Saturday, April 25, 2015

Guest Post & Response 2- More On Universalism

[Again, Nathan Jowers posting with responses by me in italics. Nathan is responding to this post:]

I read through your posts on Universalism today and had a few ideas that I thought might be good to discuss, if not for any value they have in themselves, then for the learning experience of discussing them. I am not too acquainted with writing arguments, so forgive me if my writing is less than clear at some points.

First, I feel like your Biblical argument is a little bit of a stretch. Not that it is exactly wrong, but that there are many other possible ways to interpret those passages such that they would be ambivalent to your conclusion, severely limiting the strength of the argument. I am sure you are aware of the different ways people have tried to deal with them, so I am not here going to offer any possible interpretations. I do think, however, your argument gives a possible way for a "No Man is an Island" type of thinking to be within the scope of the bible, but I don't agree with you that Universalism is a necessary conclusion of this outlook.
There are other ways to take the passages written of. I've posted on some of them. But I think the exegesis is on firm ground. Additionally, the idea that self-hood is corporate permeates scripture. The idea of individual self-hood is at best a shadow throughout the scriptures, a minor voice and one that is all but 'screamed down' by competing converationalists. Israel is always treated as a unified entity, the corporate being the center of all sense of self. The church functions in a similar way. For an examination of the particular passages I listed in the original post, and the approach I take, I strongly suggest MYSTERY WITHOUT MAGIC by Russell Pregeant. Pregeant will help illuminate the vast problems with self-hood in theology and philosophy as a whole. I also suggest THE NATURE AND DESTINY OF MAN by Reinhold Niebuhr. What is needed here is a developed philosophical and theological anthropology.

I will begin by saying that while we indeed participate in all of reality and trying to draw lines between things is a tentative business, we do still experience a certain centrality to things. While I still participate and partake in of the pain in others, I do not experience it as pain centered in me. The pain is their pain that manifests itself in me, the difference being that there is now empathy or love or some other quality attached to it. It does not manifest itself in me as my pain would, but has to be conveyed to me through some, generally emotional, medium. The medium it travels through plays a significant role in how it manifests itself in me. If I hate someone, their pain manifests itself as my joy. If I have love, their pain hurts me as well. Love is the only intrinsically unifying medium (I suppose that mutual hate can do so in a round about way, and only so long as there is an object to hate), but it is still a medium, still a connection between things. While there might be parts of me in other people, these parts are more or less central in the same sense that it may be said that an arm is less central than the heart or brain. I feel, because of this, we can still talk of being saved in a meaningful sense. Even if I am missing a few fingers, I am here.
I think an engagement with Buddhism is fruitful here. Buddhist philosophers, and Marxist philosophers for that matter, have expounded in various ways the problem with talking about any kind of individuated, consistent self. For just one example of such a problem, consider the Ship Builders Paradox here: . Does anyone want to try to take on this massive project of attacking our sense that the self event exists? I don't. It seems to me the acme of foolishness to deny the insights these philosophers provide. Their arguments are too good and too convincing. However, equally convincing are the arguments of those who argue for some kind of individuated self. The existence of the self is as evident as it's non-atomization. Theologically, you have the same problem (see above). The only answer, it seems to me, is to find a higher synthesis of both positions. Nathan makes too much of immediate experience, without reflecting upon the REASONS why we talk about 'self-hood' at all. One could just as easily say that the very act of making a statement like "I feel pain" simply begs the question. Bertrand Russell argued forcefully that all of this stems from a misunderstanding of being-verbs like "is". For instance when we say 'it is raining' we make the same mistake. More precise language would be 'rain is going on'. In the same way, one can deny there is any 'you' at all, and say that all you really know is that 'pain is being felt'. Additionally, Nathan now has to try to solve the whole mind/body problem. There have been suggestions, for instance, that the best way to understand how pain works is to say that we are simply sharing in the experience of the nerve cells themselves. This is the best way to explain how physical processes give rise to experiential responses. If that's true, then the entirety of Nathan's personal experience may just as easily be one part of a larger participation. The nerve cells in no way 'know' that Nathan is participating in their pain, and that their personal experience is a part of a larger, more global effect. Why not just say that Nathan's pain, or hate, or anything else, is simply one part of a more global, social experience?

That said, there is certainly a sense in which the salvation or non-salvation of another has a profound affect on us. Even if you did subscribe to a purely atomized view of the individual and cared none for your fellow man, certainly your love for God would require you to participate in God's pain for those who were lost. So if someone is eternally lost, and we do not suppose that God at some point stops caring for those who were lost, there shall also be an eternal pain at the non-salvation of another. Wether this pain will have qualitative shifts like it does in us, or remain consistently like a fresh wound, I do not know, but the main point remains either way.
Even then, though, I don't know if you can say that the parts of you in them are not saved. As you love them, so God loves them, and as you have pain, so does God have pain. Those parts of you still have the effect of unifying you with the life of God, and while the love cannot flow to its intended object, it nonetheless creates further bonds between you and God, imparting to it some meaning. 
I suppose this does mean that we can strike wounds in God that will not heal, that though we cannot kill him, we can nonetheless hurt him in a way that will stick with him through all time, that God is not only vulnerable to temporal pain, but a form of eternal pain, in fewer words, that God is ultimately vulnerable. This is consistent with God's nature as love. I think why I cannot personally believe Universalism is that I would feel his vulnerability, and therefore his love, is incomplete without there being the possibility of ultimate rejection. This rejection requires us to destroy ourselves, sure, but it is nonetheless a rejection that will not leave him, the him in us forever existing as an unrealized potentiality.
My biggest problem with this is that it is like a denial of the resurrection, or it makes a theology of the cross supreme over a theology of glory. If there is no place where God's pain ends, then what of the hope of the end of the Book of Revelation?

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