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Predestination – Software is updated… why not theology?

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Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea – Wikipedia

The Chairman of the Bored

Not sure if it’s because of the holiday season and all the extra activity – inner and outer – during this time. But I’ve been letting this entry hang, fully aware it’s in need of revision. Which is a nice way of saying… I’m bored of theology!

Actually, I’m not bored of theology per se. If I’m predestined for anything, it’s to think about God and creation, trying to figure out how it all works, realizing I’ll always fall short due to my human limitations.

But that’s just it.

Human limitations.

I’m finding it dull and uninspiring writing about what a bunch of men thought about God over the centuries, some of whom were probably misogynist and racist.

It just seems so stiff and wooden.

So I’m going to boil it down to two main points. Or rather, the two main forms that, historically speaking, the idea of predestination takes.

Predestination in a nutshell

The first type of predestination, articulated by St. Augustine, is that some individuals are divinely predestined to reside in an eternal heaven. Many believe the following New Testament passage supports this belief:

Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23, NIV).

English: Laszlo Szlavics Jr.: John Calvin memo...

Laszlo Szlavics Jr.: John Calvin memorial medal, 110 mm, bronze, cast, 2008 – Wikipedia

The second type, called “double predestination” (or dual predestination), is the belief that God predestines some for everlasting heaven and others to eternal hell.

Gottschalk of Orbais, an unorthodox 9th-century theologian was imprisoned for advancing the notion of double predestination.

Centuries later, the Protestant reformer John Calvin made double predestination a key feature of his theology, differentiating it from the Catholic take.

Leading questions

Again, this is only the simplest of outlines. The idea of predestination has been debated for centuries among world religions. Some of the leading questions are:

  • Is God good?
  • How could a good God allow some souls to suffer an eternal hell?
  • Does God actively plan or passively allow eternal damnation?
  • Is God all-powerful?
  • Is God all-good?
  • Are we in a position to understand or judge God?
  • How do we envision God, after all?
  • Are we free to make good or bad choices?
  • Are we determined in some grand web of cause and effect?

The questions and answers are, indeed, many.¹

Time for an update?

Plasma Lamp by Luc Viatour via Wikipedia

Historically, it seems that theologians play word games to try to justify their limited outlook on God, space-time and creation.

God knows in advance how we will choose, for instance. Similarly, God permits but does not enforce our evil actions, we often hear.

This doesn’t intellectually satisfy most people because the answer is way beyond our human capacity for understanding.

With our imploding/exploding 21st-century cosmology where matter/energy and space/time are not absolutes, the old ways of looking at the issue come off even more stale and regimented.

Carl Jung picked up on this problem. His solution was to say that God is half unconscious and, really, half bad. For Jung, God learns to be ethically better through God’s own creation.

I think this is rubbish. Jung, despite his best efforts to differentiate the ego from the archetype became a bit egotistical in my opinion. True, I never met him. But from his work and biographical material it seems he occasionally fell into the power trip trap.

This morning I noticed a new article about Near Death Experiences.² It adds an intriguing piece to the puzzle.

solarein – Coma Domine via Flickr

The author says he died but came back.

During his comatose “death” he literally felt all the bad things he had done to other people. And each hell, he says, is custom made for a particular person’s transgressions.

Whoa.

My solution

Rather than speculate too much, I think it’s more practical to just try to do our best at being good. Deep down I believe we all know what that means. Some of us may be so messed up, touchy and unhappy that we do bad things to compensate for our hurt. We try to rationalize our bad behavior.

But in the end, we know.

And so does God, I believe.

* “The Chairman of the Bored” are lyrics from the Iggy Pop tune, I’m Bored.
¹ See Wikipedia entry for more interfaith details.
² My tweet:

 

Related » Book of Job, Determinism

 Western philosophy is racist (aeon.co)

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8 thoughts on “Predestination – Software is updated… why not theology?

