Ktismatics

23 September 2007

Bad Movie, Good Dream

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:41 am

Here’s my synopsis of our daughter’s dream from last night:

I walked through a wall and I thought: Oh crap, I’m dead. I was in a big cave with a lot of people, and I realized it was purgatory, and I thought: Oh crap, there’s a heaven and hell; why can’t there just be nothing? At one end of the cave was a long corridor. As you walk down the corridor you come to two double doors across from each other, with push bars for opening them. If you go through the door on the left there’s an up staircase that goes to heaven; on the right is the down staircase that leads to hell. At the very end of the corridor was another door, this one with a handle: it’s the counseling center, where they decide whether you go to heaven or hell.

My friends were all there, and they were getting ready to go to the counseling center for assignment. I wanted to stay in purgatory, because it seemed pretty nice there. Some older kids, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old, asked if I was going with my friends. I said no. Do you want to get a frappucino then? Okay, I said, but they didn’t go with me. There was a row of vending machines along the corridor, and I got a frappuccino, which I thought was weird because I don’t like coffee.

All my friends had to go to hell. Once you’re assigned you can’t leave, but while you’re in purgatory you can visit anytime you like. Hell was a bunch of living rooms that seated seven or eight people, with kitchens where you could get yourself some food. You could chat with each other but otherwise there wasn’t much to do. Some of the people in hell had little red marks on their faces, like they had acne, but that was it. Heaven was one big room furnished with couches; there were pretty many people there, but it turned out that most people end up going to hell. I thought hell was a little better than heaven, but really they weren’t that different from each other. Not that different from purgatory either. I never saw what the counseling center was like.

Somebody came into purgatory and told us that we had to get on the trains — more like cable cars but bigger. I was riding near the front; the kid sitting right in front of me was singing a weird little song. I told him to shut up but he didn’t. The trains were going through the regular living world, and I was worried we were going to hit people and kill them. Somebody said we can’t hit them because they don’t know where we’re from, because the train doesn’t have a license plate. The trains stopped and we got out at another cave that turned out to be a Hot Topic store. Some people tried to escape from the store and they immediately got zapped into hell. They told us that we had to decide where we were going to go, but I said it wasn’t fair because I’d only been there for a few minutes. I wondered whether a minute was a lot longer for people who were alive, because otherwise the afterlife was going to be pretty boring.

Our daughter’s concluding thought: it sounds like a bad movie. Pretty good dream though, I said, and she agreed.

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78 Comments »

  1. It seems there is not much difference between both xxtopia’s, which may reflect that there isn’t much difference in rewards for doing good or bad in this world. At the end, the Hot topic stores fills you with distract instead of attract. You don’t want this kind of attention. Fear of wrong success?
    Maybe it’s all a metafor. So you’re in a moratorium.

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    Comment by Odile — 23 September 2007 @ 2:39 pm

  2. I think you’re right: the dream is about this life and the future, following her friends or going her own way. It’s a moratorium, but none of the options beyond seem very attractive. So the moratorium seems like the best option for now.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 23 September 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  3. Is this, like, the Emo kid’s version of Dante’s Divine Comedy???

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    Comment by Erdman — 23 September 2007 @ 5:29 pm

  4. She farts in your general direction.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 23 September 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  5. I realized it was purgatory, and I thought: Oh crap, there’s a heaven and hell; i guess the culture just can’t keep from dinning some sort of nonsense into the kids heads!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 24 September 2007 @ 6:00 am

  6. So Sam, are you saying you don’t believe there is a heaven and hell?

    For good or ill, we’ve provided very little religious education for our daughter, but from a fairly early age kids discuss these things among one another. References to heaven and hell, God and the devil, persist in movies, TV shows, etc. It’s the sort of unintentional acquisition of culture that Lacan and the structuralists have in mind when they say that the language “speaks” us. Even in the unconscious dream state the mind is actively processing this cultural material, experimenting with alternative ways in which these interrelated signifiers (heaven, hell, purgatory) might attach themselves to “real” things. This is the shifting of signifiers in the unconscious that Lacan talks about.

    It’s interesting that in the dream purgatory is more attractive than either heaven or hell because you’re not locked in. Not long ago I wrote a post about the Japanese film After Life, where the heterotopia between life and the afterlife proves the most attractive option for those who cannot or will not choose for all eternity. Those who prefer this “purgatory” become filmmakers.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 September 2007 @ 7:31 am

  7. Interesting that Sam doesn’t believe in heaven/hell….but then again, most people don’t anymore, and I would guess the amount of people that believe in an actual afterlife of eternal damnation is shrinking drastically by the day.

    Most people, however, use the metaphorical vocabulary of heaven/hell, so there is (and probably always will be) room to use heaven/hell in figurative and allegorical ways because it is so closely associated with morality. Without consequence in the afterlife the stuff of “good and evil” loses its force. For me this is one of the reasons I hold on to heaven/hell as a reality like an old codger who can’t give up his rotary phone.

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    Comment by Erdman — 24 September 2007 @ 10:51 am

  8. Concepts like heaven and hell in my imagination are hard to distinguish factually or evidence wise from stuff like Santa Claus.

    So, perhaps rather drastically, I’m trying to get rid of it but unfortunately that’s easier said than done. If I, a Christian has this trouble, it’s really odd that the culture has embedded it so deeply and so pervasively as a ‘true myth’.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 24 September 2007 @ 11:22 am

  9. “Without consequence in the afterlife the stuff of “good and evil” loses its force.”

    That might well be true. In the dream there didn’t seem to be much association between heaven/hell and good/evil. In the dream hell is where all your friends go, and it’s marginally more pleasant than heaven even if you stand a chance of getting zits if you go there. The best option is to keep your options open for as long as possible.

    “Concepts like heaven and hell in my imagination are hard to distinguish factually or evidence wise from stuff like Santa Claus.”

    Sam, are you sure you aren’t channeling Ivan?

    “it’s really odd that the culture has embedded it so deeply and so pervasively as a ‘true myth’.”

    I could have sworn I wrote a post awhile back about psychologist Paul Bloom’s book Descartes’ Baby, where he contends that humans believe in the eternal soul because we are natural-born dualists, an artifact of our genetic ability to attribute intentionality to mind and not the body. Here’s a really good summary article. Here are some quotes — sorry it’s so long, but it’s good stuff:

    …a distinction between the physical and the psychological is fundamental to human thought. Purely physical things, such as rocks and trees, are subject to the pitiless laws of Newton. Throw a rock, and it will fly through space on a certain path; if you put a branch on the ground, it will not disappear, scamper away, or fly into space. Psychological things, such as people, possess minds, intentions, beliefs, goals, and desires. They move unexpectedly, according to volition and whim; they can chase or run away. There is a moral difference as well: a rock cannot be evil or kind; a person can…

    Six-month-olds understand that physical objects obey gravity. If you put an object on a table and then remove the table, and the object just stays there (held by a hidden wire), babies are surprised; they expect the object to fall. They expect objects to be solid, and contrary to what is still being taught in some psychology classes, they understand that objects persist over time even if hidden. (Show a baby an object and then put it behind a screen. Wait a little while and then remove the screen. If the object is gone, the baby is surprised.) Five-month-olds can even do simple math, appreciating that if first one object and then another is placed behind a screen, when the screen drops there should be two objects, not one or three. Other experiments find the same numerical understanding in nonhuman primates, including macaques and tamarins, and in dogs.

    Similarly precocious capacities show up in infants’ understanding of the social world. Newborns prefer to look at faces over anything else, and the sounds they most like to hear are human voices—preferably their mothers’. They quickly come to recognize different emotions, such as anger, fear, and happiness, and respond appropriately to them. Before they are a year old they can determine the target of an adult’s gaze, and can learn by attending to the emotions of others; if a baby is crawling toward an area that might be dangerous and an adult makes a horrified or disgusted face, the baby usually knows enough to stay away…

    Understanding of the physical world and understanding of the social world can be seen as akin to two distinct computers in a baby’s brain, running separate programs and performing separate tasks. The understandings develop at different rates: the social one emerges somewhat later than the physical one. They evolved at different points in our prehistory; our physical understanding is shared by many species, whereas our social understanding is a relatively recent adaptation, and in some regards might be uniquely human.

