheless this begs the question.

        So you must presume the naturalist account of the person: given a complex arrangement of atoms, one has a self-conscious person.

        Not quite. I think it would be more accurate to say that you can’t get the complex arrangements of parts that characterize living human animals except as features of living human animals. The form of the animal is logically prior to the animal, and to its parts, which cannot be parts in the first place except insofar as they participate the whole and living animal.

        That there are parts does not mean there is no whole. You can’t get parts unless there is a whole. As I have often said in different ways, you can’t derive the character of the whole from the characters of the parts. Sodium and chloride can’t explain salt; but in the characterization of salt, the characters of sodium and chloride are both implicit; and you can’t obtain salt without both of them.

        When you say things like, “… how do you cobble together a life of one substantial entity from disparate moments?” you assume that disparate moments are prior to the whole perduring entity …

        “Cobble together” was a figure of speech. I didn’t mean to suggest that it lies within our power to assemble a continuous life out of atomic events. But evidently it lies within God’s power to do so. The me of now is quite different than the me of 40 years ago. How can these two disparate moments be moments or aspects of one and the same thing? I’m not suggesting that they are not, but rather only noticing that they are.

        How are these quite different things – a baby and a dotard – parts of one thing?

        And the nub of this difficulty, this marvel, is of course that in fact the moments of a life *are* prior to that life. The moments of my life so far are prior to the life I will live in a moment. They came before it! And their character will influence the compossibilities of that future moment, and of all my future moments, and thus of my whole life. Again, the character of my whole life would be quite different if I had died at two, so that none of the moments I have since had would have transpired. Different moments, different life; just as sodium chloride is subtly different than potassium chloride. None of this is to disparage or derogate the whole, but only to notice that the wholes are different when the parts are different – how not? – and, of course, by the very same token, vice versa. The parts don’t rule the whole, but they are indeed after all parts of it; nor is the whole whatever it would be, in complete disregard of its causal factors.

        One has really no reason to assume that our bodies are built up of anything more basic.

        Come now. It’s just silly to suggest that our bodies have no parts. We can lop them off with an axe, for heaven’s sake.

        Granted, we are not simply our constituents. But we can say that without insisting that we have no constituents.

        If you talk in Aristotelean terms, the original body is a substance but the duplicate “body” is an artifact.

        Again, this begs the question. In the experiment, the duplicate body is a happenstantial accident, not an intentional artifact. As with sexual reproduction, it is a product of factors that are outside of human control: the *opposite* of an artifact.

        So perhaps you would prefer to speak in scientific terms and assume that the duplicate object possesses life, memory, personality merely by virtue of being a physical duplicate of a living person.

        No, you misconstrue the experiment. It *presupposes* that the duplicate is a person. The question is whether it is the same person as the original. You can insist that the duplicate is not a person in the first place, but just a bag of meat that fools us into thinking that it passes the Turing test. But that’s a different question than the question that the test is considering.

        Now notwithstanding all that, you raise a very important question: whether the duplicate is a person at all. I.e., does the gedanken experiment make any sense in the first place?

        My first reaction is to affirm that it does, and that it is possible for God to ensoul the appropriate configuration of material factors of a human life, whether or not they conflued and configured in the usual manner.

        My second thought is to doubt that such a thing is indeed really doable. Is it indeed really possible for the material factors of a human life to conflue other than as usual, and as it were out of thin air? Out from, that is, a total vacuity of the normal material antecedents of a human life? Might not the duplicate on the planet be nothing more in the end than a rotting sack of dead meat, or indeed of something that is not even quite meat? Granted that this seems to have presented no impediment in the case of Lazarus, but still.

        Under the skeptical gaze of that second thought, the whole notion of a teleportation machine looks pretty far-fetched. How can teleportation work at all, *other than by a fundamental, radical deformation of the cosmic order*?

        Yet again, on the first hand, every new moment would seem to be a sort of teleportation of an order from its past. Is not novelty of any sort a radical, fundamental disjunction in the weft of the world? Is not the cosmic order *constituted* of just such teleportations?

        Never mind all that. I boggle.

        What it comes down to in the end, Vishmehr, is this: no morphe, no hyle. There is no such thing as unformed matter. So if you’ve got the matter of a living human body (which we can then, in virtue of its prior corporeal actuality, analyze into organs, cells, molecules, quarks, what have you), what you’ve got by definition is matter *that is formed by a living human.* If it were not for the concrete actuality of the living person, the parts of that person’s body *would not be parts of that person’s body.* There would then be no such person, nor any such body; so nor would there be any parts, into which it might be analyzed.

