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CHNetwork Online Community Forums Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Indulgences Consistency of NDE's, Personal vs Received Faith, Origen vs Julian of Norwich

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  • #10291
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    Keepers
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    This actually turned out to be a long, and maybe messy question.  I’ve revised it a lot and have decided to just post it, in the hopes that perhaps someone out there might be able to see my trouble better than I do, and answer a question I may not even have properly asked.  I hope everyone can understand that I am by no means trying to persuade anyone against a doctrine of the Catholic Church, nor do even I want to be struggling with a doctrine, or the foundation for current doctrines, in the Catholic Church.
                                   

    Hi folks.  I’m wondering what the Catholic perspective would be on something I’m struggling with, which I guess could be summed up as: “What if you have ‘Ears to Hear’ a False Prophet?”

    I don’t totally mean ‘prophet’, here, in formal terms.  I guess I just mean, I’m struggling with how we (or the Catholic Church) can claim to be able to ascertain whose spiritual visions to trust or distrust– whose profoundly moving accounts of spiritual things (especially when seemingly consistent with the movements of your own soul, or the spiritual accounts of other people from diverse times or places) we accept as authoritative and accurate, and whose we dismiss (as demonic or simply erroneous).  I guess I’m struggling with dismay that those doctrines which most recommend themselves to me as true (I’d probably have recognized as authentic prophets these people, not others), are anathematized and contradicted by the Catholic Church, and at this point I believe that if any Christian faith is true, it is the Roman Catholic Church under the protection of the Holy Spirit through Peter’s office.
    Bit of background, here.  Before I began looking at Christianity specifically, my formative religious experiences led me to feel convinced that God was not judgemental, that there isn’t so much ‘evil’ in the world as ‘mistakes’, and I felt free in my conscience to explore various New-Age philosophies and neo-pagan religions in my search for truth.  And one of my early formative convictions about spiritual truths came in the form of (what I perceived as) a sincere response of my soul to something ringing profoundly true from written and in-person accounts of NDEs (‘Near Death Experiences’).  

    For those unfamiliar, an ‘NDE’ is basically an alleged event where people suffer brain death, experience (or believe they experience) an afterlife, are resuscitated, and report back on what they experienced.  Largely regardless of time period, culture, age, religious background, or expectations of the experiencer (Christians, Hindus, Atheists, Muslims; suicide, accident, serious illness, temporary brain death during surgery, etc), these reports tend to share consistent features, including revelation of the pre-existence of souls, and repeated reincarnation until a soul is prepared for full unity with God.  Reporters tend to agree with one another’s observations that both heavenly and hellish states exist, that upon death we are automatically ‘sorted’ into whichever state we had developed our soul during life (and that that is what life is for: opportunities to learn and grow in love, which develops our souls), and that those souls in ‘hell’ are not there forever, and are given repeated opportunities to learn and grow further, through reincarnation, as part of an ultimate universal reconciliation of all creation to God (Who is Love).  Occasionally someone reports something vividly different, but from what I’ve seen it’s usually (potentially?) well-meaning Southern-USA Protestant Jack-Chick-tract types, warning of excessively ghoulish hells and detailed tortures and the necessity of choosing their particular interpretation of Christianity to be ‘saved’ from that fate.  Other than that, for the most part, NDE-ers report seeing a common truth ‘behind’ religions, and that while many or most religions are profoundly good for correcting our souls towards the right direction, none of them are necessarily completely accurate.

    The modern Catholic Church (to my understanding) would quite firmly reject the possibility that both the Catholic Church can be true, and this spiritual reality (reincarnation to universal reconciliation) could be true.  For example, Origen (one of the church fathers) taught the pre-existence of souls, and the final reconciliation of all creatures– and he was anathematized.