    That these two systems are distinct is especially apparent in autism, a developmental disorder whose dominant feature is a lack of social understanding. Children with autism typically show impairments in communication (about a third do not speak at all), in imagination (they tend not to engage in imaginative play), and most of all in socialization. They do not seem to enjoy the company of others; they don’t hug; they are hard to reach out to. In the most extreme cases children with autism see people as nothing more than objects—objects that move in unpredictable ways and make unexpected noises and are therefore frightening. Their understanding of other minds is impaired, though their understanding of material objects is fully intact…

    For those of us who are not autistic, the separateness of these two mechanisms, one for understanding the physical world and one for understanding the social world, gives rise to a duality of experience. We experience the world of material things as separate from the world of goals and desires. The biggest consequence has to do with the way we think of ourselves and others. We are dualists; it seems intuitively obvious that a physical body and a conscious entity—a mind or soul—are genuinely distinct. We don’t feel that we are our bodies. Rather, we feel that we occupy them, we possess them, we own them.

    This duality is immediately apparent in our imaginative life. Because we see people as separate from their bodies, we easily understand situations in which people’s bodies are radically changed while their personhood stays intact. Kafka envisioned a man transformed into a gigantic insect; Homer described the plight of men transformed into pigs; in Shrek 2 an ogre is transformed into a human being, and a donkey into a steed; in Star Trek a scheming villain forcibly occupies Captain Kirk’s body so as to take command of the Enterprise; in The Tale of the Body Thief, Anne Rice tells of a vampire and a human being who agree to trade bodies for a day; and in 13 Going on 30 a teenager wakes up as thirty-year-old Jennifer Garner. We don’t think of these events as real, of course, but they are fully understandable; it makes intuitive sense to us that people can be separated from their bodies, and similar transformations show up in religions around the world…

    Children in our culture are taught that the brain is involved in thinking, but they interpret this in a narrow sense, as referring to conscious problem solving, academic rumination. They do not see the brain as the source of conscious experience; they do not identify it with their selves. They appear to think of it as a cognitive prosthesis—there is Max the person, and then there is his brain, which he uses to solve problems just as he might use a computer. In this commonsense conception the brain is, as Steven Pinker puts it, “a pocket PC for the soul.”

    If bodies and souls are thought of as separate, there can be bodies without souls. A corpse is seen as a body that used to have a soul. Most things—chairs, cups, trees—never had souls; they never had will or consciousness. At least some nonhuman animals are seen in the same way, as what Descartes described as “beast-machines,” or complex automata. Some artificial creatures, such as industrial robots, Haitian zombies, and Jewish golems, are also seen as soulless beings, lacking free will or moral feeling.

    Then there are souls without bodies. Most people I know believe in a God who created the universe, performs miracles, and listens to prayers. He is omnipotent and omniscient, possessing infinite kindness, justice, and mercy. But he does not in any literal sense have a body. Some people also believe in lesser noncorporeal beings that can temporarily take physical form or occupy human beings or animals: examples include angels, ghosts, poltergeists, succubi, dybbuks, and the demons that Jesus so frequently expelled from people’s bodies.

    This belief system opens the possibility that we ourselves can survive the death of our bodies. Most people believe that when the body is destroyed, the soul lives on. It might ascend to heaven, descend to hell, go off into some sort of parallel world, or occupy some other body, human or animal. Indeed, the belief that the world teems with ancestor spirits—the souls of people who have been liberated from their bodies through death—is common across cultures. We can imagine our bodies being destroyed, our brains ceasing to function, our bones turning to dust, but it is harder—some would say impossible—to imagine the end of our very existence. The notion of a soul without a body makes sense to us.

    …As predicted, when asked about biological properties, the children appreciated the effects of death: no need for bathroom breaks; the ears don’t work, and neither does the brain. The mouse’s body is gone. But when asked about the psychological properties, more than half the children said that these would continue: the dead mouse can feel hunger, think thoughts, and have desires. The soul survives. And children believe this more than adults do, suggesting that although we have to learn which specific afterlife people in our culture believe in (heaven, reincarnation, a spirit world, and so on), the notion that life after death is possible is not learned at all. It is a by-product of how we naturally think about the world.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 September 2007 @ 1:48 pm

  10. Yes that’s fascinating but too analogical to be conclusive. Now Bloom wants to turn 2 levels (physical – mental) into 3 (add an immortal spirit-soul) and says that that is natural.

    I have my doubts though on how this translates ‘naturally’ into our present earth, heaven, hell and purgatory. For one thing, subtracting the cultural inputs will be tough.

    For another, the multiplication of levels of afterlife is a Western phenomenon with heaven a very recent addition. OT Israelites seem to have had the hope that their souls would quietly disappear into Sheol and similarly the Greeks had their Hades, while originally neither is like our present ‘hell’ and our ‘heaven’ is simply another elysian region within this one kingdom.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 24 September 2007 @ 3:06 pm

  11. I doubt whether Bloom himself believes in mind-body dualism; he just thinks this belief is a natural byproduct of human cognition. It’s hard to ask children relevant questions about the afterlife before they have already been indoctrinated by culture, but Bloom and others suggest that the mind is perhaps more prone to buying into the idea than they would be of certain other concepts. For example, the idea of eternal rewards and punishments for good and bad behavior I expect is harder for a young child to grasp. Bloom would agree that the precise features of the afterlife are culture-specific, but most cultures seem to have some version or other. Sheol and Hades didn’t have much association with moral goodness before death, did they? The link of the afterlife to morality may be one of the features that distinguish the Christian from the Jewish eschatology. Maybe Isaiah is an exception.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 September 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  12. Well, I used the word moratorium because Erikson used it in his theory about identity development. It is a stage in which we don’t yet adhere to a group. It is in the moratorium that choices will be made for the future. It’s about commitment, friendship, identity, self definition. She might be worried to loose friends when she makes her choices. I can reassure her that all around the world, there are young people just like her, slightly different, who will appreciate her choice.
    There isn’t much difference between the people she knows in good and bad. Not much variation around her. She doesn’t see peers whom she can look up to (outside teachers and family).
    Maybe she needs to visit some university lecture and meet students.

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    Comment by Odile — 24 September 2007 @ 4:52 pm

  13. John,

    I don’t think Sam is channelling me so much as ordinary reality. Heaven and Hell have to roughly be about the same thing if one factors in the bodily descriptions the Bible gives us and then count the time. Living in the blessed light of “God” must be great for the first thousand billion years, but what about the nest thousand trillion? and the trillion after that? What ever astronomical number you come up with the same still lays in front. I mean people get bored with a half our church service these days. And you can’t forget all the really,really interesting people are down in hell..like me. You can’t even have arguments with anyone.
    To quote Philip Adams, we have all been dead before for countless eons of time, billions upon billions upon billions of years. This is of course pre-birth. Is it any more frightening to think we simply return to this very natural state at point of death?

    regards
    Ivan (Channelling Adams)

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    Comment by Ivan — 24 September 2007 @ 4:57 pm

  14. Odile, I think your interpretation is right on. I read it to our daughter so she would know your thoughts.

    Sam, would you want to live forever? Sometimes I think yes, other times no. What would make it worthwhile to live forever? Maybe if we could colonize the rest of the universe, see what incredible progress gets made… Wait, that’s what it would be like if I could live something like a human life forever. I’m not sure what the afterlife would have available.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 September 2007 @ 6:01 pm

  15. I don’t know about living forever. Ivan’s ‘categories’ I think are the sorts of questions that a lot of PoMo people are asking, both Xtian and not.

    Many ‘biblically’ oriented cultural phenomena have been recognised to be not so much essentially ‘biblical’ as accidental coincidences of ‘biblically’ cultural phenomena with premodern -modern cultural stuff. Also, being diachronic in interpretation is a very general and easy mistake to make. Once context and cultural factors started to become issues in interpretation, it was only a matter of time before everything in the sacred text came to be questioned in this way. So, what is timeless, if anything?

    For current ideas of heaven and hell and more general questions in how many levels we view our universe, there is actually very little useful information in books like the bible. There is an afterlife; what it will be like seems to depend on our choices here on earth, and what follows may be considered good, or bad, pleasant, or unpleasant. And even with this vague outline i find myself hesitant!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 24 September 2007 @ 11:55 pm

  16. If humans are predisposed to believe that the mind “possesses” the body, and if we are also predisposed to fear death, then the idea of the soul leaving the body at death seems not too far-fetched. One could imagine how different cultures might start with this basic scheme and arrive at different ways of assuring that souls move on to as pleasant a post-body existence as possible. Certainly people on earth live in widely disparate circumstances, from rich to poor, happy to unhappy. You could imagine more egalitarian-minded cults saying that everyone is equal after death, aristocratic cults saying that the heroes will get the best places in the afterlife, commoners’ cults in which the tables will be turned and the downtrodden on earth will get the best places in the afterlife.

