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Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 1 year, 8 months ago

Topic warning... this is a page of theology



(the above is just a shortcut to an obvious argument)


The concept of judgement in Christianity seems to be a stumbling block to many.


It shouldn't be. There are many Christian theological concepts that are difficult to clarify in the post-modern context, but judgement is not one of them. As such it's an excellent starting point to explore Christianity from a zero base, or even from a base of atheism or agnosticism.


So let us assume nothing in the way of theology or belief, and examine the way in which the concept is useful. Because it is. It's one of the fundamentals of Christian theology. Most Christians, including some very good people, and including myself (and whether good or not, I'm certainly trying to be good) do find it a useful thing.


(And as an aside, there's nothing wrong with having fundamentals. The problem with fundamentalism, and there is a very big problem, is the -ism, not the fundamentals. But I diverge.)


Almost all religions (and I include atheism and agnosticism as religions - after all, Thomas Huxley, the founder of Agnosticism, called it a religion) agree on at least one thing: That how you spend your life is important. And actually, they agree on another that is related. They agree that this principle is itself important.


(Some adherents to Agnosticism and Atheism strongly prefer other terms, such as "world picture" or "belief system", but that's the way I use the term "religion"'. And we must wonder why they don't want to use the term "religion". They seem to have all the characteristics of a religion, including the evangelistic bent and the inability of many of their followers to discuss their beliefs logically!) 


The absurd movement of the 20th century, of which existentialism is part and which is itself one occurrence of the general movement known as nihilism, abandoned these principles, but as religions all forms of nihilism are I think generally agreed to be failures. Some of them are fascinating speculations but nobody sane can really adopt them. The absurd movement led to some great art of many forms, but didn't add anything at all to the science of ethics.


That is to say, we all face the question, what sort of person do you want to be? And we answer this with our lives. We are the person we are. And we have a limited time in which to do this, because we all face death, sooner or later. Avoiding death remains science fiction, and there are sound thermodynamic reasons for believing that it always will be science fiction. But regardless, for the moment everyone dies, and the liquid nitrogen that is at this very moment preserving many severed heads and whole bodies is only delaying their eventual decay. They will never again live.


That is, they have passed into Eternity. All that they ever were is all that they will ever be, no less and no more. Is that not judgement?


And we haven't even mentioned God. I will now, but only because we have that all sorted out first.


Of course it's a lot easier to understand this and apply it to your everyday life by using the time-honoured Christian terminology, including the terminology and imagery of the Bible (and as linguist for the moment, I will claim that terminology and imagery here mean exactly the same thing). But they lead to exactly the same result. And a very important and useful result it is too. These days I think of myself as a logician, but Pure Mathematics was my first love, and as a Pure Mathematician I rejoice in having different notations that give the same result in the end. Because then the Applied Mathematicians of the world (with a bit of our help generally) can choose the one that works best for the job at hand. (Well, quite frankly sometimes they take a lot of convincing... but eventually they get by with a little help from their friends. When your fave tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And that happens in ethics too.)


But wait... there's more to judgement than that. There's the Christian doctrine of confession and forgiveness. Repent on your deathbed and be saved. How can that work?


It works very well. What I am investigating here is practical religion. How we apply it to our living. Even on your deathbed, you are by definition still alive, and you have a choice as to how to spend your last few moments. And without the doctrine of forgiveness, of God's enormous grace, there's little meaning to those last moments.


(And I am convinced that both the Biblical Jesus and the Historical Jesus were interested only in practical religion too, and that these two are the same person. But those are all themes for another essay.)


A God, or a religion, that abandons the dying in that way is not much of a God or much of a religion.


Christ does not abandon them, however good or evil they may have been. We could build an agnostic theology that similarly supported the dying I suppose, just as above I've built one that replaces the concept of judgement as normally understood. But it's a far more difficult exercise, and, I would suggest, of no practical value whatsoever. In other words, another failure.


Especially as faith in a loving God does exactly the same job, with relatively little overhead. And God has provided it. Isn't God good?


But wait again... isn't this all just wishful thinking? Well, in a way it is. As Hebrews 11:1 famously says, faith is belief in the things unseen.


Wishful thinking

Let us not dismiss it too lightly as such. Immanuel Kant remains one of the giants of ethics. His moral epistemology (and remember that this last word comes from the Greek pistuo which can be translated I believe but also I have faith) is of course based on his Categorical ImperativeAct only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. We could spend a whole semester examining the meaning, foundations, logical structure and consequences of this and I once did exactly that. At the end of which we'd conclude I think that, logically, it's an article of Faith.


The Categorical Imperative poses great challenges for logic, because it is auto-referential. And Kant knew this. Again, at the end of the semester, I think we'd conclude that he saw no other choice, and that we would still see no other choice.


But we might not come to consensus on that last bit. Other choices are still being proposed, and in my view, still found wanting. I have looked and decided that they are all even more wonky than the Categorical Imperative. So I think that Kant was right.   


And that again, the Bible makes exactly the same points as the Categorical Imperative does, and in a relatively few, relatively easily understood words. Isn't God good?


See also my page on faith just in case you missed the link above 

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