  1. There is a site on Gottschalk of Orbais where an introduction on his life and works is available. It also has a page with his Latin writings, including Gottschalk’s major work De praedestinatione (On Predestination).

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  2. Thanks… interesting looking site!

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  3. Regardless of free will, God cannot justify eternal torture for anyone. The problem is with the penalty. First, there is nothing anyone can do in a finite time on Earth that could justify even getting their knuckles rapped for eternity. At some point the harm of the penalty will surpass the harm the person inflicted. Second, there must be a moral purpose of any penalty, such that, when the purpose is achieved, the penalty ends. Any harm that exceeds that purpose cannot be morally justified, not even by God.

    On the planet Earth, the point of a just penalty for a crime may include (a) repair the harm to the victim (if possible), (b) correct the behavior of the offender if possible, (c) protect society from the offender until his behavior is corrected, and (d) do no more harm to the offender than is reasonably required to achieve (a), (b), and (c).

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  4. Sorry for the delay in replying. We can blame it on a nagging cold.

    So my initial reaction to your post was that you are doing what I caution against. Making definitive statements despite our human limitations.

    Having said that, yours are thought-provoking observations, especially:

    “First, there is nothing anyone can do in a finite time on Earth that could justify even getting their knuckles rapped for eternity. At some point the harm of the penalty will surpass the harm the person inflicted.”

    But again, I’m tempted to add… I wonder what God has to say on the matter!

    As a not fully indoctrinated convert to Catholicism I can say that not a few Catholics who during the Mass appear to agree with everything that is taught actually do not agree. I gleaned this from private conversations with several parishioners.

    In one of those conversations, I found that a regular Catholic churchgoer believed in Universal Salvation. Not a Catholic teaching. Another believed that it was okay to be gay. Ditto.

    Thanks for taking the time to add your interesting reflections. Feel free to follow up.

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    • I actually sing in the choir at the local Unitarian Universalist church. I am a Humanist, which is basically an atheist with Christian values. I view God, Heaven, and Hell as moral symbols rather than actual places. I’ve summed it up this way in my blog:

      God and Good

      We are born into a world of good, which we did not create. Not just material things, but ideals, like justice, liberty, and equality. And spiritual values, like courage, joy, and compassion.

      We benefit from what others, in good faith, have left for us. In return, we sacrifice selfish interest when necessary to preserve this good for others. For the sake of our children, and our children’s children, we seek to understand, to serve, to protect, and perhaps, humbly, to enhance this greater good.

      It is an act of faith to live by moral principle when the greedy prosper by dishonest means. It is an act of faith to stand up for right when the crowd is headed the wrong way. It is an act of faith to return good for evil.

      We have seen Hell. We have seen gang cultures whose rite of passage is an act of mayhem or murder. We have seen racial slavery, persecution, and genocide. We have seen revenge spread violence through whole communities.

      We envision Heaven, where people live in peace and every person is valued. It can only be reached when each person seeks good for himself only through means that are consistent with achieving good for all.

      If God exists, then that is His command. If God does not exist, then that is what we must command of ourselves and of each other. Either way, whether we achieve Heaven or Hell is up to us.

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  5. For me one of the more interesting things about people is how diverse we can be. By way of analogy, the same computer hardware can host a variety of software (programs). This is not a perfect analogy, of course, because neuropsychology tells us that our brains are not all the same. Nor are our bodies. So human beings actually have different ‘hardware’ (physicality) and ‘software’ (life experiences).

    In that diversity, some of us have *reason to believe* in a God and spiritual powers (more commonly called graces). I wasn’t always like that but have come to belong in that camp. So I’d say that achieving Heaven or Hell is up to us — yes — but we also can get help from above. It’s also up to us to ask for, recognize/experience and accept that help. (Catholic theologians tend to say “cooperate” with God, which ensures the doctrine of free will).

    A friend of mine from many years ago had parents who were Unitarian. I remember them as some of the nicest, most open-minded and non-judgmental folk I have ever known.

    Cheers! 🙂

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