    Anyhow, when my daughter told me her dream she said that even though it was about death it gave insights into living. I tend to agree with Odile: this is a dream about being a teenager preferring to keep her options open, thinking she’s more mature than her friends, trying on different lifestyles.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 25 September 2007 @ 4:19 am

  17. Yes indeed, your daughter is demonstrating a tremendous amount of maturity and even deep down sh has kept her options very open.

    The other aspect that stands out with matters of the afterlife and the hereafter is that for any religion-culture these are configurable tools and quite powerful ones with which to keep in line those who are now living.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 25 September 2007 @ 9:35 am

  18. She must be an amazing young lady with this kind of dreams. I don’t think the dimension that Sam speaks about is not there, by the way. I think reality is complex.
    I was simplifying…
    This dream is actually very intelligent because it makes a comparison and analysis of her life using a religious metafor (Sam) and concepts in Erikson’s theory. wow!

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    Comment by Odile — 25 September 2007 @ 10:12 am

  19. Ktismatics:

    I do recall you posting on Bloom at some point…or maybe it was email – who knows??? God knows.

    I was going to comment in response to Sam and suggest that the biblical motif for a literal heaven/hell is more substantial than I think he is giving it credit for, but it is not as simple a subject as my conservative and Evangelical friends would suggest b/c there is a great deal of metaphorical language at work and metaphors are difficult to use when nailing down something “substantial.” Nonetheless, metaphors are vehicles for transmitting meaning, and there are numerous heaven/hell metaphors and descriptions, which tells me (on my interpretation thus far) it is an issue of critical importance for afterlife.

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    Comment by Erdman — 25 September 2007 @ 10:37 am

  20. Sorry about the jumbled use of the English language. As an editor I should be ashamed!

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    Comment by Erdman — 25 September 2007 @ 10:38 am

  21. “for any religion-culture these are configurable tools and quite powerful ones with which to keep in line those who are now living.”

    No doubt. This was Paul’s focus in Galatians: if you allow yourself to be enslaved to the Law, you are also enslaving yourself to those religious leaders who claim to be the keepers of the Law on earth. Aquinas formalized the economy whereby the saints’ good deeds could be “banked” and drawn down incrementally as indulgences, earning time off from purgatory for good behavior, or saying particular prayers, or going on pilgrimages, or contributing money to the church. For some reason that last option really pissed off Luther.

    “the biblical motif for a literal heaven/hell is more substantial than I think he is giving it credit for”

    Pretend for the time being that the Bible reflects only human ideas, without any inspiration from God. Doesn’t heaven/hell seem like a plausible kind of construct to put forward? Bloom makes a psychological case that the idea of the soul outliving the body is intrinsically plausible. Let’s say there’s also an intrinsic moral sensibility in which honesty, kindness, and altruism on behalf of kin and tribe are deemed good. Still, experience in the world shows that self-interest often competes with goodness as a personal motivator. Can’t you imagine tying morality to the afterlife in such a way that self-interested evil is punished and goodness turns out to have long-term benefits to the eternal soul?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 25 September 2007 @ 11:03 am

  22. Jon, If a system of thought is going to be functional, to a large extent the pieces will all fit together. In this, there could be buried ‘truth’ in the sense of something that is tied to objective reality. But to find out what that is one does have to be a bit brutal with the overall system, for systems have pragmatic functions that often mask the anchors to truth that may be buried within them. In other words, often the truth will be buried within layers of stuff that really serve other purposes than to be an explication of the truth!

    An approach to this is to pull out all the stuff that has cultural or social uses. Certainly whatever is known to have been borrowed from related mythologies has to go. What’s left may be the isolated bits and pieces around which the other stuff has accreted. When I said that there is not a whole lot of stuff to go on in the bible regarding heaven and hell it was after looking at the remaining ‘data’ from this odd angle.

    It is however very difficult to be at all sure that one has extracted the ‘right stuff’ mainly because we don’t know enough of the culture, so the risk remains that I have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

    El, one of the common names of God seems to be related to high, great, and above. Sheol on the other hand points definitely downwards. In the ‘original system’, even in the creation accounts of Genesis, there is no hint of man moving to or even towards God’s ‘realms’, if we are going to accept that that concept is in fact implied by El. Man was for the earth, in many senses even bound to the earth, the land.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 25 September 2007 @ 11:20 am

  23. Can’t you imagine tying morality to the afterlife in such a way that self-interested evil is punished and goodness turns out to have long-term benefits to the eternal soul?

    Yes, this is eminently imaginable but it also shows up as a tension in the NT, between life on earth and life after death, between getting rewarded for goodness and continuing to be punished for the sins of others, at least in this life. Jesus’s talk of taking up one’s cross is echoed in Paul being ‘poured out’ and ‘taking up’ his share in Christ’s sufferings. All of which would make great sense if some organisation was going to benefit from all this sacrifice! Indeed one odd thing with the NT is that there is in fact on organisation to benefit. There seemingly is no organisation because Jesus may have deliberately shunned the idea of organised religion.

    It took a couple of hundred years for us to figure out how to get round this minor hassle, but we did succeed eventually!

    Religion tries to propagate its own system first and foremost and makes powerful claims to have hidden knowledge of mysterious things like the afterlife mainly in order to tie obedience to rewards even in this life. In Hinduism, the talk of reincarnation and the cycle of Karma are actually embedded in maintaining the health of the present caste system. The caste system in turn provides a stable social base and opportunities for livelihood and family development within rather narrow but reliable circumstances.

    I believe that Christianity, as a major and successful religion, has also set itself upon a similar track, for there is prosperity to be had within its folds, and very good prospects indeed for those who know how to really use the system.

    I therefore doubt that ‘tying morality to the afterlife’ is in fact fortuitous.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 25 September 2007 @ 11:46 am

  24. “Yes, this is eminently imaginable but it also shows up as a tension in the NT, between life on earth and life after death”

    It’s interesting at OST to see Andrew Perriman’s (also NT Wright’s?) exegesis of the Gospels, in which Jesus’s remarks that seem to refer to heaven and hell might actually refer to the imminent judgment on Israel and its destruction at the hands of the Romans. I’m pretty sure Andrew doesn’t believe in heaven and hell. He does, however, believe in the resurrection of the believers at the end of the age. I presume the resurrected live forever? And the unbelievers are just dead, with no hell.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 25 September 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  25. Unbelievers are just dead with no hell? Oh my wouldn’t that be heaven !

    Ivan

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    Comment by Ivan — 25 September 2007 @ 2:51 pm

  26. Ktismatics:
    Pretend for the time being that the Bible reflects only human ideas, without any inspiration from God.

    What do you mean by “inspiration”?

    I only ask because it is a term that appears once in the NT and has no real precedence outside of that. And if you think I hold the common Evangelical view of this, well…..

    Ktismatics: Doesn’t heaven/hell seem like a plausible kind of construct to put forward?….Can’t you imagine tying morality to the afterlife in such a way that self-interested evil is punished and goodness turns out to have long-term benefits to the eternal soul?

    Sure.

    But how does this relate to whether or not heaven/hell actually exist, or actually do not exist?

    In many ways I think you and Sam are talking about similar “constructs”:
    Sam: Religion tries to propagate its own system first and foremost and makes powerful claims to have hidden knowledge of mysterious things like the afterlife mainly in order to tie obedience to rewards even in this life. In Hinduism, the talk of reincarnation and the cycle of Karma are actually embedded in maintaining the health of the present caste system. The caste system in turn provides a stable social base and opportunities for livelihood and family development within rather narrow but reliable circumstances.

    I believe that Christianity, as a major and successful religion, has also set itself upon a similar track, for there is prosperity to be had within its folds, and very good prospects indeed for those who know how to really use the system.

    I agree with the fact that religion is systematized most of the time, and that the system has its own agendas, among which is the control of the soul of man-kind in the after-life. Thus the Grand Inquisitor waxes eloquent on how “they” (the system of Xianity) gives mankind what he really desires, which is bondage. The system also gives man the ability to sin, with permission. And all of this goes to benefit those who control the system and those who are a part of the system.

    Sam:
    often the truth will be buried within layers of stuff that really serve other purposes than to be an explication of the truth! An approach to this is to pull out all the stuff that has cultural or social uses. Certainly whatever is known to have been borrowed from related mythologies has to go.