    However, Julian of Norwich in the 1300s (who apparently is venerated by the Catholic Church even today?), was once seriously ill and believed to be near death (the Priest came to administer last rites), when she had the “visions” she later wrote about in her ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, which is apparently accepted by the Catholic Church and even quoted in the Catechism.  Among her ensuing convictions were a deep optimism in God’s “Omnibenevolence” and that ultimately, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (which sounds a lot, to many people including me, like universal salvation).  To my understanding, this has been interpreted by even great Christian apologists such as C.S. Lewis (as alluded to in ‘The Great Divorce’) as a belief in the final reconciliation of all creatures.  However, for some reason Julian has not been anathematized, and her vision seems to have been received by the Church as being from God, and I wonder if that’s partly because she didn’t explicitly *say* words like ‘universal reconciliation’, even if that tends to be a commonly accepted interpretation of her perspective?  My understanding is that belief in universal salvation has actually resurfaced repeatedly throughout the history of the Christian Church, even if it’s usually firmly rejected as non-orthodox (at least by Catholicism).

    I imagine we all know that old ‘Blind Men and the Elephant’ parable from India, as an analogy for how different men approach the same truth (elephant) from different angles (the trunk, the tail, the leg, the belly, the tusk), each having limited experience of only one angle of the truth, and futilely arguing over which of them is describing the ‘true’ elephant.

    It has always seemed to me like the NDE reports back about a reality that is a bit of an elephant.  Whereas different formal religions exist around the world (for the analogy’s sake, at a trunk, tail, leg, or belly), we seem to get a ‘larger picture’ by looking at consistent accounts across all peoples (including accounts from everyday, normal people), from ancient times to modern, across cultural and formal religious lines.  And to me at least it has always seemed natural to accept what feels like my soul telling me: “Yes, that’s how it is.”  And even many Christians (or at least people who considered themselves Christians) had ‘visions’ like these, and passionately taught these things to be accurate.

    I’m not asking if there’s room in Catholicism for reincarnation, or even, I suppose, universal salvation.  I get that there isn’t, if there isn’t.  Catholicism has taken strong stands on these issues and I’m not certain she has a mechanism for revisiting or adjusting her interpretation of such doctrines.  But I guess I’m asking how, within the paradigm of Christianity/Catholicism, people distinguish a ‘true’ prophet (or person receiving a ‘true’ vision) from a false one.  And when it goes back to the very beginning of the religion, or each step of the way, what is the proposed mechanism for the Church (or any religion) to be able to say that no matter how many people have a certain kind of spiritual experience, it will always have been a trick of some kind– whereas whenever real truth is spoken, the Church will accurately know.

    Again, I guess I’m answering my own question, as ‘Peter’ and the keys are supposed to guarantee the doctrinal correctness of the Church (and if Jesus was God then he had the ability to ensure that).

    But I guess I just…  I still feel unsettled.  I guess for me it feels like our ability to even accept first premises (such as ‘Jesus was God’, ‘The Scriptures are God-Breathed’, ‘The Catholic Church authentically represents and translates the Holy Spirit to the world’) relies on my individual, personal ability to trust my own ‘Eyes to see’ and ‘Ears to hear’.  And when I both have ‘Eyes to see’ the beauty and heart-compelling moral standards, in the Church, but also seem to have ‘Ears to hear’ and believe on a deep level in the metaphysical/spiritual truths recounted by people who the Church considers anathema, I don’t know what to do.  I seem to have ‘ears to hear’ two mutually contradictory propositions.  And the trouble is, an inability to reconcile that struggle seems to leave me on the outside of the Church, because (meaning no disrespect) whereas the ‘Whole Elephant’ picture of the NDE doesn’t rule out my recognizing truth in the ‘Trunk’ picture of Catholicism, the ‘Trunk’ picture of Catholicism seems to rule out my being allowed to believe there’s more to the elephant.

    Well, that’s it for now then, I guess.  Thoughts?

    #10294
    Profile photo of David W. Emery
    David W. Emery
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    @David W. Emery

    Hi Keepers,

    I can see that, given your background, this issue is a real battle for you. Fortunately, there looks to be a solution that is perhaps less complicated than your question. Let’s start with a few points drawn from my observation and analysis of your difficulty.

    First, your parable of the blind men and the elephant is equally true of your own knowledge and of areas of human study, not just of ideologies and organized religions. Second, your interest in NDEs (Near Death Experiences) comes primarily from your exploration of New Age ideology, which is mostly Gnostic in nature. You therefore have a prior assumption working. Third, we must acknowledge a common and obvious fallacy about NDEs: They are not a truth unto themselves, but are a physical (brain) experience that some people have had in extreme circumstances.