        That we can perform such an analysis does not at all mean that there is nothing to the person other than the material constituents of his body. To think so is the fundamental, primitive error of all improper reduction. It is an error; for, no morphe, no hyle.

      • Kristor,
        God being almighty can ensoul whatever He wants to but He is not obliged to ensoul on demand.
        If we teleport somebody and on the other end a body duplicate is created, God may or may not ensoul the body duplicate. The ensoulment is a miracle, not available on tap.

        I don’t even believe that the body “duplicate” would pass a Turing test. In my opinion, it would be entirely lifeless, I do not believe even animals can be teleported. Thus, ensoulment was merely an icing on the cake. The cake is that living things are substances, and man can create only artifacts, intentional or otherwise. A failed artifact is also an artifact.

        A substance is a thing that acts on its own. Eg living things, and natural substances such as lumps of chemical elements and compounds.

      • Kristor,
        “every new moment would seem to be a sort of teleportation of an order from its past.”
        I think it is best to avoid using physics terms in a metaphysical way. That way is surely to fallacious conclusions.
        And it is better to avoid thinking too much of the fundamental particles. They really are not fundamental. Only in the special sense of physics do they possess any significance. The real fundamental things are substances.

      • You are on the right track when you say of”something that is not even quite meat” but you go off-track with “this seems to have presented no impediment in the case of Lazarus.”
        Lazarus was a miracle. Are we talking miracles? Or the course of nature? Clear thinking requires appreciation of distinction. Till we are in Heaven, we must respect this distinction.

    • Kristor,

      After my evening devotions the other night, some thoughts about why modern man is so resistant to the embodied holy and what is the line between worship and idolatry began to run around in my head. I began to consider Eucharistic Adoration and my own worship of a statue in which the divinity has been sacramentally installed. A verse from one of my scriptures came to me:

      [Queen Śrīmālā said] It is said that the voice of a Buddha is most rare in the world. If this saying be true, I must serve thee.

      If the Lord Buddha may come for the sake of the world, may He, with compassion, come here on behalf of the teaching for me!

      At that very instant, the Lord approached in the space in front of her, and she saw the inconceivable body of the Buddha seated there, emitting pure light rays.

      As with St. Paul, the saving power of God comes as a person; it doesn’t come as an impersonal force like electricity. A person, your Lord, can and does make concrete demands, punishes and rewards. How much more would a modern man prefer to kick against the goad than swear actual fealty to his divine lord, to measure every action and thought against the will of an omniscient and unseen judge?

      I used to argue that we could best think of God as a verb in the imperative, meaning something like I later read in Bonhoeffer: You do not believe because you will not obey. God being present to us in the flesh makes it that much harder to ignore the most frightening words: If you love me, keep my commandments.

      • God being present to us in the flesh makes it that much harder to ignore the most frightening words: If you love me, keep my commandments.

        Truth demands conviction. The only way to disobey Truth is to be a fool who ignores it in his heart.

        Yet abstractions of metaphysics, theology and ethics can be pretty thin things. Not so with a concrete man, who stands before you as their embodiment. One way or another, he must be answered.

        This is the genius of the Incarnation at a particular, specified, documented locus of history. Recognizing that Fact, one cannot but choose. So men go to great lengths to deny the facticity of the Fact they know would convict them if true.

        By that same token, what balm is that facticity to those who admit it, and choose obedience to Truth!

      • Kristor,

        I agree with you, thought you might not agree with my take on the purpose of incarnation:

        Buddhas emerge in the world because sentient beings are ignorant and do what is bad, they conceive of self and possessions, they cling to the body, they are deluded and confused, they discriminate on the basis of false views and are always in bondage, following the flow of birth and death away from the path of enlightenment. — Book 36 of the Avatamsaka Sutra

  12. Kristor,
    Apart from anything else, rational souls are directly created by God. No Star Trek experiment could produce two persons out of one. So you must presume the naturalist account of the person: given a complex arrangement of atoms, one has a self-conscious person. But then, I do not think it is consistent to bring in Aristotolean accidents etc etc.
    When you say things like
    “, how do you cobble together a life of one substantial entity from disparate moments?” you assume that disparate moments are prior to the whole perduring entity. Again, this is reflection of the prevailing scientic ethos, would Aristotle or Aquinas have any problem here?
    One has really no reason to assume that our bodies are built up of anything more basic. In the Aristotlean picture, the living things are substances. In the realist picture, the non-living things, the objects of the everyday life are more fundamental than particles of physics.