    No doubt that this is true, as well, but here is where I definitely start to diverge. You suggest getting through the layers of stuff. Yet how are you supposed to do that, unless you are unbiased and neutral without any “stuff” of your own? Doesn’t your own culture bury “truth” beneath layers of stuff? If so, then how do you even know what it is that you are looking for? Or how do you know that what you call “truth” isn’t just the “stuff” and you have fooled yourself into thinking that the glitter is actually gold?

    The point is that any excavation work presupposes that one has some sort of truth that one has started with. So, if we reject heaven/hell metaphors because they are too closely bound to culture, then what gives us the right? We obviously know better than they, correct? But how? How did we become the Enlightened ones so as to judge the antiquated worldviews that produced the antiquated notions of heaven/hell?

    If you recall, when I blog on truth I often blog on truth as being time-bound. I think the notion of “timeless” truth is rather useless. But then if truth is not “timeless” and if it is more intimately related to context, then this means that truth is not really something that one can excavate through in order to get at. Rather truth is actually to be found within all of the layers. Every context contains truth within it. Every layer of stuff contains truth. It is a matter of perspective.

    In all this, then, if we acknowledge that heaven/hell language is primarily metaphor then the question is what kind of truth is found in each the various metaphors? Of course, it is possible to just write it all of as a control mechanism for making people be nice to each other and in most cases that’s all that it is. Yet I still think that there is ultimate cosmic justice and that each human being will have to give an account of how they lived their lives in relation to their own context, how they treated their fellow man, how they cared for the earth, etc. As such, Hitler gets no free pass, and neither do other bigots who abuse and oppress humanity.

    Also, heaven and hell seems to be related to how one is related to the person of God through Christ. That is, apart from simply being a divine judge, impersonal and blindfolded, God also takes sin very personally, and there is something about our choices to sin that are intimately connected with our desire to rebel against God, or, conversely, to be reconciled to God.

    My Calvinism is kicking in, so I’ll let it go for now and let you pick at some of the other points I made.

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    Comment by Erdman — 25 September 2007 @ 7:29 pm

  27. “But how does this relate to whether or not heaven/hell actually exist, or actually do not exist?”

    It doesn’t. This was a post describing a dream about heaven and hell, and I thought it would be relevant to recent discussions about the unconscious and various ways of tapping into it. It’s usually presumed that dreams are a good window into the unconscious. I don’t think the dream is a window into what heaven and hell are really like, but I still found it interesting. Sam wondered how it is that these ideas of heaven and hell get embedded so firmly in our culture, at which point I brought in Bloom’s contention that it’s not just cultural but also genetic to believe in disembodied souls. That’s why I asked you to think about the psychological predisposition to envision the afterlife in a particular way. Bloom says that people are also predisposed to believe that some intelligent agent designed and created the world. Might be true, might not, but it is interesting. And being able to devise studies to explore what kids believe about bodies and minds is a way at gaining knowledge about human cognition, which seems like a worthy endeavor in its own right. It might even give Christian parents insight into why their kids believe that their hamsters are going to heaven when they die, or why they believe in ghosts. These kids haven’t (necessarily) been led astray by their pals or influenced by evil spirits; it’s just the way kids think about things.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 25 September 2007 @ 8:21 pm

  28. There certainly is a strong fascination in kids which makes them think about, study and also discuss matters like death and what follows. I’ve heard some pretty amazing stuff but then what adults believe and what religions teach is also pretty amazing!

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 25 September 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  29. Jon, certainly I am biased as an investigator, and certainly I already think that I have an outline of something which is what I am trying to then dig out of the text. My cultural biases, being modern-postmodern are not that hard to spot, but the embedded ideas and opinions on what the text means are very difficult to deal with ‘objectively’.

    But, one thing that gives me hope, especially with much of the bible, is how sequentially and ‘historico-culturally’ the ideas develop. The Quran is essentially stuff written-compiled in one lifetime. With Hindu ‘scriptures’ we know that the Vedas are old and that most of the Upanishads are relatively ‘new’ and some movements within Hinduism are sort of dateable (Advaita from 7C AD) but there is very little actual historical/cultural context that can help one when working with the texts. Buddhist texts are even less culturally connectible.

    John the Baptist and Jesus burst onto the scene 2k years ago with a startlingly different message but still one that we can relate to that very background that has been sketched out for us.

    It’s only because in important ways the bible is able to help us to deconstruct itself that we have any hope of digging in and getting something other than just a distorted reflection of our own suppositions.

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 25 September 2007 @ 11:28 pm

  30. “You suggest getting through the layers of stuff. Yet how are you supposed to do that, unless you are unbiased and neutral without any “stuff” of your own?”

    There was a cultural bias for regarding the earth as flat, or as the center of the universe. I would say there are techniques for evaluating the nature and causes of such biases, be they sociological, cognitive, or perceptual. There are also as techniques for evaluating the truth of the earth’s shape and astronomic position. Such investigations may be hampered by their own biases, but wouldn’t you say that <in relative terms there’s movement away from narrow biases and empirically false assertions?

    Having knowledge of many cultures it becomes possible to identify both universals and idiosyncraties across cultures. So it’s possible to see that, while the details of life after death may vary widely, the persistence of one’s disembodied soul or essence does seem to cut across most cultures. Next one can investigate possible reasons for both the variations and the invariants. One possibility is cultural bias, another is genetic predisposition. Neither of these sources of knowledge is going to tell us anything about what really happens after you die. But it does move relatively away from narrow cultural biases that can get in the way of discerning the real truth of the matter. No?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2007 @ 10:31 am

  31. Ktismatics:
    I would say there are techniques for evaluating the nature and causes of such biases, be they sociological, cognitive, or perceptual. There are also as techniques for evaluating the truth of the earth’s shape and astronomic position. Such investigations may be hampered by their own biases, but wouldn’t you say that <in relative terms there’s movement away from narrow biases and empirically false assertions?

    I think that’s a good point. That is, to distinguish narrow and broad biases.

    Does God have narrow biases? Or broad biases? Anyone care to venture a guess???

    Ktismatics:
    Having knowledge of many cultures it becomes possible to identify both universals and idiosyncraties across cultures. So it’s possible to see that, while the details of life after death may vary widely, the persistence of one’s disembodied soul or essence does seem to cut across most cultures. Next one can investigate possible reasons for both the variations and the invariants. One possibility is cultural bias, another is genetic predisposition. Neither of these sources of knowledge is going to tell us anything about what really happens after you die. But it does move relatively away from narrow cultural biases that can get in the way of discerning the real truth of the matter. No?

    Now this comment kind of takes me off guard, coming from you. You have said (in so many words) that it is usually a minority who have developed tastes. That the crowd is often word, at worst, or just misguided, at best. So, if you apply the above criteria in order to “move relatively away” from “narrow cultural biases,” then how do you know that you are not squeezing out a narrow bias that just happens to be true?

    Maybe I can phrase this in a different way: How do we distinguish between a “narrow cultural bias” and a minority opinion that may not fit what is “universal” or “idiosyncratic”?

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 26 September 2007 @ 11:05 am

  32. Sam:
    It’s only because in important ways the bible is able to help us to deconstruct itself that we have any hope of digging in and getting something other than just a distorted reflection of our own suppositions.

    The Bible as a deconstructor of itself….good phraseology!

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 26 September 2007 @ 11:06 am

  33. “how do you know that you are not squeezing out a narrow bias that just happens to be true?”

    Good question. In certain cases it’s possible to falsify supposed truth statements through empirical means; e.g., the flat earth hypothesis. But not always; e.g., the afterlife. The thing about narrow cultural biases is that, until you’re exposed to other cultures, you have no reason to suspect it’s a bias. Within the narrow bounds of an isolated culture, a bias seems indistinguishable from truth. Just because something is apparently universal, though, doesn’t make it true, since bias too can be widespread; e.g., the belief that gravity works the same everywhere in the universe. You need to extend yourself beyond the horizon, either by theoretical or technological extensions of one’s perspective. Only by this sort of outscoping is it possible to specify the narrow parameters within which something is locally true.

    On the one hand, then, those who have the wider scope are better able to detect local biases. Relatively few people can see that far. On the other hand, knowledge also requires intensity of focus: an individual can explore the universe of possibilities for relatively few subjects. It seems to me that the specialist still should be able to explain the basis for his/her truth assertions within the narrow domain under investigation.

