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Heaven, Hell, and the Religions

We’ve looked at universalism in the Abrahamic and Dharmic religions, and in a summary way in the other major (and minor) religions of the world.  In this post I’d like to see what, if any, broad patterns we can find, and what their relevance is in general and in particular, specifically in regard to universalism as a concept.

In the case of traditional and folk religions, the very concept of an afterlife often seems murky–the dead inhabit a shady, insubstantial realm such as the Greek Hades or the Hebrew She’ol.  Alternately, they may inhabit the realm of the deified or semi-deified ancestors.  These two possibilities are not exclusive, it should be noted.  Some such religions, such as that of the ancient Celts and some strands of the ancient Greek religion, had some sort of belief in reincarnation (or “metempsychosis”, as the Greeks referred to it).  By and large, there is no consistent idea of reward and punishment–Heaven and Hell–in most of these faiths.  To the extent that there is, it is either ambiguous or applicable only to a few (such as the Greek Elysian Fields and Tartarus) or it seems to have been imported from other religions (any notions of heavens and hells in Chinese and Japanese religion, for example, comes from Buddhism).

In general, I think it fair to say that there is no clear evidence for reward and punishment in the afterlife in any of the religions that precede the Axial Age, with the probable exception of the religion of Ancient Egypt and the possible exception of Zoroastrianism (so many Zoroastrian writings have been lost and there are so many issues with dating the ones we have, that there is some ambiguity as to how old certain doctrines actually are).  I think it is also safe to say that there is also no clear evidence of reward and punishment in the afterlife in the traditional and folk religions that have survived to modern times, except insofar as they’ve been influenced by so-called great or world religions.

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Universalism in Various Religions: Miscellany

We’ve looked at universalism in the Abrahamic and Dharmic faiths.  There are other important religious traditions to consider, but the remaining ones, by and large, cannot be grouped together as we’ve done in the last two posts.  Therefore, this post will be a bit of a grab bag.  The order in which I consider the various religions with which I’m dealing here will be broadly by type or cultural zone (e.g. I’ll look at the Chinese religions together); but once more, there will be no formal grouping of religions by category as before.  Therefore, go below the cut tag and we’ll begin!

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Universalism in Various Religions: The Dharmic Faiths

Last time, we looked at universalism in the Abrahamic faiths.  In this post, I want to look at universalism in the Dharmic religions.  The Dharmic faiths are the great religions which originated in the Indian subcontinent, stemming ultimately from the ancient beliefs of the Indo-Aryan peoples.  The oldest of these is the religion we refer to  as Hinduism, traditionally known to its adherents as Sanātana Dharma, “the eternal religion”.  From Hinduism gradually developed the Śramaṇa movement, which developed eventually into Buddhism and Jainism.  The most recent of the Dharmic faiths, Sikhism, came into being in the 15th Century, evolving from the branch of Hinduism known as the Sant Mat movement.

All of the Dharmic religions share certain basic concepts.  Chief among them are

  1. The idea of an eternal universe that goes through infinite cycles of creation, evolution, decline, and dissolution
  2. Many levels of existence beyond the earthly
  3. A belief in reincarnation or rebirth, in which beings take on numerous lives in numerous realms
  4. A belief in karma, the principle by which one’s actions are requited, for good or for ill, in the present life and/or future lives
  5. Finally, a belief that beings can ultimately end the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) through proper spiritual practice

Having laid our the similarities, let’s look at the religions individually.

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Universalism in Various Religions: The Abrahamic Faiths

This series on universalism has looked at the topic from the perspective of Christianity.  This is because, first of all, I myself am a Christian, of the Catholic variety.  Second, despite universalist themes that go back to the very beginning of the faith, Christianity has by and large been construed as non-universalist; thus, the necessity of making arguments in favor of universalism.  I thought, however, that it would be interesting–and perhaps instructive–to look at the other great religions and their teachings on the afterlife, especially as regards the notion of universalism.  In order to avoid an inordinately long post, I’m going to break this up by category.  This post will deal with the Abrahamic religions.

The Abrahamic faiths are, obviously, those closest to Christianity in worldview in general, and in views of the afterlife in particular.  Thus, we will look at them first.  Judaism and Islam are obvious candidates, of course.  However, I will also give a brief consideration to Gnosticism, Mormonism, and also to the Bahá’í Faith, for reasons I’ll elaborate below.  We will look at them in historical order, beginning with Judaism.

