Ethics and the Third Person--the death of sin, and other deaths

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit. After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would involve, first for God and then for myself, I reached the topic of enacted human sin; and I began considering the consequences of my sin. This allowed me to also spend some time, discussing anti-theistic arguments from evil and/or suffering, in context of my own developing argument.

In my most recent entry, I returned again to considering the relationship of sin and death in me, raising the technical possibility of annihilation: something that I might achieve through my sin, but only if God allowed me to go that far. But (I ended my previous entry asking), would God allow me to do that?

This entry concludes chapter 37, "death", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Where I thought a footnote would be too disruptive to represent in my main text, I have put it into the comments below instead; this will be marked where so.

Incidentally, this would be another good time to read that disclaimer over there to the right, about how not every journal entry necessarily reflects the beliefs of every Cadre member. Some of us may now, or in the future, be annihilationists, and are free to post defenses of that insofar as they can see to do so (or may have done so already). Links to annihilation defenses are also welcome in the comments below. One popular internet-accessible defense of annihilationism can be found here, in a chapter from Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi's Immortality or Resurrection? While I could engage in a exegetical analysis of the topic, too, my series is designed to proceed along a different route.

.......[excerpt begins here]

I suppose it is technically possible that God might choose to let me utterly 'win' in that fashion; not merely to win a battle here and there (although a Pyrrhic victory it would certainly be!), but to win the war I instigate against Him. I push myself away from, or even clamor to be over against, the source of my life; and God could possibly say, "Fine, if that is what you wish, you may have your wish"--at which point I would cease to exist, for I am not the Independent, and it is intrinsically contradictory for there to be more than one Independent, and therefore even if He wanted to, God could not grant me that scope for my wish. Nor could I ever attain that scope in any other fashion.

But, I do not think He would ever choose to allow me to reap annihilation, either. Since this would be the final renouncement of any possible fair-togetherness between me and any other entity (including God), God would be acting to complete non-togetherness--God Himself would be acting against His own intrinsic eternal action of self-existence! It would be God, then, Who was being non-righteous! It couldn’t even be justice; not justice of any kind of righteousness! It certainly couldn’t be love: that God Himself Who is love in His own trinitarian self-existence, should act to deny the fulfillment of love to me, not only to delay that fulfillment until a later time but to actually act against such a fulfillment ever happening--what worse contradiction of theology could be imagined?! I might as well deny the reality of the orthodox Trinity at once and convert to Islam or perhaps to Arianism and be done with it! [see first comment below for an extended footnote here on Arianism]

If God annihilated me, I would cease to exist; and if I stopped existing, then it would be impossible for Him to act in such a way that His love toward me should be fulfilled--and how could His love toward me be fulfilled, without my becoming a true and good person... a true and good son?

No: I conclude that God would choose to refuse such a wish from me. I might intend to cut myself from His apron-strings, so to speak--or rather from my dependence on His life-support!--but I do not think He would let me fully succeed. It would not be consistent with a fulfillment of His love; and God shall, God will, be self-consistent.

And, let me say that I can test this experimentally, if I dare--or rather, I can draw conclusions from past experiences that I can treat as 'experiments'.

I have sinned.

Yet, here I am.

Yet I must and shall die; it is a necessary consequence of cutting myself off from Life.

But then again, I have not (nor apparently ever can, nor ever shall) cut myself off totally from Life. So the death I shall face is not of that sort. And this is a grace of God; for how could 'I' benefit from achieving non-existence!?

What sort of death remains?

It must be only a partial death--to some degree, perhaps to an extreme degree, but no further. And it must be a shadow of something that God Himself can, or does, accomplish.

So, what sorts of divine 'death' have I covered so far?

If I start from where I am, and work backward through creation to God, the first divine action of death I find (although not the most basic) is the death God willingly undertakes in order to create from Himself not-God entities--such as Nature and myself. [This notion was inferred and more extensively covered in a previous, currently unpublished section of chapters.]

Here, in effect, God willingly but partially kills Himself, making that which results from this action to be something without His full divine attributes--making indeed a ‘portion’ at all, a not-God creation distinct from begetting (or proceeding). This creation does retain some real shadow of His attributes--there would be no point to completely annihilating (only) a ‘part’ of Himself, for subtracting zero from infinity leaves infinity and nothing else! No creation would happen, in such a case. The creation retains partial aspects of God, which to the creation seem to be positive aspects (and relatively they are, insofar as they are functionally distinctive aspects); but compared to their Origin they must be negative aspects, for they are less--and result in less--than God.

When God created me, He would have created me (in absence of other factors--and I will discuss this later) in as perfect a union with Himself as I could be, while yet still being distinctly a 'me'. I would have attributes proper to God's intentions for me; perhaps not immediately all the attributes He intends for me, especially if I have some processes of growth to undergo, but still as much as possible for my condition at any given moment. And because I am an intentive (although derivative) creature, some of those aspects would be linked to the state of my intentions.

So if I choose to shatter my relationship with God in any fashion, then there would occur by necessity (and the necessities would already be fully known to God, and certainly planned as such, 'in advance' from my perspective, in case I did choose this) certain consequences contingent on that partial severance which I have (unlike God) rebelliously enacted.

Although I don't know whether I can establish this deductively, I suspect the consequential state would involve a reduction of the infusion of divine Life into me, and some sort of loss of my effective ability to do sentient activities: basically to love and to think. The actual results might be any number of things in particular; but I notice, in point of fact, that my ability to think rationally and to interact personally with you my neighbor, and the emotions related to these events, are very often at the (non-)mercy of mere physical reactions.