    I don’t think the same criteria apply to taste. A work of art isn’t necessarily an attempt to represent universal beauty — though maybe it used to be that. Rather, a work of art can be a universe unto itself. Are there standard criteria for evaluating the excellence of a musical or sculptural or literary universe? I don’t know. There are perhaps kinds of artistic universes that cluster together and that perhaps can be evaluated relative to one another. But there’s also the internal properties of a particular artistic universe that can only be evaluated from inside that universe…

    So now we get to your issue: are there also truths internal to a particular universe that can be evaluated only from inside that universe? On a sort of trivial level, yes: Moby Dick truly is a great white whale, but only within the universe of Melville’s novel. Can you say that Jesus truly is the Son of God, but only within the Christian universe? Barth and Frei might say that. Does it make sense to aestheticize truth statements in this way? I have to pause and regroup at this point.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2007 @ 1:53 pm

  34. Elegance aside, I really believe that that pretty much has to be, or else I am into just one more extended and convoluted exercise in futility.

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 26 September 2007 @ 2:10 pm

  35. What’s wrong with futility?

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    Comment by Qohelet — 26 September 2007 @ 3:56 pm

  36. Ktismatics:
    On the one hand, then, those who have the wider scope are better able to detect local biases. Relatively few people can see that far.

    Do you think that “local bias” is something to avoid???

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 26 September 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  37. I think local bias is something to be aware of.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2007 @ 4:12 pm

  38. But why? What if your bias is true? Or, even if it is not true, what if it has truth “inside a particular universe” or at a local level???

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 26 September 2007 @ 4:42 pm

  39. How would you know your opinion or belief (e.g., about the shape of the earth or the nature of the afterlife) is or is not true? By what criteria would you evaluate your opinion or that of your tribe? Would you prefer not to know what others think or have discovered, to live “as if” your bias is the only possible way of seeing things? I wouldn’t. You might have a hunch that you won the lottery, and you might really have won, but you still have to check the numbers in the paper to know for sure.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2007 @ 5:02 pm

  40. Ktismatics:
    How would you know your opinion or belief (e.g., about the shape of the earth or the nature of the afterlife) is or is not true? By what criteria would you evaluate your opinion or that of your tribe?

    Please explain how “criteria” is connected with “truth.”

    Also, is it possible to have “truth,” in the absence of criteria? Or, conversely, might it not be possible that a belief met many criteria, but was not true?

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 26 September 2007 @ 5:50 pm

  41. It’s possible to be right and not know that you’re right; likewise with wrong. Criteria have to do with knowing whether you’re right or wrong. Sure, I think a belief can be elegant, persuasive, controversial, plausible, supported by the intelligentsia, politically correct, etc. and still not be true.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2007 @ 6:16 pm

  42. First of all…Doyle…your daughter’s dream was fascinating, hilarious…priceless.

    Her fart in Erdman’s general direction, however, rivals the hilarity of the dream.

    And for me morality doesn’t loose its force without the consequences of the afterlife.

    And I think of what happens after death as having more to do with what naturally happens when we come to be fully in the presence of God. I think of this death as more like a revelation than a new experience in a new place (a revelation of, yes, the presence, too). The parable of the rich brother who is “outside the sheepfold” begging Jesus to tell his living brothers how horrible such darkness is seems to attest to this reading most directly.

    Is volition the secularization of the scholastic will?

    I don’t think Homer was a dualist. That shapeshifting stuff was different from dualism, I think. That was about formation, not about notational location.

    So I would also not say that because children think that dead mice can feel that dualism (the implication of the “life after death” thing in that long quote from Bloom) is “a by-product of how we naturally think about the world.” Maybe more precisely, I don’t think that notions of the afterlife necessarily come from dualism. Maybe its just a matter of clarification rather than argument.

    Sheol and Hades didn’t have much association with moral goodness before death, did they? The link of the afterlife to morality may be one of the features that distinguish the Christian from the Jewish eschatology. Maybe Isaiah is an exception.

    In the Psalms it seems that the question of going to Sheol in the first place is usually attached partially to some moral issue or other.

    metaphors are difficult to use when nailing down something “substantial.”

    Why? To paraphrase McLuhan’s quoting of someone else: “Why do we have a thumb or else what’s a metaphor?” He was talking about the notion of “grasping” things.

    In the ‘original system’, even in the creation accounts of Genesis, there is no hint of man moving to or even towards God’s ‘realms’, if we are going to accept that that concept is in fact implied by El. Man was for the earth, in many senses even bound to the earth, the land.

    In Gk. “demos” means both man and land :)

    All of which would make great sense if some organisation was going to benefit from all this sacrifice! Indeed one odd thing with the NT is that there is in fact on organisation to benefit. There seemingly is no organisation because Jesus may have deliberately shunned the idea of organised religion.

    In what ways might Christ have intentionally shunned organised religion? And what about how he was supposedly…I was taught…told Peter that he would found his “church”? I forget the verse, actually, to be completely honest.

    It’s interesting at OST to see Andrew Perriman’s (also NT Wright’s?) exegesis of the Gospels, in which Jesus’s remarks that seem to refer to heaven and hell might actually refer to the imminent judgment on Israel and its destruction at the hands of the Romans. I’m pretty sure Andrew doesn’t believe in heaven and hell.

    I’ve wondered before whether N.T. Wright believed in an actual heaven and hell. I haven’t really seen a definitive answer on that. Does anyone here know what he thinks about that?

    Amen to the following:

    Of course, it is possible to just write it all of as a control mechanism for making people be nice to each other and in most cases that’s all that it is. Yet I still think that there is ultimate cosmic justice and that each human being will have to give an account of how they lived their lives in relation to their own context, how they treated their fellow man, how they cared for the earth, etc….Also, heaven and hell seems to be related to how one is related to the person of God through Christ. That is, apart from simply being a divine judge, impersonal and blindfolded, God also takes sin very personally, and there is something about our choices to sin that are intimately connected with our desire to rebel against God, or, conversely, to be reconciled to God.

    And…

    It’s only because in important ways the bible is able to help us to deconstruct itself that we have any hope of digging in and getting something other than just a distorted reflection of our own suppositions.

    Might this be divine Providence? :)

    Does God have narrow biases? Or broad biases? Anyone care to venture a guess???

    Erdman…as per our recent conversation on substance, Being and essences and such…and on “the other side of the veil” (your asking me if God had a “higher” understanding just because He has full insight into “the other side of the veil”)…I don’t understand who God is to you. Who is God to you? This comment of yours is both illuminating and obsfuscating for me at the same time…??

    Now this comment kind of takes me off guard, coming from you. You have said (in so many words) that it is usually a minority who have developed tastes. That the crowd is often word, at worst, or just misguided, at best. So, if you apply the above criteria in order to “move relatively away” from “narrow cultural biases,” then how do you know that you are not squeezing out a narrow bias that just happens to be true?

    Having taste is different from having objectivity or neutrality…or “broad biases.” In fact I’d say its the opposite. Much more similar to “broad biases” however, than to objectivit and neutrality, I’d say.

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 26 September 2007 @ 11:26 pm

  43. “So I would also not say that because children think that dead mice can feel that dualism (the implication of the “life after death” thing in that long quote from Bloom) is “a by-product of how we naturally think about the world.”

    It seems like a plausible interpretation of the data. Why would kids say that dead mice don’t need to eat or go to the bathroom any more but that they can still feel and think? It seems they have a sense that the body is different from the mind, and that the mind can go on even after the body dies. If the kids thought that dead mice don’t feel and think, or if they thought that dead mice still get hungry, then you might interpret the results as suggesting that minds and bodies go together. That’s not how the data turned out.

    “Maybe more precisely, I don’t think that notions of the afterlife necessarily come from dualism.”

    They don’t necessarily come from dualism. The point is that a dualism in which the mind is detachable from the wetware would bring to mind ideas like heaven, reincarnation, ghosts, and so on where individual consciousness persists after death.

    “In Gk. “demos” means both man and land.”

    I thought “demos” meant “people.”

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 6:44 am

  44. Jason, demos in the Septuagint? Sounds like you should join the discussion of Genesis as True Myth over at OST!
    Peter’s famous rock/pebble is from Matt 16:18ff “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
    From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
    And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
    But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”

    I don’t see anything here that looks like supporting organisations. In fact, in context it is actually a powerful argument 1) against the human (Petrine) tendency to build temples and settle down right there to worship and 2) by denying that the way of Jesus – and his followers – is the way of the cross, not the way of triumphally building buildings/organisations.