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Universalism: Is It Coherent?

Recently we looked at universalism in relationship to Scripture and Tradition, and we saw that neither of these sources of authority conclusively condemns the hope of  universal salvation.  In short, while we can’t argue that universalism is definitively true based on these sources, neither can we say it us ruled out, either.  Universalism is therefore a possible and non-heretical option.  Whether it is reasonable or likely is an issue for philosophical and theological discourse, which has been the overall approach of this series.

I have certainly posted plenty of things philosophical in this series on universalism, and I think I’ve dealt with all the most important issues.  I would like to look at one somewhat ancillary issue, though.  This is inspired by a recent blog discussion I had (which I also referenced in the last post).  At one point, an interlocutor going by the handle seven sleepers, in taking issue with my stated opinion on universalism, said, “Side note: If you ditch hell, you lose heaven. Pretty obvious that to lose one is to lose the other.”  My response there was, “No, it is not, in fact, obvious, nor is this assertion even logical. It is merely an assertion.”  In this post I’d like–very briefly!–to unpack my thoughts on this.

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Universalism: Scripture and Tradition

The last seven posts in my series on universalism (beginning here and going to here) were intended more or less as a coda to the series.  My idea was that they would in summary fashion deal with all the major objections to universalism–both those that in my judgement missed the point and those that at least legitimately took on the issues at hand–and show why they were unworkable or problematic.  So I thought, anyway.  Alas, nothing ever ends–nor, in a sense, would I expect it to.  Strong partisans of what I have called the traditional view of hell (or TVOH, as I abbreviate it) are not likely to be moved by any arguments.  Conversely, strong universalists will likely also remain unmoved.

This week I have participated in a combox discussion at Rod Dreher’s blog, and as sometimes happens, the issue of universalism arose.  There was a bit of back-and-forth between me and some supporters of the TVOH.  For those who are interested, the exchange is over here.  It’s actually much shorter and less detailed than previous blog discussions I’ve had on the issue, both there and at other blogs.  It does induce me to make more explicit some points that I have not, perhaps, elaborated on enough here.  Mostly, I’ve been looking at the philosophical underpinnings of the arguments for the TVOH, and trying to show why those underpinnings are problematic, as well as trying to make a philosophical argument in favor of universalism.  As often happens in combox discussions, though, the discussion in question brought back the issue of authority.  I have never really explicitly dealt with that issue in this series, though I’ve touched on it several times.  Therefore, I decided it would be a good idea to dedicate a post specifically to just those issues, which I will now deal with.

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Quote for the Week

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The religion of the Sufi is not separate from the religions of the world. People have fought in vain about the names and lives of their saviors, and have named their religions after the name of their savior, instead of uniting with each other in the truth that is taught. This truth can be traced in all religions, whether one community calls another pagan or infidel or heathen. Such persons claim that theirs is the only scripture, and their place of worship the only abode of God. Sufism is a name applied to a certain philosophy by those who do not accept the philosophy; hence it cannot really be described as a religion; it contains a religion but is not itself a religion. Sufism is a religion if one wishes to learn religion from it. But it is beyond religion, for it is the light, the sustenance of every soul, raising the mortal being to immortality.

–Inayat Khan, in The Spiritual Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Vol. I, The Way of Illumination, Section I – The Way of Illumination, Part III : The Sufi; courtesy of Wikiquote

A Novena for Our Lady of Lourdes

Novena to
Our Lady of Lourdes

Prayer
Be blessed, O most pure Virgin, for having vouchsafed to manifest your shining with life, sweetness and beauty, in the Grotto of Lourdes, saying to the child, St. Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” A thousand times we congratulate you upon your Immaculate Conception. And now, O ever Immaculate Virgin, Mother of mercy, Health of the sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, you know our wants, our troubles, our sufferings deign to cast upon us a look of mercy.
 

 

lourdes

By appearing in the Grotto of Lourdes, you were pleased to make it a privileged sanctuary, whence you dispense your favors, and already many have obtained the cure of their infirmities, both spiritual and physical. We come, therefore, with the most unbounded confidence to implore your maternal intercession. Obtain for us, O loving Mother, the granting of our request.
(state your request)
Through gratitude for your favors, we will endeavor to imitate your virtues, that we may one day share your glory.
Our Lady of Lourdes, Mother of Christ, you had influence with your divine son while upon earth. You have the same influence now in Heaven. Pray for us; obtain for us from your Divine Son our special requests if it be the Divine Will. Amen.Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

NINE DAY NOVENA TO OUR LADY OF LOURDES

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9


DAY ONE

O Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, virgin and mother, queen of heaven, chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of the Eternal Word and in virtue of this title preserved from original sin, we kneel before you as did little Bernadette at Lourdes and pray with childlike trust in you that as we contemplate your glorious appearance at Lourdes, you will look with mercy on our present petition and secure for us a favorable answer to the request for which we are making this novena.