    I recommend Anthony Rizzi–“The science before science: a guide to thinking in 21st century” for clasrifications.

  13. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/10/04) | The Reactivity Place

  14. Kristor,
    Some excerpts from S Marc cohen’s discussion of Aristoltean substances:
    The substantial form (i.e. what makes Socrates human) is really the basic entity that persists through changes.
    When we are tracing the history of Socrates through time,we do not follow the course of matter that happens to compose his body at any given moment, but that of the form the matter has.
    So what makes Socrates the kind of thing he is, and what makes him remain , over time, the same thing of that kind, is the form that he continues to have.
    For Aristotle, the form of a compound substance is essential to it, its matter is accidental.

    • Thanks, Vishmehr, for another fruitful contribution. I don’t think we are far apart on substance, but differ mostly in our use of language.

      God being almighty can ensoul whatever He wants to but He is not obliged to ensoul on demand.

      Sure. But the gedanken experiment is asking, “assuming He did ensoul the duplicate, would it have the same soul as the original aboard the starship?” The soul of an animal is the form of its body; assuming that two bodies have the same form, have they the same soul, so that they are two instances of the same person? My answer is that two distinct bodies *cannot* have exactly the same form, and still be distinct – still be two. The duplicate on the planet would have formal properties different than those of his original aboard ship. They would have different souls, even though they might have a lot of memories in common. So they would be different people.

      … every new moment would seem to be a sort of teleportation of an order from its past.

      I think it is best to avoid using physics terms in a metaphysical way. That way is surely to fallacious conclusions.

      Moment, teleportation – which is to say, change of location, a type of motion – order, past; these terms may be employed in the discourse of physics, to be sure, but other discourses employ them, too. I was using them as terms in metaphysics.

      And it is better to avoid thinking too much of the fundamental particles. They really are not fundamental. Only in the special sense of physics do they possess any significance. The real fundamental things are substances.

      I said lots of times just in this thread that particles are not fundamental; that parts are not fundamental, but rather wholes, substances. It is a point I have made repeatedly. Nevertheless wholes do have parts, many of which – those that are more than mere heuristics – are substances in their own rights, and it can be informative to investigate them. It’s just that, as you say, and as I have said, it is a mistake to take the whole as derivative of its parts.

      Lazarus was a miracle. Are we talking miracles? Or the course of nature?

      New persons are normal in our world. But they are not products of the acts of creatures, who cannot create. They are acts of God. As normal, they don’t strike us as miraculous. But qua acts of God, they do.

      Your quotes from S. Mark Cohen say more or less what I have been driving at.

      • ” The soul of an animal is the form of its body”–
        This statement has to be interpreted in the sense of species and not of individual animal.
        All cats share in the form “catness”.
        More precise would be–the substance–THIS cat-has a form–i.e. catness-with properties and accidents and particular matter that happens to compose THIS cat.
        Suppose we create a duplicate of THIS cat–a THAT cat–still has the form -catness- with composed with different particular matter. THIS cat is not THAT cat. But as they are both cats, they both participate in the form “catness”.
        This is assuming the experiment can create the substance–THAT cat i.e. a living cat, a big assumption in my opinion,.
        Now to humans with their memories,
        1) We agree, I hope that barring a miracle, the duplicate can not be human. Now assuming a miracle, if God has endowed the duplicate with rational soul, He might or might not implant memories –of the original human, of any other human,–we can not say.
        But there is no necessary connection between the material configuration of the original brain and memories of the original human. The sciencists have not been able to show that memories are encoded in brain configuration.

      • The soul of an animal is the form of its body

        This statement has to be interpreted in the sense of species and not of individual animal.

        Actually, no. Material things all individuate: they each have an individual soul. Angels, by contrast, speciate: each angel has a special soul, and so each species of angel is instantiated in but one individual.

        Humans and cats have special souls – the forms of humans and cats, respectively – and also individual souls. Or rather, their individual souls include the forms of their special souls.

        But there is no necessary connection between the material configuration of the original brain and memories of the original human. The scientists have not been able to show that memories are encoded in brain configuration.

        The experiments of Wilder Penfield did not perhaps show conclusively that memories are recorded in the neural structure of the brain. But he could by electrical stimulation of the cortex trigger vivid experiences in his subjects, which they identified as memories (of, e.g., long dead loved ones). This is not to say that Penfield’s findings show that there is a *necessary* connection between body and spirit; but it would seem to indicate *some sort* of connection between body and spirit.