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 27 September 2007 @ 7:27 am

  45. Peter was the guy who wanted to build temples for Jesus and Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, but Jesus told him not to bother.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 7:37 am

  46. Ktismatics:
    Criteria have to do with knowing whether you’re right or wrong.

    Does it? That, of course, is the objective of introducing “criteria” as an aspect of “knowledge.” Modernity via the epistemology of Internalism thought that they could get a set of criteria that, when combined with True Belief, would equal knowledge. This goes back to Plato. Hence JTB = Knowledge. (JTB = Justified True Belief)

    I am a committed Externalist, following Alvin Plantinga. The long and short of it is that I see enough counter examples that convince me that one can have knowledge, even in the absence of justification. So, I see you as just substituting “criteria” in the same way that an Internalist would use the term “justification.”

    But that’s not even my deepest concern. My question is what “criteria” or “justification” or whatever has to do with truth. Criteria/justification all synthetic and artificial – that is, we make the rules of what counts as “criteria” and “justification.” Then when our belief meets the criteria/justification we say, “Ah, we have the truth!” Nietzsche (or perhaps Wittgenstein) allegorized against this when he said that this approach to truth was like a man who hid something in a bush and then acted with surprise and delight when he later came back and found it!

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 8:21 am

  47. Right: criteria have to do with knowledge about knowledge. Why do I say that I “know” something to be a fact, or even that I “believe” it to be a fact? By what criteria do I assert this to myself or to anyone else? I know/believe that the earth is flat — on what criteria do I base this assertion? These criteria might prove to be rationalizations after the fact; i.e., I might believe something without thinking about it and then come up with a plausible rationale for justifying this implicit belief. If it turns out the plausible rationale isn’t really my criterion, then cast it aside and dig out the criterion I really use for saying that I believe this thing — intuition, what my parents taught me, etc. What is your and/or Plantinga’s argument against this idea of criteria?

    Assertion: I won the lottery last night. Is this assertion true or false? Well I’m very confident that it’s false, since I didn’t buy a ticket. So I’d say I believe that I did not win the lottery last night. There’s always a possibility that, unbeknownst to me, someone bought the winning ticket in my name. So I’ll find out the truth for sure — I’ll know — when the winners are announced. The criteria are explicit for assertions of belief and truth, and I think they’re excellent criteria. My belief is about lottery winnings, so my criteria are matched to the reality in which the belief makes sense.

    Do humans have an innate sense of mind-body dualism? I’d say that I don’t know for sure and that I can never know. However, I can say I believe that it’s so. By what criteria do I believe it? I might say that I see evidence for that belief in disembodied souls seems to be universal and that empirical studies of children’s beliefs. You can say that my criteria are poor or ill-defined, or you can say that the evidence within my criteria do not support my belief. At that point I can either downgrade my confidence in my belief, or change my opinion, or say that these criteria weren’t the real basis for my belief. If I choose this third course, then we start again in clarifying what is the real criterion for my belief. In what ways do you find fault with this procedure?

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 9:02 am

  48. Erdman –

    [You]Does God have narrow biases? Or broad biases? Anyone care to venture a guess??? [Then my response] Erdman…as per our recent conversation on substance, Being and essences and such…and on “the other side of the veil” (your asking me if God had a “higher” understanding just because He has full insight into “the other side of the veil”)…I don’t understand who God is to you. Who is God to you? This comment of yours is both illuminating and obsfuscating for me at the same time…??

    And…

    [You] metaphors are difficult to use when nailing down something “substantial.” [Then my response] Why? To paraphrase McLuhan’s quoting of someone else: “Why do we have a thumb or else what’s a metaphor?” He was talking about the notion of “grasping” things.

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 September 2007 @ 9:09 am

  49. It seems like a plausible interpretation of the data. Why would kids say that dead mice don’t need to eat or go to the bathroom any more but that they can still feel and think? It seems they have a sense that the body is different from the mind, and that the mind can go on even after the body dies. If the kids thought that dead mice don’t feel and think, or if they thought that dead mice still get hungry, then you might interpret the results as suggesting that minds and bodies go together. That’s not how the data turned out.

    This could speak to formation just as well as dualism.

    I thought “demos” meant “people.”

    “One small step for man…”…??

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 September 2007 @ 9:15 am

  50. Sam – I’ll have to check out that link…but later on. Thanks for showing it to me.

    I don’t see anything here that looks like supporting organisations. In fact, in context it is actually a powerful argument 1) against the human (Petrine) tendency to build temples and settle down right there to worship and 2) by denying that the way of Jesus – and his followers – is the way of the cross, not the way of triumphally building buildings/organisations.

    How’d you get all that from those scriptures (Doyle’s reference to the Transfiguration incident does seem relevant, though)? And it seems like you’re saying more than what you’re saying..??

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 September 2007 @ 9:19 am

  51. Yes, man as collective as well as singular. I just don’t think “demos” also means “land.”

    What do you mean by “formation”?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 9:19 am

  52. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/dem/2003/00000010/00000001/art00008?crawler=true

    :)

    Formation – I will return to that later…

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 September 2007 @ 9:38 am

  53. Interesting about “deme” — it sounds like it refers to the district where a particular clan lived. So like in the Hebrew Bible, “Judah” refers both to the tribe and to the place where the tribe settled.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 10:09 am

  54. Ktismatics:

    What is your and/or Plantinga’s argument against this idea of criteria?

    The problem is not with criteria/justification, per se, but with demanding that criteria/justification be the sole component (when combined with “truth” and “belief”) for knowledge. This is b/c it seems as though there are examples of those who have what seems to be “knowledge” without justification, and those who have a justified true belief, but it doesn’t count as knowledge. For the latter, crf. the famous Gettier examples and other similar examples.

    K:
    Assertion: I won the lottery last night. Is this assertion true or false? Well I’m very confident that it’s false, since I didn’t buy a ticket. So I’d say I believe that I did not win the lottery last night. There’s always a possibility that, unbeknownst to me, someone bought the winning ticket in my name. So I’ll find out the truth for sure — I’ll know — when the winners are announced. The criteria are explicit for assertions of belief and truth, and I think they’re excellent criteria. My belief is about lottery winnings, so my criteria are matched to the reality in which the belief makes sense.

    In the above I see you confusing “truth” with “justification” (or “criteria”). But it is too early to tell. Let me ask you this: Is it possible that they announce you as the winner and you did not actually win? Or, in another direction, is it also possible that you smoke some weed and only think you hear that you are the winner. As far as you are concerned you heard them announce that you won, and you are convinced that you possess knowledge.

    Do humans have an innate sense of mind-body dualism? I’d say that I don’t know for sure and that I can never know.

    That to me is the huge drawback for a Modern approach to these issues. If a person rests all “knowledge” on whether or not there is “criteria” or “justification” then any topic of discussion that does not lend itself well to “criteria” or “justification” will be downgraded as unverifiable and hence trivialized as an irrelevant belief. This strikes me as a very extreme scientific bias, which is why I see it as distinctly Modern, and perhaps one of the pillars of Modernity.

    I’m curious, how would you develop “criteria” to justify the belief that you “love your wife”?

    Or what is the “criteria” that you have established that justify the belief that you, yourself, exist? Or that your wife and daughter exist? Perhaps you are a brain in a vat and the subject of a scientific experiment?

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 10:52 am

  55. Jason:
    metaphors are difficult to use when nailing down something “substantial.”

    Metaphorical language is (in essence) the borrowing of an image/idea/symbol/etc. from one thing and applying it to another for the sake of illustrating something. What is being illustrated is often referred to as the “tenor.”

    In other words, when I say, “Jason is as humble as an ass,” I am using the concept of “ass” to illustrate something about “Jason.” I want to convey (tenor) that Jason is meek and humble. But if I say, “Jason is as stubborn and stupid as an ass,” then I am conveying something far different. Yet I am using the same metaphorical vehicle (the “ass”).

    The above illustration is clear in terms of why I am using metaphor. The biblical text is usually not so clear. Sometimes (book of Revelation, for example) we don’t even know for sure what is metaphorical. At other times metaphors are used but the tenor is not as clear.

    Hence heaven/hell metaphors are difficult to use in order to “get at” the reality of what will happen when we die. That being said, I still take the metaphors very seriously. “As serious as hell,” one might metaphorically suggest.

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    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 11:04 am

  56. One more quick not on Jason and the ass.

    What someone were to now say, “Jason is an ass.” Do they mean that he is humble and meek? A Golden Ass, perhaps? Or are they saying that he is a jerk?