    As regards the first proposition: I see you piecing together scraps of ideologies and assertions like a jigsaw puzzle and finding that not all the pieces fit. This is to be expected. Ideologies, including scientific hypotheses and theories, are not complete and true statements about reality. Instead, they are all equally incomplete, like the blind men’s experience and understanding of the elephant. This is even true in the area of theology and of the formulas of Catholic doctrine: It is the divine revelation itself, not the words used to describe it, which is universally true. This is why the Church recognizes that its doctrine can always be better stated, and that our understanding of it can be developed over time. It is, in fact, our recognition of the human condition as a creature that leads us to this conclusion. We are not God, and we shouldn’t pretend to be omniscient. (Note, however, that I do not say that, because we cannot know everything, we therefore cannot know anything. That, too, is a fallacy.)

    As regards the second and third propositions: NDEs are not a religious or metaphysical truth, but a physical phenomenon involving the human brain. Science studies only physical phenomena; it cannot legitimately draw theological or metaphysical conclusions from them. It is a common fallacy of ideologies like New Age to misuse both phenomena and scientific investigation, attempting to draw conclusions that are not warranted. This fallacy, a very common one in our time, is today usually called “overreaching,” although its classical name in logic is non sequitur, “it does not follow.”

    What, then, do NDEs prove? Only that the brain is dying and producing sensations. I know something about dying brains, because my wife was ill for 15 years with Alzheimer’s disease before passing away in 2014. I was with her as much as possible, often surrounded by other patients with similar diseases, the entire time. They all had hallucinations, schizophrenia and other byproducts of the disease. The phenomenon of NDE does not demonstrate, any more than Alzheimer’s, that these sensations are connected with any objective truth, let alone some metaphysical principle. On the contrary, the fact that the person experiences sensations proves that the experience is subjective, because that is the realm of sensations. This is as far as physical science can go, as much as it can state. Anything more is fallacious.

    Now let’s talk about Origen and Julian of Norwich.

    Origen was a theologian. He also seems to have been a genius. Unfortunately, high intelligence is no guarantee of right thinking. Instead, man’s intelligence often produces ideas that cannot always be reconciled with reality; we call this “imagination.” And imagination is something that Origen had in abundance. It led him into several doctrinal errors, of which a “temporary hell” and ultimate universal salvation is one example.

    Julian (for the general reader: the lady’s name is actually unknown; the name “Julian” comes from the fact that she lived in the Church of St. Julian) was an ascetic and mystic. Her visions were not all connected with an assumed NDE (the occurrence of which is anyway a matter of speculation, not even of scientific investigation), so we have no ground to state that they were all caused in this manner. Besides, we know from numerous other sources that NDEs are not required for mystical visions to occur, that they are not caused by the brain.

    As to the content of her writings (it is not clear that she was literate, since literacy was not common in her time; she probably dictated them — indicating that people considered her someone wise and worthy of being listened to), the saying you cite is the one that is most bandied about, although perhaps the least understood. It is a general comment on the resolution of all things in God. It does not, however, suggest that Julian believed in universal salvation. (Indeed, she speaks of hell elsewhere.) Instead, it refers to the “new heavens and new earth” of Revelation 21, which itself is a vision of heaven after the end of the world. The resolution of all things in God includes the souls in eternal hell. It “is well” that they remain there because that is what they have chosen. Even in eternity, God gives them what they want — just as, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the benign father gives the younger son his inheritance when he asks for it, even though he asks out of turn and for a bad purpose.

    Allow me to say something about “having ears to hear” as well. This saying of Jesus (actually, it predates him; see Deuteronomy 29:4; Jeremiah 25:4; Ezekiel 12:2 and other Old Testament passages) refers to the obedience we owe to God. In the ancient east, slaves would reply to their master’s command, “I hear and obey.” We must have the same attitude toward God. The problem many people have today is that they aren’t sure whether they have a master (agnosticism), and they do not know how to discern the master’s command (ignorance). In other words, they have no ears and live a handicapped life.

