Category Archives: theology

I Ain’t Got No Body: Embodiment (or not)

Here we talked about the creation of the material world and embodied intelligences (us) by God.  Over here we looked at how truly free creatures must be created at a certain “distance” from God’s perfection, with the (probably inevitable) corollary that at least some, if not most, of them will fall away to one degree or another.  Let us now start connecting these two threads and see where this leads us.

First, it is worth pointing out a slight nuance in the concept of the Fall.  To the orthodox, the Fall of mankind came after embodiment.  That is, humans were originally created as embodied souls.  Since humans were, in this narrative, primordially innocent, there was thus nothing “wrong” with embodiment.  Had the Fall not occurred, humans would have lived embodied lives in innocent perfection.  Embodiment is a feature, not a bug, so to speak.  The Fall distorted the relationship of body and soul; but that relationship in and of itself is fundamentally good.  It is also important to point out that in this  model, we don’t have a body; that is, we are not actually a spirit that just inhabits a corporeal form.  Rather, we are a body; or better, we are a holistic combination of body and soul making up one single hypostasis (person).

C. S. Lewis puts it in somewhat mystical language in Chapter 14 of The Great Divorce:

I saw a great assembly of gigantic forms all motionless, all in deepest silence, standing forever about a little silver table and looking up on it.  And on the table were little figures like chessmen who went to and fro doing this and that.  And I knew that each chessman was the idolum or puppet of some one of the great presences that stood by.  And the acts and motions of each chessman were a moving portrait, a mimickry or pantomime, which delineated the inmost nature of his giant master.  And these chessmen are men and women as they appear to themselves and to one another in the world.  And the silver table is Time.  And those who stand and watch are the immortal souls of those same men and women.

Thus the body and the soul are in a sense different manifestations of the same thing, merely seeming different (puppet vs. giant) because of our perception of time.

In the Gnostic mythos, the body, along with the rest of the material cosmos, is created by the evil and/or ignorant Demiurge, who makes it as a sort of imperfect, Bizarro-world copy of the dimly perceived Pleroma (the perfect spiritual world of the Aeons, the angelic intelligences created by God).  Thus, embodiment is a bad thing, as the material world itself is a bad thing, at best a pale reflection of the true Good, at worst a cesspit of suffering and limitation.  Some versions of the Gnostic mythos posit embodiment as a theft of the Light–the spiritual essence that comes from the Pleroma–by the Demiurge and his Archons; in some versions, Sophia (the Aeon whose sin led to the existence of the Demiurge in the first place) deliberately “seeds” the human body with the Light, as a long-term “time bomb” that will defeat the Demiurge and ultimately bring about the end of the material cosmos.  In this reading, embodiment is a good thing for the goal it will ultimately achieve; but it is still bad for us at the present.  Our goal is to escape embodiment and return to the Pleroma.

Thus, the Gnostic perspective holds embodiment to happen after the Fall, or perhaps to be a sort of Fall itself; and the antagonism of the spirit and the body is not an accident, but it is baked into the cake, so to speak.  We are not a body-soul amalgam, as in orthodoxy, but a soul–our true self–which is unfortunately connected to a body (or possibly many bodies–some forms of Gnosticism posit reincarnation) as a result of the entrapment of the Light in matter.

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Talking Body

Last time we looked at whether God could have created truly free beings that either could not or would not sin, and concluded that likely He could not do so.  In short, truly free beings must have the possibility of sinning, and given enough time, at least some are almost certain to do so.  A third question we posed and saved until later, to wit:

Given the assumption (which I accept) that God made the spiritual world and the incorporeal intelligences (what we call angels, etc.), why did He make embodied intelligences–i.e. us, as well as any other intelligent species that may exist here on Earth or elsewhere in the cosmos?

This question seems to be on a tangent from the questions about the ability of beings to sin, but there is a subtlety involved, which I’ll get to a few posts down the road.  In the meantime, I want to look at possible answers.  After all, the various Christian accounts of creation, orthodox, Gnostic, and other, all agree that God began creation by making the incorporeal–bodiless–intelligences that we call angels, demons and (perhaps) other types of spirits.  Embodied intelligences (such as ourselves), and for that mater, the material cosmos as a whole, were not created until after the spirit realm.  In most traditional religious though, the spirit realm is thought of as being “higher”.  The question, then, is if this is so, why did God bother with the “lower” realm–our realm–and with us?  Weren’t we a bit of a come-down from the angels?

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Blinded by the Light

Last time, I said I wanted to look at the following three questions:

  1. Could God have made beings incapable of sin?
  2. If not 1, could He have made beings capable of sin but who would never sin in actuality?
  3. Given the assumption (which I accept) that God made the spiritual world and the incorporeal intelligences (what we call angels, etc.), why did He make embodied intelligences–i.e. us, as well as any other intelligent species that may exist here on Earth or elsewhere in the cosmos?