    This is an example of how metaphors can be unclear. This gets far, far more complicated when dealing with ancient texts where the culture and language is long gone.

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    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 11:06 am

  57. I looked at the Gettier examples and found myself agreeing with the pragmatists: the examples are pedantic. I’m talking about usable criteria which one can actually use to evaluate the likelihood that one’s beliefs are true. I have never personally verified that the earth isn’t flat; it’s possible that the scientists are wrong; it’s possible that I’ve misunderstood what I’ve read; etc. Likewise the lottery: maybe someone did by a ticket in my name, that the ticket won, but the purchaser threw the ticket away. I have no absolute access to knowledge, nor do I have access to criteria that provide 100% confirmation or refutation. In the human realm knowledge is probabilistic, and truth is a proxy for what can be known. There’s a “tipping point” in one’s probabilistic assessment of knowledge: above a certain fuzzy threshold you act as if it’s true, below another threshold you act as if it’s false, and in between you just throw up your hands.

    “That to me is the huge drawback for a Modern approach to these issues. If a person rests all “knowledge” on whether or not there is “criteria” or “justification” then any topic of discussion that does not lend itself well to “criteria” or “justification” will be downgraded as unverifiable and hence trivialized as an irrelevant belief.”

    I specified a set of criteria by which I might assert a particular belief. I don’t have to justify my belief to you; I don’t even have to justify it to myself. But I might be curious: why do I believe this thing? It’s a matter of self-consciousness. A coyote can “know” that that rabbit is gonna be good eatin’ without thinking about why it holds this belief. A little kid can “know” that even after the rabbit gets eaten its soul will live on. In all likelihood the coyote will keep chasing rabbits without ever giving it a second thought. The kid, though, might wonder some day: how do I know that the bunny’s soul survives its body? There are pragmatic reasons why humans tend to do this sort of thing, since questioning assumptions enables us to explore other food sources, experiment with tools, make inferences about others’ intentions, and so on that aren’t hard-wired into the instincts. The criteria don’t have to be scientific, or even experiential and visible to others’ scrutiny. But there’s good reason to cultivate self-awareness about why we believe things. I don’t think it’s just a pillar of Modernity; it’s a pillar of humanity.

    “I’m curious, how would you develop “criteria” to justify the belief that you “love your wife”?”

    This is a common area of investigation in psychotherapy.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 11:42 am

  58. “Hence heaven/hell metaphors are difficult to use in order to “get at” the reality of what will happen when we die. That being said, I still take the metaphors very seriously. “As serious as hell,” one might metaphorically suggest.”

    I tried and largely failed to engage in discussion at Church and PoMo about Scot McKnight’s contention that substitutionary atonement is a metaphorical understanding. So the question to you: are you saying that “heaven” and “hell” are being used metaphorically in Christian theology? That the afterlife for the believer is “like” heaven? As you say, “Metaphorical language is (in essence) the borrowing of an image/idea/symbol/etc. from one thing and applying it to another for the sake of illustrating something.” That means that in a metaphorical relation “the afterlife” and “heaven” are two different things, similar only in a particular abstract way that both terms have in common. Jason and the ass are categorically different kinds of things that perhaps share a common abstract feature like stubbornness. So to say “the afterlife is like heaven” and mean it metaphorically is to say that the afterlife and heaven are different categories of thing. On the other hand, if you say “a bat is like a bird,” you probably aren’t speaking metaphorically; rather, you’re saying that bats and birds share certain concrete similarities.

    I’m not sure what the line of discussion was that got into metaphor, but it catches my interest.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 11:56 am

  59. metaphors are difficult to use when nailing down something “substantial.”…Metaphorical language is (in essence) the borrowing of an image/idea/symbol/etc. from one thing and applying it to another for the sake of illustrating something. What is being illustrated is often referred to as the “tenor.”

    For one thing, I thought you were using the term “substantial” for a reason. But I guess it was kinda random, so nevermind about that. I was partially asking about your use of the term “substantial” there. I guess you were just referring to the difference between a metaphor that describes something with an observable substance and something that is generally in our culture taken not to have “substance.” That’s partially what I’ve been trying to ask you about…and don’t seem to be getting an answer. That’s partially why I asked you again who God is to you…??

    Ex. – you said: Hence heaven/hell metaphors are difficult to use in order to “get at” the reality of what will happen when we die. That being said, I still take the metaphors very seriously. “As serious as hell,” one might metaphorically suggest.

    Does this assume that “the reality of what will happen when we die” (or “where we’ll go”) isn’t “substantial”? It seems to assume that, but you aren’t saying it…??

    And…what’s the difference between a metaphor and an analogy?

    What someone were to now say, “Jason is an ass.” Do they mean that he is humble and meek? A Golden Ass, perhaps? Or are they saying that he is a jerk?

    Melody was saying that I was being a jerk. Which was clearly evident from the context of the conversation.

    Sometimes though…”when the culture is long gone”…the context is less clear. But does that change my question about substance, being and presence (of what was hidden both then and now)? I don’t think it does…

    On the other hand, if you say “a bat is like a bird,” you probably aren’t speaking metaphorically; rather, you’re saying that bats and birds share certain concrete similarities.

    “Concrete” here is much like my question about what is “substantial”. That’s my whole question, though. Everyone has seen bats and birds (at the least, they are observable). But “the reality of what happens when we die” is hidden. Or not testable or observable. Or not “substantial” (?). So, then…instead of being “hidden” (and later to be revealed)…is it absent and not really existing anyway? Or maybe it exists “virtually”, or “potentially”…??

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 September 2007 @ 12:52 pm

  60. “And…what’s the difference between a metaphor and an analogy?”

    Here’s a really great analogy I read recently: “So it makes communication with you feel like the heaving of large animals over a tall and wide fortified city wall.”

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 1:03 pm

  61. Ktismatics:
    As you say, “Metaphorical language is (in essence) the borrowing of an image/idea/symbol/etc. from one thing and applying it to another for the sake of illustrating something.” That means that in a metaphorical relation “the afterlife” and “heaven” are two different things, similar only in a particular abstract way that both terms have in common. Jason and the ass are categorically different kinds of things that perhaps share a common abstract feature like stubbornness. So to say “the afterlife is like heaven” and mean it metaphorically is to say that the afterlife and heaven are different categories of thing. On the other hand, if you say “a bat is like a bird,” you probably aren’t speaking metaphorically; rather, you’re saying that bats and birds share certain concrete similarities.

    Right. The latter (from my readings) is sometimes differentiated from “metaphor” and referred to as “simile.”

    In a general sense I agree with your take on “heavenliness” being something of a metaphor for the afterlife. Similarly, the concept of “hell” is described variously as a “lake of fire” or as a place of darkness. But if it were literally the “fire” that we are aware of, then it would not be dark. But, then again, I think the metaphor is employed to say that the hell of afterlife is torment and torture. But exactly what that will be, in a literal sense, seems to be more of a mystery.

    The point of these metaphors (tenor) seems to all go towards urging humanity to certain actions (repentance, good works, belief/trust in the Son of God). But, as you know, I do not believe these are metaphors devoid of any substance, whereas it seems that you would say that the metaphors are there merely to keep us in line. Is that fair?

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    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  62. “The latter (from my readings) is sometimes differentiated from “metaphor” and referred to as “simile.”

    Simile and metaphor are very similar. “All the world’s a stage” is a metaphor; “all the world is like a stage is a simile. They’re the same kind of analogy, but the simile is explicit in saying that the two terms are similar and not identical. Anyhow, it sounds like you’ve got both metaphor and simile in mind here, that when the Bible says “lake of fire” it could just as easily say “like a lake of fire” without changing the meaning.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  63. Jason,

    By “substantial” I am usually referring to the presence of something: a reality. So, for me the reality of a place like hell will await in the afterlife for those who are not under the grace of God through Christ Jesus. But the substance of that reality is described primarily by metaphors, hence, we only see it “as in a mirror darkly,” to use the 1 Corinthians 13 metaphor!

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    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  64. Jon, one of the questions that I have been asking myself is, whatever be the reality of the afterlife, it does seem to be difficult to understand it clearly from this end, so why waste time on what may just be exercises in speculation when there are vastly more important matters that await our urgent attention?

    Does whatever I imagine about this make a difference to my day-to-day activity. Should it?

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 27 September 2007 @ 1:52 pm

  65. Here’s a really great analogy I read recently: “So it makes communication with you feel like the heaving of large animals over a tall and wide fortified city wall.”