    Finally, I need to mention that C.S. Lewis was Anglican, not Catholic. He cannot, therefore, be called upon to corroborate Catholic doctrine. Nevertheless, in the case you cite, you are misinterpreting what he said to match your prior assumption, which ultimately comes not from Christianity but from New Age. We should beware of using coincident similarities that one discovers in comparative religion; they lead many into the trackless wastes of indifferentism.

    You can see, then, how one’s prior assumptions can lead one into fallacies and misinterpretations.

    David

    #10293
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    Keepers
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    @Keepers

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

    I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s Alzheimers.  I can’t imagine how difficult that was for you and her.  It sounds like those experiences in the hospital (watching people experience schizophrenic delusions and so on) was persuasive for you in your understanding of brain damage as the only source of extra-real perceptions, which it sounds like you consider always unreliable.

    I’ve thought for a long time before responding to this topic, because I’m mostly reflecting and not sure I really have ‘comebacks’ or want to make an argument.  But I don’t want to leave you not knowing how much I’ve thought about this, either, and the truth is that I do have follow-ups based on your reply.

    I still struggle with thinking that NDE’s and reincarnation make certain real-life events like natural miscarriage, and accidental death in childhood by disease or tragic accident, okay, whereas the Catholic view of one life, one death, one judgement, makes those childhood deaths seem terribly unjust and harsh on a cosmic scale.  I guess, while I agree that BELIEVING in “one life, one death” makes us act better towards each other in each life here on earth (not postponing development for a ‘future life’, or denying the sanctity of existing life) it seems to me that if this is ACTUALLY the reality, it demonstrates an injustice of God, that He would make a baby to die in a tragic miscarriage and never have the chance to come back and live a real human life.  At the same time, I do grant that my knowledge is inferior to God’s knowledge and it’s possible that what seems evil to me is not so.  I do struggle, though, as it feels like the responsibility of every individual human to use their own conscience to measure different humans’ claims of divine revelation for truth, and it troubles me that my own soul/conscience balks so persistently at this idea of a good, just, loving God never letting some children have a real chance at adult human life (if He claims it’s important enough to be worthwhile for the rest of us), when it seems (again, to my limited human understanding) like reincarnation could provide a mechanism to ensure this, and many people claim divine revelation of this.  I struggle to reconcile my personal duty to follow my conscience, with how to reject the ‘divine revelations’ that sync with my soul, and how to accept the ‘divine revelations’ that my soul balks at.

    Also, based on just Internet searches (including of clips from Catholic TV shows, with active Catholic priests discussing their own NDE experiences), certain representatives of the Catholic Church seem to validate as genuine ‘olive branches from God’ those NDE experiences that support (or don’t outright contradict) church teaching.  It is only NDEs that contradict church teaching, that seem to get put down to “sensations from a dying or faulty brain”.  Looking from the outside, I have trouble distinguishing what the criteria are that distinguish genuine spiritual visions or prophecies or revelations from that.  Atheists, for example, often contend that your explanation of faulty brain events accounts for ALL spiritual perceptions.  How does a Catholic distinguish authentic spiritual experience from medical brain anomalies/malfunction?  Are Catholics who report NDEs that are consistent with church teaching reporting genuine spiritual experiences, or just experiencing brain malfunctions that happen to coincide with what the Catholic Church believes?

    #10292
    Profile photo of David W. Emery
    David W. Emery
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    @David W. Emery

    I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s Alzheimers. I can’t imagine how difficult that was for you and her. It sounds like those experiences in the hospital (watching people experience schizophrenic delusions and so on) was persuasive for you in your understanding of brain damage as the only source of extra-real perceptions, which it sounds like you consider always unreliable.

    All suffering is difficult, Keepers. But it can be made profitable with the right attitude and direction of life. There is much to be learned through suffering. Even Jesus “learned obedience” to his Father “through what he suffered” (see Hebrews 5:8). (FYI: Since my wife’s death, I have remarried to a widow I met about a year later. Life goes on.)

    My late wife’s experience was only part of my investigation into the matter of NDEs. I have taken a multi-disciplined approach to them, relying on a combination of physical science, philosophy and my Christian faith. These days, people tend to compartmentalize the different disciplines and dispute which approach is “more true,” but at base they are all one, coming as they do from the same Creator. As such, there can be no real conflict between them.