Furthermore, it seems to me that more often than not, people who continually choose to abuse their relationship to reality--whether or not they 'know' God--end up hampering whatever abilities they would otherwise 'naturally' have in this regard.

A person who, for instance, insists on drinking harmful amounts of alcohol into her body for pleasure, shall sooner or later face frightful physical consequences, including emotional instability, interpersonal incompetency, and rational ineffectiveness.

A person who insists on treating other persons as mere tools for his or her own sexual pleasure, shall sooner or later become psychologically and even physically addicted to the thrills involved--leading again to increased emotional instability, interpersonal incompetency, and rational ineffectiveness.

A person who insists on cheating to get his way, sooner or later ends up unable to effectively discern what is true and what is false; unable to build effective relations between himself and other people; and unable to control the increasing paranoia of his emotional life.

These are merely some examples to illustrate the principle. I presume that you, my reader, once you understand the principle, will be able to discern your own examples in your life around you.

(Assuming, of course, that you have not already poisoned yourself physically and psychologically until you yourself can no longer reliably discern reality with some effective rationality and empathy.)

There might be, as I have said, other consequent effects involved for me in this kind of 'death'. God does not exactly suffer this kind of death (although He could--at a fatal consequence for Himself and all subordinate reality if He did!), for His creative death is willingly enacted, not in rebellion but for the sake of the creation itself; and thus He retains full effective authority as well as active effectiveness within the results of that death. His is a death to-and-for life; except the resultant life is only a shadow of His ultimate Life, as is only proper and indeed as is only possible. The horrible results, on the other hand, of this shadow of death in me come from my intransigence --and from the intransigence of others, although I will defer that issue until a little later.

Yet even if I was not somehow required to 'put up with' the results of other rebellious self-deaths which affect me (results which might even take place 'within' me), I would still probably be in much the same position once I had enacted my own rebellious self-death.

But I am not interested at the moment (and will never be primarily interested) in assigning portions of blame to persons other than myself. I am trying to keep my discussion as simple as possible: for I know that I am a sinner.

If I continue in this rebellion, what shall happen to me?

Inference from natural experience shows me quite well, if formal logic did not already suggest it: the death shall continue to increase in me.

It is a tautology: the more I choose to hamper my ability to interact with reality, the more hampered I shall be!

I mean that this shall happen if God chooses that my actions shall have a real bearing on the outcome of my history (and thus, within my own degree of effectiveness, on the outcome of the history of the natural system in which I live). I do not know the extent to which God negates the harmful results of my willful mistakes; but I do know that He chooses not to rescind the dignity He has given to me and to every other sentient creature (including you)--the dignity of causality. The things I do, make real differences; they may not matter as much as I (in my pride or desperation) want them to matter, but they still do (even quite literally) matter.

And one of those consequences is that if I continue to kill myself sinfully, I shall continue to cut myself further and further away from the source of life, and thus I shall continue to die, not to more life, but to more horrible death in me.

Let me point out that what we can describe as my 'physical' death may be part of this consequence, but it is not the final extent of the consequences. If that death ever ended the existence of 'me', then once again God would be allowing something to happen for which there was no hope of His ever fulfilling His love in me.

Yet, obviously physical death of sentients such as myself (along with whatever other physical deaths exist) does happen. I expect to die physically.

But, I do not expect to die spiritually.

What may possibly happen to me after my physical death is not something I have discussed or inferred yet; all I say at the moment is that whatever it is, it must not violate God's love nor His justice in His relationship to me--and my non-existence after my physical death would, I think, violate His love and justice, permanently non-fulfilling them. So I can rule that out, at least.

What we normally call 'death', then, is not the end.

But, it might perhaps mean that in a particular way, I shall have finished dying!

On the other hand, perhaps I will choose to continue that sort of dying after my physical death occurs.

If I can and do choose this, then the horrible results shall continue as well; and I expect (as here in this Nature) those results would increase in intensity against me.

But--is there perhaps another sort of death I might choose also, or instead?--a death that might even properly guide a sacrificial death of mine for the sake of other creations? And might I perhaps even now begin to choose that death instead of rebellion?--might I even now begin to choose that higher death, the holy death, and so submit to Life as well?

For there is another level of the divine death, that I have not yet discussed in relation to this particular topic. But it shall require another chapter.

[Next up: the highest death]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]


Jason Pratt said…
This footnote was too long to be represented in the main text, I thought, so I am porting it down here to the first comment slot.

.......[footnote begins here]

Arianism, in its various forms, named after its most famous exponent the Christian deacon Arius, was a belief held formally by many Christians starting from around the late 3rd century (and perhaps much earlier informally) throughout the Dark Ages, especially at Imperial levels and in the military, including in the new feudalistic society that replaced the fall of Rome. Its theology denied the substantial unity of the Trinity, though affirming the real distinction of the Persons and also affirming a single-IF supernaturalistic theism (over against cosmological dualism, etc.) The Son was understood to be pre-existent and supernatural to the system of Nature (in the more refined versions such as held by Arius himself--in more popular versions the Son was simply a divinized human hero) but was considered to be a creation of God instead of God Himself, even if the most powerful and important creation. In this regard the Son would be similar (in more philosophical Arianisms) to a benevolent Platonic demiurge. Ditto the Holy Spirit.

Arianism survives today in some minority branches dissenting from ‘orthodox’ Christianity. The irony is that most nominally orthodox theologians actually hold doctrines effectively requiring a similar denial of the substantial unity of God, against their own acceptance of this otherwise. It should be noted that my complaint here is given in favor of ‘orthodox’ trinitarian theology, over against something like Arianism.

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