In this final post of this series, we will be looking at the issue of destiny. We’ve already looked at some of life’s big questions: (origin) Where did I come from? Where did anything come from?;(meaning) What makes my life meaningful?; and (morality) Is morality objectively binding? Where did it come from?
ATHEISM: The atheistic only has one possible response to give: you cease to exist. That’s all folks, as Porky Pig has said on occasion. So is this a reasonable view?
Modern science has demonstrated that given the course of the universe it will eventually end in a heat death. That is, all things will wear down, give out, and lapse away to the point where the universe will consist of a cold lifeless existence. Thus, empirically speaking, this is a consistent view.
Clearly, this view is also logically consistent. There seem to be no logical inconsistencies.
Finally, what is this view like in terms of experiential relevance. Is it livable? If so, what would it look like? To my own mind, such a view of death would perhaps lead me towards the inclination that I should simply live life as to gain the most pleasure and happiness for myself, before my life runs out. This isn’t to say all people who hold to such a view will take this stance, but I think if one thinks about it – there is no one to be accountable to when you die and, because of the ultimate death of the universe to come, nothing you do will leave an unending legacy (not to mention most people won’t be remembered after a mere generation or two after they’ve died). Why not live life to gain the most pleasure in the here and now before it ends? You take nothing with you into death so “take it all” now, before time runs out. That seems to me the most logical outworking of such a view.
Thus, if we find ourselves thinking that things like helping people for the mere sake of helping people, or being friendly for the mere sake of being friendly are good things which we should do and cherish – well why should anyone bother if we all end up the same?
If one does live as a charitable person, what ultimate difference does it make? Perhaps in the here-and-now, but does it do anything as to affect the distant future?
And that’s where I see the full entailments to lead – we all end up the same, why not live as you please?
So the big question arises: Is that how we live? Is that even how we should live? If not – then perhaps there is something wrong with this view which we intuitively sense to be so. Perhaps it’s just a false sense that we have.
MONSIM: On this view the end result of all existence is that all people are eventually either (a) absorbed into the universal force or being (God), or (b) everyone realizes enlightenment – which on a Buddhistic view is that people recognize that reality actually doesn’t even exist. Thus, as everything is just an illusion, everything remains nonexistent…..
Obviously (b) has some (major) logical difficulties, among other things. I won’t address this view since it seems pretty clear to me that most people will be able to see this core issues with that view. It just doesn’t make sense, logically speaking, and doesn’t makes sense of our lives and experience at all either.
As for (a), let’s look at that. Is there any empirical issue with it? Well, if monism is true we are simply not in a position to examine such a claim by empirical means. That being said, remember that monism posits that the universe – and everything in it – are all part of God. Thus, as far as the empirical goes, it looks like all existence – including that of the universe (which is God) – will cease to be in the heat death of the universe.
The only way empirical evidence would trump this is if there were some other reasons to think that the monistic force would change the current course of action – something like a divine revelation (a book perhaps) that would confirm it’s divine authority by means of empirical evidence convincing enough to render one to trust that the monistic force (God) exists and will “save” our universe.
Unfortunately, an impersonal force like the mositic view posits has no free will or volition – a personal trait – thus cannot act to change the end result of the universe!
Thus, it seems, the monistic force is on it’s way to the state mentioned above.
What about experiential relevance? If this view were true, what would it look like in practice? What experiential or existential issues arise, if any? Remember that on such a view the state of personal enlightenment is that you – as a person – are absorbed into the ultimate being or God. Such an enlightened state means that you loose your identity as an individual and that which makes you….you is extinguished. (Personally, I would have reservations about loosing my own personhood and identity, as opposed to not being enlightened and living as an individual with personhood. I’d prefer to remain ignorant of enlightenment.)
Also, on such views, there isn’t any “cut-off” before we can reach the enlightened state. That is, there is no time limit given (as far as I know). Thus, we have as long as we need to reach this state – so there’s nothing to be worried about either way. Thus, why not live as you please? Enlightenment is always waiting.
THEISM: What about theism? Theism teaches (basically) that all humans have free will and their moral choices affect their ultimate destination after death. There is a time limit to life, and once you die you go somewhere – usually designated by heaven and hell.
Theism, at least Christianity, teaches that this world will eventually end and God will create a new universe (a new heavens). But, this is not in the same way that the empirical evidence from science says. Thus, if God is to intervene then the same applies to theism that did to monism – has God revealed his plan and purposes to man in such a way that can in some way be empirically verified as to authenticate it? This would obviously involve testing either the Bible (Christianity and Judaism), or the Koran (Islam), etc. Perhaps direct experiences of God would count, although a subjective piece of empirical evidence, still empirical evidence nonetheless.
How about experiential relevance? What would this look like in practice? What experiential issues arise? Recall that monism’s issue was that personhood and identity were extinguished. On theism, personhood and identity are integral parts of what it means to be a human person and to exist as one. It cannot be changed (on most forms of theism). That being said, the end result is not a state of affairs where a person “looses himself”, but one in which a person remains himself, but continues existence in another state existence.
If such a view is correct, than it should give any thinking person pause for reflection. What if God exists and my actions and thoughts are judged by God? What if I’m found guilty and thus face punishment for those things in the afterlife? This would at least give one an inclination to treat morally significant situations as meaningful and relevant to one’s destiny (among other things).
The option of facing diving judgment and the entailments thereof give theism something that atheism and monism do not offer – a, perhaps, very compelling reason to consider theism, just in case it’s true! Although, as theism posits, the ultimate motive (which may not necessarily be one’s first motif) is to honor God as the source of all that is good and pleasing, and to enjoy him and his creation.
As we’ve gone through this series we’ve covered many different areas and issues. This has been, however, a very quick and basic look at all of these issues so I don’t expect, and have not made it a goal of this series, to convince any person of any of the conclusions arrived at. But if I’ve made someone think differently, or simply to consider the relevance of examining world-views (because of their differences, which all have huge, and sometimes conflicting, implications) then I’ve done well.
So to end my own look at these world-views, I think theism clearly arises on top. As we’ve seen, this isn’t to claim that theism passes every test made by flying colors, but overall I think comes out as answering these four fundamental questions in such a way to meet the empirical, logical and experiential demands better than the other two options have.
As the blog moves on I’m sure many interesting topics are going to be dealt with!