    Those Catholics who speculate about their experiences being “spiritual” are simply children of their time and are probably ignorant of the extent of our scientific knowledge of psychoactive drug experiences, which can parallel some of what we see with NDEs. There was a time, not so long ago (think 1960s and the hippies; I was in college then), when some people believed they could have a spiritual experience through the use of drugs. This has since been proved false. The experiences are the physical effects of drugs, and they are delusive; there is no objective component to them aside from alteration (and often damage) to the brain. Timothy Leary and his followers were wrong because they relied on their subjective experiences instead of looking at the objective reality.

    Allow me to approach this point from another direction. Spiritual effects must have spiritual causes; they derive primarily from the action of God — or from our own actions when they are evil, in which case the effects are evil as well. Most spiritual effects are not tangible; that is another misconception. “Phenomena” and “experiences” may be byproducts of a spiritual cause, but they are far more likely to have a mundane cause. The Catholic faith takes these points into account and is extremely cautious about such things as “phenomena” and private revelations.

    Looking from the outside, I have trouble distinguishing what the criteria are that distinguish genuine spiritual visions or prophecies or revelations from [phenomena that are not divine or of spiritual origin].

    The criteria are complex, subtle and difficult to explain to an outsider. I’ll leave that for another time. For now, let me say that there are indeed criteria, and that their interpretation in individual cases is properly reserved to spiritually advanced people with experience and insight into these matters. Interpretation must begin with a thorough investigation of the facts and the determination that no non-spiritual explanation is possible. The safe thing to do is to trust those who are given charge of such determinations and to official pronouncements of the Magisterium (the official teaching authority of the Church), which usually means that a bishop, after properly consulting the findings of those whom he trusts, must provide the final word. Where a significant number of people attempt, without authorization, to decide a case for themselves, invariably the Church suffers considerable harm from the dissension and wrangling which ensue.

    Are Catholics who report NDEs that are consistent with church teaching reporting genuine spiritual experiences, or just experiencing brain malfunctions that happen to coincide with what the Catholic Church believes?

    The Church has never officially approved any NDE as a genuine spiritual experience, and I doubt it will ever happen, for the reason already given: There are other possible explanations, and until they are completely ruled out, a positive judgment cannot be issued.

    There is no reason for me to deal with the question of reincarnation. You know that it is not accepted among Christians. As a matter of simple fact, suffering and death come to all human beings, and every human life has some tragic aspect to it because of sin, whether that sin is Original or Personal. Salvation is offered to all, and this includes those who die in infancy. Why should we doubt that the Lord has made provision for them, innocent as they are, as well as for us older folk who have amassed many personal sins?

    David

    #22998
    Profile photo of Keepers
    Keepers
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    @Keepers

    Though still not yet Catholic, on the advice of a priest I have begun attending mass every Sunday, and attending a faith studies group at my local parish. I am glad I am doing this, and continue to find much good in the Catholic Church. At the same time, I come back and back to this theological issue (the question of a permanent hell from which there is no escape, versus the Catholic-unapproved ‘revelations’ of NDE-ers and anathematized theologians who believe in temporary hells and universal salvation (via reincarnation or other mechanisms)), and it may remain the biggest barrier between me and accepting Catholicism as true.

    To get to the foundations of it, here are my thoughts today:

    If hell is a gnashing of teeth, that sounds like the people there are unhappy and have regrets. Unhappiness inherently contains a desire for happiness, and regret inherently contains a desire to turn around and choose a better path. That is the function of those feelings; they are spurs to prompt us towards good things.

    Therefore hell contains people desiring happiness and desiring to turn around and choose better paths… but Christianity teaches that a ‘good’ God leaves such people trapped forever, unable to take any further actions to choose better paths on a journey to the happiness they seek (even if they once ‘chose’ hell, if they are unhappy in hell it proves that there is still something in their hearts that wants rescue, that wants heaven, that desires to be reunited with God. Wherever there is suffering, it seems to me, there is always a desire for non-suffering, and therefore some small seed waiting to be watered). Whereas NDEs and anathematized theologians teach that pain and regret in the afterlife serves the same purpose as pain and regret in the biological life (moving us away from harm and towards good), Catholicism seems to teach a universe where unhappiness and regret become divorced from their functions (as proper means to the end of us seeking and finding better futures) and instead become an ultimate ‘end’ in themselves.

