Essays on various subjects

Friday, July 15, 2005

God is not as clever as Dante.

The recent Islamofascist terror bombings in London give rise to the occasional speculation of what the perpetrators will suffer in Hell (much to their surprise).

Self-congratulating “compassionate” Christians tend to say things like, “there is a Hell but no one’s in it”, or “Hell is separation from God.” Some may add eternal, but they don’t really believe God is that mean.

More standard Christians take the Gospel at its words about the outer darkness and the eternal wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Some like Dante imagine scenes of torment. An email sent to The Corner at National Review Online said:

“In the corner this morning you comment that the Iraq child-killers could be eternally punished with the image of the mangled bodies forever before them. One problem: they'd enjoy that.

Of course, if you take C.S. Lewis's view of things (as I do), the eternal punishment of any wicked feeling is probably just to be left free to keep eternally feeling it. The demonic pleasure the killer would take in the eternal contemplation of his handiwork would be its own punishment - nothing makes a man more miserable than the indulgence of that kind of pleasure.”

I don’t follow the reasoning of the second paragraph, though. If the killer takes eternal demonic pleasure, how is that man made more miserable by enjoying what he likes?

Obviously, any discussion of Heaven and Hell is entirely speculative (but try to let that stop us!). Anything we think or say about the afterlife, though, must be predicated on what we think God is like.

Those who have actually met God may have a somewhat better means of understanding him or seeing him as he really is rather than simply trying to imagine him. But the direct manifestation of God to someone is no guarantee the individual cannot misinterpret the experience, nor will not delude himself about it, or come to false conclusions.

Skeptics of spiritual experience are so for two reasons: jealousy and fear. People are jealous that some nincompoop has had something miraculous occur to them while they have not; and secondly, the fear that the person making such claims of grace is crazy since most people who make such claims are indeed crazy, deluded, megalomaniacal.

I am going to base my opinions on Heaven and Hell upon my theory of consciousness rather than upon any “vision”.

To put things simply here is the basic template I advance.
1) God created the universe and life.
2) Life was created to process and develop over time and included mortality for all living things, competition in and among species as well as co-operation or symbiosis.
3) Life is created with indelible instincts, and consciousness in creatures develops into a self-awareness in humans capable of relationship with God and continual development of consciousness through learning and discovery.
4) Everything God does creatively is progressive and processional. Things developing over time to sudden shifts in either insight (regarding consciousness) or in systems of matter and life.
5) Regarding God’s nature, experience teaches us that he is all Love without anger, wrath, or vengeance seeking. He is impassive to suffering while at the same time, intimately concerned and helpful to us. Nor is there any kind of evil which God cannot understand nor forgive. He allows all things in us.

Spiritual consciousness is something a little different from ordinary self-awareness. As animals we are aware of our thoughts and being, but consciousness is a process of shifting perspectives on the nature of ourselves and Reality.

There are no shortcuts to God, in essence. A man cannot become holy overnight, if we take righteousness to mean one with God. A child who dies cannot become an instantly perfect “angel”. Every person must tread a path of consciousness which cannot be set aside. That would apply to the smallest embryo and the most reprobate sinner.

So if we believe that even the most unconscious of humans, infants and unborn, must grow up to adulthood and maturity in wisdom even in an afterlife, then we accept that there must be a means for this to occur.

It is not unreasonable to also believe that people who die in various conditions of wisdom or lack of must have a means to progress over time in the afterlife.

Catholics invented Purgatory for this regarding believers while maintaining Hell for sinners.

I would suggest that Purgatory would apply to everyone in whatever degree of wisdom they knew.

It is understandable that we want the Hitlers, Stalins, evil doers and terrorists of the world to suffer unbearable torments, and would feel cheated if they did not; but to God any and everything is forgivable and it will have to be so for us, too, if we are to be wise as God is.

Even so, rest assured that evil doers will suffer unbearable torments or shall stand eternally in place, heavy and hard as stones, for the consciousness of their crimes and sins must be understood by them or they shall never advance out of their condition. Thomas Aquinas wrote that a disordered mind is it’s own punishment.

Whether people are able to remain stuck in the place of their own unyielding will forever, who knows? God forces no one to acknowledge him and turn to Love as their salvation. Nor does he reveal himself to any unready or unwilling to change. Once revealed, God is irresistible, Game Over, so to speak, for selfish pride.

But I have often seen that people will not bend the knee, but harden their hearts throughout a long life and gain absolutely no personal wisdom.

My father is almost eighty years old and is no wiser a man than he was as a petulant 6 year old boy. He has no curiosity about himself, and never wonders why his children are estranged from him since he believes that all the fault is in his offspring. Like most people, he will admit he is not perfect, but that’s a pro forma statement meant to mollify, not to acknowledge faults or bad acts.

My father is in continual emotional torment, bitterness, anger, and despair. He has often threatened suicide, and now that he is in poor health, promises to kill himself before he allows himself to be helpless in some nursing home. (But I doubt even then he would shoot himself. When push comes to shove, his fear of death, it’s nothingness will likely prevent him from pulling the trigger.) In this world, he is able to inflict suffering upon others. I would hope in the next world, he is unable to do so unless it is to people similar to himself.

A sage once said, “God gives each person a choice. You can choose to have love or power, but you can’t have both.”

Everyone chooses power (if you recognize original sin). Pride is power in that it gives the proud a sense of power in himself, a feeling of will and a boundless desire to control others.

We choose love when we realize how useless, tasteless, and joyless our pride is. But most people never chose to commit themselves wholly to love. Are we then to believe that God disposes of all of these beloved creatures to Hell since he surely understood that most people would hardly even make the start of the journey of going his way into Life?

Anyone who has ever experienced the incredible glory of Abba, the Father, expressing his absolute love and delight in his creature, it is impossible to imagine that God’s allowance and impassivity towards our free will would result in his consigning the vast majority of his beloved creatures to eternal damnation.

But it is possible that God allows each creature to take as long as forever to seek him and the way out of suffering. For all we know, some people may never choose to seek their salvation in faith.

Birds of a feather do flock together, though, and so I imagine Purgatory/Heaven must be a very large place divided among people segregating themselves according to similarity of consciousness. A kingdom of distinct classes of people until everyone graduates to the same class.

So Hell is indeed the outer darkness, constant wailing and gnashing of teeth, while at the same time eternally offering an escape hatch into Heaven.

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