(make your request)

O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

DAY TWO
Be blessed, O most pure Virgin, for having vouchsafed to manifest yourself shining with light, sweetness and beauty, in the Grotto of Lourdes, saying to the child Saint Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception!” O Mary Immaculate, inflame our hearts with one ray of the burning love of your pure heart Let them be consumed with love for Jesus and for you, in order that we may merit one day to enjoy your glorious eternity. O dispenser of His graces here below, take into your keeping and present to your Divine Son the petition for which we are making this novena.

(make your request)

O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your  assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

DAY THREE
“You are all fair, O Mary, and there is in you no stain of original sin.” O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. O brilliant star of sanctity, as on that lovely day, upon a rough rock in Lourdes you spoke to the child Bernadette and a fountain broke from the plain earth and miracles happened and the great shrine of Lourdes began, so now I beseech you to hear our fervent prayer and do, we beseech you, grant us the petition we now so earnestly seek.(make your request)

O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious  in your assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

DAY FOUR
O Immaculate Queen of Heaven, we your wayward, erring children, join our unworthy prayers of praise and thanksgiving to those of the angels and saints and your own-the One, Holy, and Undivided Trinity may be glorified in heaven and on earth. Our Lady of Lourdes, as you looked down with love and mercy upon Bernadette as she prayed her rosary in the grotto, look down now, we beseech you, with love and mercy upon us. From the abundance of graces granted you by your Divine Son, sweet Mother of God, give to each of us all that your motherly heart sees we need and at this moment look with special favor on the grace we seek in this novena.

(make your request)

O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your  assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

DAY FIVE
O Mary Immaculate, Mother of God and our mother, from the heights of your dignity look down mercifully upon us while we, full of confidence in your unbounded goodness and confident that your Divine Son will look favorably upon any request you make of Him in our behalf, we beseech you to come to our aid and secure for us the favor we seek in this novena.(make your request)O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your  assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

DAY SIX
O glorious Mother of God, so powerful under your special title of Our Lady of Lourdes, to you we raise our hearts and hands to implore your powerful intercession in obtaining from the gracious Heart of Jesus all the helps and graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare and for the special favor we so earnestly seek in this novena.

(make your request)

O Lady of Bernadette, with the stars of heaven in your hair and the roses of earth at your feet, look with compassion upon us today as you did so long ago on Bernadette in the Grotto of Lourdes.

O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious  in your assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

DAY SEVEN
O Almighty God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary did prepare a worthy dwelling place for your Son, we humbly beseech you that as we contemplate the apparition of Our Lady in the Grotto of Lourdes, we may be blessed with health of mind and body.  O most gracious Mother Mary, beloved Mother of Our Lord and Redeemer, look with favor upon us as you did that day on Bernadette and intercede with him for us that the favor we now so earnestly seek may be granted to us.(make your request)O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your  assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

DAY EIGHT
O Immaculate Mother of God, from heaven itself you came to appear to the little Bernadette in the rough Grotto of Lourdes! And as Bernadette knelt at your feet and the miraculous  spring burst forth and as multitudes have knelt ever since before your shrine, O Mother of God, we kneel before you today to ask that in your mercy you plead with your Divine Son to grant the special favor we seek in this novena.

(make your request)

O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

 

DAY NINE
O glorious Mother of God, to you we raise our hearts and hands to implore your powerful intercession in obtaining from the benign Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly for the grace of a happy death. O Mother of our Divine Lord, as we conclude this novena for the special favor we seek at this time.(make your request) 
 lourdesmary_berna4inchcopy1
We feel animated with confidence that your prayers in our behalf will be graciously heard. O Mother of My Lord, through the love you bear to Jesus Christ and for the glory of His Name, hear our prayers and obtain our petitions.O Brilliant star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your  assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

Her feast day is today.  Courtesy of here.

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 religions, 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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