    That is not ‘goodness’, to me. That is not sensible theology. Or at least, my mind cannot make sense of it – and while I recognize that my mind is much smaller than God’s mind (and maybe many of yours), I also recognize that I am responsible for trying to know and reason with the mind He gave me, and I have to trust that a good God won’t leave my mind so defective that I cannot discern sensibility and goodness when I hear it (or at least, that I will only be held accountable for the goodness I can understand as such).

    I cannot seem to believe that any soul that continues to be a soul… that any spirit that retains a spark of life in it, or even that experiences pain and the capacity to be unhappy about pain (and therefore desires to escape pain), is removed from the potential of escaping pain. Pain without the purpose of moving us to better things has no point, and I cannot believe that a good God would allow pain to endure when there is no point.

    The theology attested to by people who experience NDEs seems much more sensible, coherent, merciful, and good to me: we live (potentially many) lives of exploration, learning, loving and failing to love – and while hellish afterlives exist, they prompt souls to reincarnate or otherwise continue to pursue the good, until they finally reach peace and joy with God.

    I can’t seem to believe in evil. I can believe in foolishness, and disease, and biological variation among creatures (including psychopathy, sociopathy, and other biological orientations towards causing harm without understanding what harm really means), and mistakes, and fear. But all of these can be overcome with love, time, and learning. And I believe God is capable of creating a universe of sufficient love, time and learning for all of His creatures. I cannot see a good in a permanent hell.

    And therefore I struggle to believe in the overall truth of a religion that makes such a definitive truth claim about a permanent hell.

    I’m sincerely interested in other people’s thoughts on this. I genuinely want to be able to believe in the goodness and truth of Catholicism, but when it comes to the fixed theological beliefs about an inescapable suffering of souls, I’m quite frustrated that I can’t wrap my mind and conscience around that and agree that a good and wise God would allow that when even my small mind can imagine an alternative that seems both more loving and more sensible.

    #23013
    Profile photo of David W. Emery
    David W. Emery
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    @David W. Emery

    Hello again Keepers, welcome back.

    As I attempted to explain earlier in this thread, New Age thinking and Catholic Christian thinking are quite different. They are based on entirely different approaches to reality and entirely different understandings of human psychology, not to mention entirely different views of spirituality. You persist in attempting to understand Catholic Christianity through the lens of New Age mentality, and as a result you fail to comprehend some of the most basic concepts of the Christian religion.

    If hell is a gnashing of teeth, that sounds like the people there are unhappy and have regrets. Unhappiness inherently contains a desire for happiness, and regret inherently contains a desire to turn around and choose a better path. That is the function of those feelings; they are spurs to prompt us towards good things.

    Therefore hell contains people desiring happiness and desiring to turn around and choose better paths… but Christianity teaches that a ‘good’ God leaves such people trapped forever, unable to take any further actions to choose better paths on a journey to the happiness they seek (even if they once ‘chose’ hell, if they are unhappy in hell it proves that there is still something in their hearts that wants rescue, that wants heaven, that desires to be reunited with God. Wherever there is suffering, it seems to me, there is always a desire for non-suffering, and therefore some small seed waiting to be watered).

    Human psychology and motivation do not function in the manner you describe. We humans are capable of operating on three distinct levels. The first level is that of the brute beast. This is the only level you assume exists in your argument, but that assumption contradicts common experience and has been repeatedly been proved false by physical science. Human beings can also operate on a rational, or human, level. This is the level where human reason overcomes the brute level reaction, introducing the functions of set purpose, love and heroism. It is also the level where human free will begins to operate. Without free will, a human being’s actions cannot be judged as good or evil. Without free will, there would be no sense to divine reward or punishment, heaven or hell. (This last point is the substance of your argument. But because the second level of human motivation actually exists, that argument is manifestly false.) There is a third level, that of the supernatural, wherein man, influenced by divine grace, allows himself to be guided by God’s own insight and will and thus overcomes his natural impulse to evil, which Christians call Original Sin.