    :)

    [to Doylomania] But, as you know, I do not believe these are metaphors devoid of any substance, whereas it seems that you would say that the metaphors are there merely to keep us in line. Is that fair?…[to Me] By “substantial” I am usually referring to the presence of something: a reality. So, for me the reality of a place like hell will await in the afterlife for those who are not under the grace of God through Christ Jesus. But the substance of that reality is described primarily by metaphors, hence, we only see it “as in a mirror darkly,” to use the 1 Corinthians 13 metaphor!

    OK…well thanks…I understand much better now…but then again now I’m really confused. Your interpretations of scripture and history…as well as your existential angst…seem to rely on “a metaphysics of absence”…wheraes this statement seems to rely on “a metaphysics of presence.” ….??? I am confused. Are you a metaphysician of absence or presence?

    BTW the reason I brought up the analogy thing is because an anology is a link between two actual geometric shapes (or entities that are constituted by some set of ratios/relationships). Much like metaphor. But we are referring to metaphor as a link between two dississimilar (and separate) things. Whereas an analogy is by necessity an analogy between two similar things whose very relationship is framed by one and the same geometric construction.

    What the heck am I talking about. 2 is the analogy between 1/2 and 2/4. Imagine a rectangle with sides 1 and 2, and another larger than it with sides 2 and 4. They fit within each other in one geometric construction. As well they are “similar” to each other. In fact early Rennaissance studies of “perspective” (Durer and Alberti) relied on this notion of similarity of triangles (which in their theories of optics constitute the optical feild) to understand how we see and percieve things in perspectival space. But yet now…to us…all of our perspectives are separate, as are all of the objects in our perspectival field. What is in light to me is in darkness to you…but this was not the case in Rennaissance “perspective”. Now its more like “pro-spective”.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 September 2007 @ 1:54 pm

  66. Does whatever I imagine about this make a difference to my day-to-day activity. Should it?

    Depends on whether the “reality” of it is present or not!
    :)

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 September 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  67. Jason, do you mean that heaven should be present here and now and that will make a difference? What if my very biblical speculations lead me to misunderstand the nature or the feel of what heaven (or hell) is actually going to be like, does that make a difference and if so what-how?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 27 September 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  68. Jason, do you mean that heaven should be present here and now and that will make a difference?

    No. I mean that it is and it does. :)

    What if my very biblical speculations lead me to misunderstand the nature or the feel of what heaven (or hell) is actually going to be like, does that make a difference and if so what-how?

    Well…I don’t think we have to know what they are like (or will be like either) in order for them to be present and to actually make a difference. I don’t even know fully what or who I am “like”, but yet I am obviously present and make a difference!
    :)

    I am also not necessarily thinking of heaven and hell as notationally locatable and objectifiable “places” “up there” or “down there”.
    :)

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 September 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  69. But that’s just the problem isn’t it, we have a whole bunch of signifiers, metaphors, analogies, parables, similes, specultations… without having a clue as to what it all does or should mean. Really, if God wanted us to know he would have found a way. As it is it is just a mysterious something that Jesus himself only spoke of in a contingent way. The contingency depending on what you and I actually get to be doing with ourselves!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 27 September 2007 @ 2:40 pm

  70. When Jesus talks about the “kingdom” he’s pretty surely talking about a phenomenon that occurs at least partly in the here and now. I suppose one could interpret it as referring only to the here and now, that its ideal form is just that — an ideal toward which reality is always approaching but never arrives at. The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world are alternate realities that coexist in the material space and time we occupy on earth, governed by different principles as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  71. Jason:
    I am confused. Are you a metaphysician of absence or presence?

    Yes.

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  72. Ktismatics:
    when the Bible says “lake of fire” it could just as easily say “like a lake of fire” without changing the meaning.

    I would agree with that statement.

    In my opinion, it could be a literal lake of fire, but the lake of fire could also be a metaphor for a place of extreme pain. The metaphor gives us an image of being thrown into the lake of fire – this would obviously be extremely painful and torturous.

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  73. Sam:
    Jon, one of the questions that I have been asking myself is, whatever be the reality of the afterlife, it does seem to be difficult to understand it clearly from this end, so why waste time on what may just be exercises in speculation when there are vastly more important matters that await our urgent attention?

    Does whatever I imagine about this make a difference to my day-to-day activity. Should it?

    It’s a good question, Sam.

    I guess I would say that it does matter. If I follow through on what the heaven/hell metaphors are trying to communicate (tenor), then it seems to me that it many cases the images of future glory or future torment are given for the sake of persevering in the truth (i.e. the early church: something better is coming in the future that will make your persecution worthwhile) or for the sake of jarring people who have lost their ethical compass. Jesus used hyperbole quite a bit to get people to think about the consequences of their actions – both in this world and the next.

    For you, personally, it may not matter. You may not have any need for an eschatological perspective in order to “live to serve and serve to live.” For others who are living for their own desires the threat of hell may be used to rethink their current life’s direction. For those going through difficult time and suffering for their faith, the promise of heaven can help to put temporal suffering in perspective. (Romans 8:18)

    For me, I do find it very inspiration to think on verses such as these: Revelation 21:3, 22-27, 1 John 3:2.

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    Comment by Erdman — 27 September 2007 @ 4:07 pm

  74. “For you, personally, it may not matter. You may not have any need for an eschatological perspective in order to “live to serve and serve to live.” okay, i agree, i’ve certainly attained a ‘higher level’ and am now observing spiritual matters from a clifftop aerie, or perhaps peering in from the back of that clouded mirror that you referred to earlier.

    What I see is just the tops of fuzzy, fluffy clouds of unconnected signifiers. Lot’s of seeming stuff that seems to have seeming meaning and the appearance of significance. Deep, weighty, stuff, all of it, just like Jacob’s ‘Well’, and then there’s the feeling of the substances of the things not yet seen.

    Seriously tho, I’m probably way off or just plain exccentric, but it seems to me that without a clear picture of what exactly lies over the horizon, it’s silly to dwell on it – could be good, could be bad – but today, right now, I’ve already got my work cut out for me, especially with folks around who really can even suspect that i’m beginning to live to serve while serving to live! The struggle to live the gospel and to have my mind renewed and to know my Lord better is tough enough without distractions like needing to have a grand vision of how everything connects up.

    The passage that Jason remarked on sets off a whole block of stuff in Matthew where the disciples are trying to get ahead of the kingdom now to the ultimate kingdom, and the all important question of what their status and honour will be at that point, while Jesus keeps pulling them back by talking about taking up crosses and following. Eventually when they do get him to speak of the end times, I doubt that the vision that he sets before them is a terribly comforting one!

    John mentioned Andrew Perriman, of OST fame, and his rather different ideas of what the talk of ‘the end times’ was intended to refer to. It is something similar to a preterist reading but has it’s endpoint vaguely in the conflict with Rome, with the ultimate triumph of the kingdom when it brings Rome under its own umbrella.

    I liked the thought that a smart person in those times could probably have seen the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Israelites coming. If there is such a solid historical grounding then it puts the prophesies in a slightly different light and gives them an immediacy that we otherwise would not feel. It perhaps also explains the deliberate vagueness of the terminology, a ‘speaking in code’ being necessary to protect both the writers and their readers. Speculation is such fun!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 28 September 2007 @ 2:08 am

  75. Though we may see things slightly differently, I certainly believe that the American church needs to hear your thoughts far more and needs far less “pie in the sky,” if you will.

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    Comment by Erdman — 28 September 2007 @ 8:01 am

  76. Jon, you mentioned the “need for an eschatological perspective” and this may be one of those areas that I am weakest in. It may have something to do with my lingering confusion after having unsuccessfully tried to sort out what amillenial, premillenial, postmillenial, pretrib, posttrib… and I still haven’t been able to make up my mind about any of it!

    If one could have a decently consistent perspective on all this, it may indeed be a great help to one’s day-to-day living. I’m just happy right now to agnostically limp along without it!

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 28 September 2007 @ 8:33 am

  77. By “eschatological perspective” I didn’t mean the silly a/pre/postmil debates. Rather, just the future hope of spending eternity with Christ and to see the Kingdom finally brought into its complete fullness. Regardless of whether we will be raptured or not or whatever else, the hope of spending everlasting days with Christ the King is definitely an incentive for me.

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 29 September 2007 @ 10:14 am

  78. “the hope of spending everlasting days with Christ the King is definitely an incentive for me.”

    Hmmm, if that’s the Erdmanian form of eschatology, Agreed!

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 29 September 2007 @ 11:39 am


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