Here I want to look at 1 and 2.

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Legends of the Fall: Let’s Get This Party Started!

‘Cause it can’t always be Gaga–forgive me, Mama Monster!  😉

My series “Legends of the Fall” has been on hiatus for a considerable time.  Finding time and motivation, as well as deciding where I wanted to go with it, have slowed me down.  Moreover, the blog itself has been on semi-hiatus for about a year as life has gotten in the way.  Fiddling around on it and musing a bit today, I had a few ideas as to what I can do.  I won’t say I have a definitive conclusion to the series–what human can claim to understand the Fall?  I do think I have a direction in which I want to go with the series, though, and now is as good a time as any to start hashing it out.

In the next few posts I want to restart the series by asking the following questions:

  1. Could God have made beings incapable of sin?
  2. If not 1, could He have made beings capable of sin but who would never sin in actuality?
  3. Given the assumption (which I accept) that God made the spiritual world and the incorporeal intelligences (what we call angels, etc.), why did He make embodied intelligences–i.e. us, as well as any other intelligent species that may exist here on Earth or elsewhere in the cosmos?

I think that important conclusions can be drawn from number 3 especially.  We’ll get to that in time.  Some of the issues involved in these questions have been touched on before in the course of this very long series, but I think it will be useful to visit them afresh, as well as looking at new angles.

Thus, get ready for new posts, and let’s get the party started!

Part of the series “Legends of the Fall

Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 3–An Eye for an Eye?

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Last time we discussed whether infinite retribution for even the worst of finite sins is just.  Our answer to that was, “No.”  Here, though, we’ll look at a more fundamental question:  Is retributive justice itself truly just?

In the first post of this discussion, we looked at the various types of punishments for transgression, and what purposes they try to achieve:

  1.  Restitution seeks to redress a loss.  For example, if you steal from me, you must give the money back.
  2.  Prevention or containment seeks to prevent a crime from happening again.  If you’re in jail for bank robbery, you can’t rob another bank (at least until you are released).
  3.  Deterrence seeks to prevent crime in the first place.  If I know I’ll go to jail for bank robbery, I’ll be less inclined to rob banks to begin with.
  4.  Rehabilitation seeks to retrain or reform a criminal so that he or she can become, in the words of the cliche, a “productive member of society” who will not be inclined to be a repeat offender.
  5.  Retribution is the notion that certain responses are inherently appropriate for certain offenses.

All of these models of punishment are more or less intuitively obvious.  Certainly a criminal should make restitution for his or her crime; prevention and deterrence are fairly obvious motivations for punishment; and while rehabilitation had been controversial for various reasons, it still is fairly logical on its face.  Retribution–that a person deserves a certain punishment because of what he or she did–is, however, more mysterious.  It seems to be uncontroversial and intuitively right; and yet it seems to defy easy analysis.

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Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 2–Just Desserts

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Not that kind of dessert; but I couldn’t resist the visual pun!  🙂

Back here we began the discussion of the traditional argument in favor of Hell (and thus against universalism) which asserts that God is just in condemning to Hell the souls of those who are not saved (by whatever specific criteria that is determined).  In that context, we looked at the functions of punishment for transgression, and we came up with the following:  restitution, prevention, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution.  After discussing these various motivations for punishment, I concluded with this:

Hell certainly won’t rehabilitate the damned, since they are said to be damned eternally, incapable of reform.  It won’t give the saved restitution–if someone murders me, no amount of Hell he experiences will bring me back to life.  Further, whether I go to Heaven or Hell is traditionally said to be dependent on my own spiritual state.  In short, Heaven is not a “restitution” to me for getting murdered.  If I’m in a state of mortal sin, I’d go to spend eternity in Hell with the one who murdered me.  Prevention and deterrence are not operative here, either.  Fear of Hell might keep a living person on the straight and narrow.  However, after the Last Judgement, when everyone is either in Heaven or Hell, neither prevention nor deterrence has any further purpose.  The saved can no longer sin, so there is no necessity to deter them from evil.  Even if the damned were “let loose” from Hell, the saved can no longer be harmed in any way, so there’s nothing the damned can be prevented from doing to the innocent.

Thus, the only logic of Hell can be that it is a just retribution.  If an eternal Hell exists, retribution is its sole logical purpose.  Thus, in looking at this  issue, the question is not “Is eternal damnation just?” as such, but “In what way and to what extent is retribution, or more precisely retributive punishment just?”

Thus in trying to determine if it is just for God to damn certain people for eternity, we actually have two questions.  The first and most obvious is, “Is eternal punishment for one’s sins just?”  This is the question I’ll discuss in this post.  However, the very question brings up another, subtler question, to wit:  “Is retribution a just motivation for punishment at all?”  That question I will deal with in the next post in this series.