    Notice that human love is not possible at the first, or lowest, level of operation. Yet love does exist at the second level, supported by human free will and manifesting the qualities I have outlined above: being able to place the other person, through love, ahead of personal pleasure and advantage, to the point of heroism. We can witness instances of this love in action in the sacrifices willingly made by spouses and parents, in the altruistic sacrifices made by persons for the sake of mankind, and in the valor displayed on the battlefield by soldiers defending their comrades at great risk to themselves.

    At the highest level, that of supernatural love, union with God through love reaches its zenith. It is here that the mystics, especially, experience the humility, goodness and mercy of God — something that people on lower levels usually fail to experience or comprehend. A few days ago, I was reading a passage from the Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, in which she spoke of God’s humility, goodness and mercy precisely as attributes hidden from the majority of mankind, but which she experienced in overwhelming fashion, even while dying of tuberculosis, and ardently desired to proclaim to the world. Her vocation to proclaim the divine mercy was so powerfully established in her that nothing else mattered. She was not just willing to suffer for God, but desired and invited that suffering for the all-embracing benefits that human beings can receive from it.

    Additionally, I would like to present a contrary view from the side of evil. About ten years ago, I had a rare opportunity to investigate the influence of evil orientation on the human thought process through an extensive dialogue with a long-term Satanist. We discussed a wide variety of topics over the better part of a year, and I became very familiar with the thought pattern, motivation and overall world view of the human person immersed in evil.

    One of the most striking revelations to come from this encounter was the fact that this Satanist was operating on the second level of human motivation — meaning that the person was consciously employing free will and acting against the brute reaction to suffering which you describe. Hatred of God and the natural action of his created universe was the towering priority of this person, whose response, repeated several times over the course of the dialogue, was that suffering is an inevitable consequence of doing evil (in Judeo-Christian terms, “sinning”), and therefore the evildoer simply accepts the suffering and does what he does anyway. He is what he is and acts accordingly in spite of the pain and misery — or even, perhaps, because of it, after the fashion of a masochist. Doing evil is thus more important to such a person than avoiding the suffering and misery that the evildoing causes. It is part of the mystery of evil, and it disproves your assertion that people would prefer to flee suffering than to do evil.

    Now I must explain the Christian concept of eternity so that you will be able to understand the “persistence” of hell. Eternity is not, as you assume, a prolongation of time, but an absence of time. Time is a function of bodily (material) change, which happens only in this present universe. But the universe does not represent all of reality. And outside of the universe, because physical matter does not exist, time also does not exist. We call this state “eternity,” and we enter eternity through the portal of bodily death.

    There is no “before” or “after” in eternity, but only a “now,” in which everything simply exists or occurs simultaneously. In eternity, therefore, change does not exist. A person in eternity cannot “make progress” or move toward a change of heart or a different state of being. This explains why heaven and hell do not change. The person does not change, so his choice of good or evil and his consequential state of being cannot change. In other words, according to his state of being, the consequences of his actions while he lived in the universe and in time do not change when he enters into eternity, simply because time — the medium in which change takes place — does not exist in eternity.

    From this understanding of reality, your “NDEs and anathematized theologians” are simply wrong. Instead of taking God’s reality as it is given, they are taking subjective experiences and abstract ideas and attempting to project them as a replacement for God’s reality.

    That is not ‘goodness’, to me. That is not sensible theology.

    God is the measure of goodness; you are not. Subjectivism is the bane of the human thought process because it does not allow a person to embrace reality, but concentrates all valuation in one’s own personal perceptions and desires.

    The theology attested to by people who experience NDEs seems much more sensible, coherent, merciful, and good to me: we live (potentially many) lives of exploration, learning, loving and failing to love – and while hellish afterlives exist, they prompt souls to reincarnate or otherwise continue to pursue the good, until they finally reach peace and joy with God.

    I can’t seem to believe in evil.