        I am perplexed in general at your seeming reluctance to admit of any such connection. How could the encoding of memories in matter vitiate a robust doctrine of the soul and of its implementation in the life of the body, in the spirit of the fully embodied human person? Would it not, on the contrary, be rather surprising and odd if under the Christian anthropology there were no such encoding, at all – no integrity and ergo correspondence (in both directions) between the state of the spirit and the state of its body?

        It seems to me that you are inordinately shy of admitting *any corporeal aspect* of the human person, as if the body – organs, cells, macromolecules, quarks, what have you – could if real and really participant therein somehow cheat the spirit or the soul of their metaphysical due. This is a problem indeed, to be sure, for modernists of the eliminative sort. But it should not pose the least difficulty for Christians, who all look for the corporeal – the material, the physical – resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

      • ” wholes do have parts, many of which – those that are more than mere heuristics – are substances in their own rights”

        Could it be so? A substance is a thing that acts on its own. It possesses an individual and separable existence. If a thing is part of a whole, then how could it possess a separable existence?
        Could you provide examples?

      • Sure. You and I are parts of the Church – of the Body of Christ. We are substantial beings in our own right, that were before our baptisms not yet a part of the Church. Likewise also with the cells of our bodies, which may be separated from us, may be seen in a microscope, and may live apart from the body in a petrie dish.

        There is no reason to suppose that the hierarchy of parts and wholes does not extend much further down than the cell. Do cells, organelles, macromolecules, and so forth, act? I.e., do they behave? Well, they are certainly far from inert. They respond to their environments appropriately; they exhibit homeostasis. Most thinkers, especially of the modernist sort, have assumed that they are dead, are no more than automata. But then, such thinkers are prone to think of us in the same way.

      • I do not understand what you mean by a “special soul” and an “individual soul”. Perhaps the terminology of “form” or “essence” better?

      • All individual members of a species partake the same special form. They also partake their own idiosyncratic individual form, which includes the special form.

        Matter is the principle of individuation. Beings that don’t individuate are not material.

      • “their own idiosyncratic individual form”
        Are you using the term “form” here in strict philosophical sense?
        As i understand it, “form” is just the essence of a species. And members of a species are distingusihed by accidents and matter. There is no need to invoke some “individual form”–and calling a form “idiosyncratic” is oxymornic–the “form” is what is intelligble in a thing. It is matter that is not intelligble.

      • As I understand it, “form” is just the essence of a species. And members of a species are distingusihed by accidents and matter.

        Not quite. The form of Vishmehr – his soul – is not the form of Kristor. Individuals have individual souls. There is also the form of man as a species, and that special form is among the essential properties of the individual souls of Kristor and of Vishmehr. Our individual souls partake of that special form. But there is more to our individual souls than just the form of man. If there were not, then Vishmehr and Kristor would not be disparate persons.

        More generally, the form of a thing is specified by the complete schedule of its properties, whether essential or accidental. The form of a thing at any time x has both accidental and essential features.

    • I am wary because precise mapping of modern scientific concepts to Aristotlian concepts is yet to be made and there is great danger of being wrong. For instance,
      1) is an eye a substance? To be more precise, is my left eye a substance?
      2) Are electron substances?. Note electrons are indistinguishable particles.

  15. “assuming He did ensoul the duplicate, would it have the same soul as the original aboard the starship?””

    There seems to be an equivocation on the meaning of “soul”–Aristotle does not coincide with the Church exactly.
    All humans have the essence of rational animal. The rational soul is precisely identical i.e. individual humans participate in the form “rational animal”.

    But as the Church considers the term “soul”, I have no doubt that each individual human has a distinct soul. Actually this is imprecise. THIS human is distinct from THAT human (even if THAT human is a body-duplicate of THIS human) and thus they have separate existence and each must account for his actions before God separately. There is no connection between the two.

    • All humans have the essence of rational animal. The rational soul is precisely identical i.e. individual humans participate in the form “rational animal”.

      Yes; or rather, the form of the rational animal is singular. There may be many different subordinate types of rational animals, as there are many sorts of triangles subordinate to the form of the triangle. But any instance of any sort of rational animal partakes the form of the rational animal as such.

      Again, it is not quite accurate to say that all humans have the essence of rational animal, but rather that the essence of all humans includes the essence of rational animal. As there may be many sorts of rational animals that include that essence, so likewise are there many humans whose souls include that essence.

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