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Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 1–Retribution

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Back here, having addressed arguments against universalism that miss the point, I said,

In the next two posts in this series I’ll look at arguments for Hell that at least address the issue.  I’m dividing them into the more traditional arguments that God directly punishes sinners, who deserve what they get, and more modern arguments that take a more psychological approach and locate Hell in the viewpoint of the damned themselves.

Thus, I want now to look at the former of these notions:  that God directly punishes sinners, with the corollaries that they deserve that punishment; or to put it another way, that eternal damnation is in fact just.  In order to do this, before even discussing “just”, we have to begin by unpacking the meaning of “punishment” itself.  After all, if a person has transgressed moral law, there are several different responses society can have, all loosely lumped under “punishment”.  These responses are distinct, though, and are very different in what they attempt to achieve.  First, there is the notion of restoration or restitution.

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Destiny; or, Were You Meant to Read This Post?

Aside from the title, the video above doesn’t have much to do with the post, but that’s never stopped me before.  This post, in fact, is the latest installment in my series on free will.  The main focus of that series hasn’t been on examining free will as such.  Rather, the main thrust has been to see if a finite but immortal being could make an irrevocable choice.  This is relevant to the idea of universalism.  This is because the concept of the eternity of Hell is that the damned have in effect chosen their state and, so it is asserted, will never change their minds.  Aside from merely asserting this to be the case, there didn’t seem to be any logical reason for this to be.  After looking at several aspects of the problem, my final conclusion was that there’s no clear answer either way.

This post goes off on another tangent, though, and is more connected with my series on the Fall.  For reasons that will become clear in posts that I’m planning as a continuation and (possible!) completion of that series–the longest-running series on this blog–I think it’s necessary to look at another aspect of free will.  What I want to do is to ask the question:  Is our free will compatible with the foreknowledge of God?  In short, if God knows what we’re going to do before we do it–from all eternity, in fact–are we truly free?

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Buffy, the Bible, and Not My Business

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Update:  A Facebook friend has reported that I misremembered the Hitchhiker’s guide, writing “Not My Problem” field for “Somebody Else’s Problem” field.  Due corrections have been made!  I have left the title intact, though, for the sake of the alliteration….

In the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as fans well know, the setting is the fictional Southern California city of Sunnydale.  Sunnydale just happens to be located on top of the literal gates of Hell–the Hellmouth, as it’s called in the show.  Because of this, Sunnydale is chock full of vampires, demons, and monsters of various sorts.  The ongoing joke in the series is that everyone in the city is completely oblivious to all of this, attributing supernatural events, murders, and general mayhem to anything but their real causes.  The explanation given by Giles, Buffy’s Watcher, is that most people subconsciously block out anything that conflicts with their picture of ordinary reality.  They literally can’t see the weirdness.

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (consisting actually of five volumes by Douglas Adams and one by Eoin Colfer), there is mention made (in Life, the Universe, and Everything, I believe) of the SEP field.  It is explained that invisibility is extremely difficult to produce.  Therefore, if someone wants to hide something (in the novel, an invading spaceship), it’s easier to use the Somebody Else’s Problem–SEP–field.  Humans have a natural propensity not to want to get involved with anything that is “somebody else’s problem”.  The SEP field amplifies this natural tendency, so that while the object to be hidden is perfectly visible and in the open, no one actually notices it.

My contention is that most people who read the Bible are much like the people of Sunnydale; or to change similes, they read the Bible as if under the influence of an SEP field.

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Arguments Against Universalism: Missing the Point

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This entire series, obviously, is an extended argument in favor of universalism.  In order to argue for something, though, one has to understand the arguments against it.  Over the years I’ve had many conversations about universalism on blogs and elsewhere.  In doing so, I’ve encountered some contra arguments that I take seriously.  However, I’ve encountered many more arguments that are weak or problematic; moreover, it tends to be the same hoary arguments repeated again and again.  Thus, I’m taking a break from actively analyzing universalism and building a case for it, and instead looking at some of the common arguments I see being made against it.  In short, instead of an FAQ (frequently asked questions), I’m putting up a list of FMA (frequently made arguments).  That way, I’ll have a place to refer back to as a time-saving device in the future.

There are three categories of anti-universalism arguments I want to look at.  The latter two, which I’ll deal with in later posts, are more serious in that they actually address the relevant issues.  Here, though, I want to look at arguments–or I should say “so-called arguments”–that actually fail to address the actual issue of universalism, instead resorting to logical fallacies or irrelevancy.  There are five specific arguments that I’ve often heard that fall into this category in one way or another.  The first two are examples of ad hominem arguments, more specifically the genetic fallacy.  I’ll number these arguments as I go, dealing with each after describing it.

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