    Yet you acknowledge the consequence of evil, which is suffering. You attempt to explain suffering by attributing it to “foolishness, and disease, and biological variation among creatures (including psychopathy, sociopathy, and other biological orientations towards causing harm without understanding what harm really means), and mistakes, and fear,” saying that “all of these can be overcome with love, time, and learning.” Yet the suffering persists. Your remedy is ineffective. This is the fallacy of the Eastern religions, and along with them, New Age spirituality: the assertion that suffering can be brought to an end by human means. The suffering continues, because sin continues in this world in spite of the efforts of many to stop the result without stopping the cause.

    David

    #23018
    Profile photo of John S. de Beer
    jsdebeer
    Participant
    @JSdeBeer

    We humans are capable of operating on three distinct levels. The first level is that of the brute beast.  […]  Human beings can also operate on a rational, or human, level. This is the level where human reason overcomes the brute level reaction, introducing the functions of set purpose, love and heroism. It is also the level where human free will begins to operate. Without free will, a human being’s actions cannot be judged as good or evil. Without free will, there would be no sense to divine reward or punishment, heaven or hell.  […]  There is a third level, that of the supernatural, wherein man, influenced by divine grace, allows himself to be guided by God’s own insight and will and thus overcomes his natural impulse to evil, which Christians call Original Sin.

    This is a marvellously useful explanation: thank you, David!

    Origen was a theologian.  […]  Julian […] was an ascetic and mystic.

    The distinction between theology and mysticism is not always readily apparent to those coming from outside the Faith, but it is important.  (Others coming from outside the Faith discount mysticism altogether in favour of theology, which is also a mistake.)

    I  guess for me it feels like our ability to even accept first premises (such as ‘Jesus was God’, ‘The Scriptures are God-Breathed’, ‘The Catholic Church authentically represents and translates the Holy Spirit to the world’) relies on my individual, personal ability to trust my own ‘Eyes to see’ and ‘Ears to hear’.

    I faced a struggle in my own conversion, Keepers, that echoes yours in certain respects.  Faced with a religion that essentially denied absolute Truth (namely, liberal Anglicanism), I was repulsed and turned to go looking for the absolute truth that I knew, almost by intuition, to be out there.  From a certain point of view, this is contradictory: the only reason that I was seeking an objective truth was because of my subjective sense that something was wrong.  This made the final commitment very difficult, since it required me to give up that subjective impulse and to say, as David put it, ‘I hear, Lord, and obey.’  This leap of faith really did feel like a jump over a chasm!

    Ultimately, though, this leap is a liberation.  I knew even then that my mind was finite and fallible; what a relief, now, to have a secure foundation on which to stand!  This does not annul one’s reason, or even one’s subjective tastes, but guides them into fullness and perfection, the way that a trellis, far from smothering a vine, gives it the support it needs to flourish.  Even a casual look at the lives of the saints reveals what an incredible variety of characters has been united in obedience to God without the loss of individuality and private feeling.  The key, though, is obedience to God, who is the Truth.  We also have the help of divine grace, which, looking back, I can see guiding my steps toward the Church.

    I imagine we all know that old ‘Blind Men and the Elephant’ parable from India, as an analogy for how different men approach the same truth (elephant) from different angles (the trunk, the tail, the leg, the belly, the tusk), each having limited experience of only one angle of the truth, and futilely arguing over which of them is describing the ‘true’ elephant.

    This little parable is not false.  The Second Vatican Council teaches that non-Christian religions have scraps of the truth in them.  If you like, the Hindu feels the trunk and the Moslem the leg, each forming an incomplete understanding of the whole elephant, which is to say, the whole truth.  In our case, though, the elephant has spoken, and told the blind men what kind of beast it is.  Which is to say, God has revealed himself to us through the Law and through the Deposit of Faith given to the Apostles, which has been clarified in succeeding generations under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.  Our understanding of God is still limited (the men, after all, remain blind, and we remain finite), but what we do know is objectively true, since God himself has revealed it.

    —John.

    #23031
    Profile photo of cosbap
    cosbap
    Participant
    @cosbap

    Hi Keepers,

    This video by Peter Kreeft discusses God’s mercy and justice, and how he can be absolutely just and absolutely merciful at the same time. Heaven and hell fit into the subject of justice and mercy. I think this talk is a very clear and accessible introduction to the concepts. I hope its useful, Kreeft is one of my favourite christian thinkers.

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