Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is There Life Before Death?

No, I'm not going wobbly on you, but I'd like to try to weave together the book we had been discussing -- The One and The Many -- with Father Rose's discussion of the soul after death.

Why? I don't know, just a little glass bead parlor game I like to play, that is, putting two random things side by side and seeing how they can be reconciled into a higher unity. For one thing, it helps me vault myself into the unKnown, beyond the edge of the subjective space I've already colonized. You might say it's my hobby. I mean, if you really only want Father Rose's take, you can always get his book.

Remember, all science -- including the science of God -- involves the reduction of multiplicity to unity, or in apprehending the unity underlying the multiplicity. But also, I feel as if I'm actually learning something if, instead of just rewordgitating someone else's work, I let the ingredients macerate in my own crockpot. I may well end up saying the same thing, but at least it will have my own grubby soulprint on it. It may be a crock, but at least it's my own.

As a matter of fact, much of this morbid discussion comes down to the question of whether the soul exists. If she does, then I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that she is nonlocal (both in space and time) and that she could under no absurcumstances result from a strictly blind material process. Therefore, the soul must continue after the event of biological death, or it's not much of a soul, now is it?

Before we veered in this new deadly direction, Bolton was just about to get into this. He notes that Descartes affirms the existence of the soul, but then diminishes its significance by equating it "with things the Scholastics would have called its accidents," that is, mere thoughts. This is in contrast to Aquinas, who maintained (correctly, in my opinion) that the soul must be an individual substance which determines "the nature of the whole person, independently of the conscious phenomena of thoughts and sensations they may entertain."

Now, most any person infected with the soul-killing virus of postmodernism will say that Aquinas is not only wrong, but that he cannot possibly be correct, since he is making an "essentialist" argument, and we all know that essences do not exist. There is no enduring self; rather, it's just a side effect -- a persistent illusion -- that is recreated on a moment-to-moment basis by brain activity. Thus, not only is it not unchanging, but it is always changing, until you croak. Like your body -- or better yet, like a whirlpool -- it is a function of its own activity. At this very moment we're all circling the drain, and soon enough we'll all be down it.

But for Aquinas, the soul is the form of the body; or, body is the substance of soul. The soul is its "immaterial type and causal principle," which is precisely the opposite of the postmodern view that insists the soul is the accidental expression of the body.

There are so many insurmountable problems with the latter view, that it could only gain traction in a world that has lost any sense of the wisdom and truth at its own origin and center. For to say that all is accident and contingency is to say that nothing can be known by nobody, and that there's no earthly reason to pretend to know it anyway.

This is a strictly insane worldview, which would make sanity a kind of insanity, since there would no ontological basis for any kind of stability or continuity, much less post-biological continuity. (Here again, the conservative project of honoring and conserving the "permanent things" is another word for sanity in a world gone mad with relativism and nihilism.)

I think this little preface is helpful, because it lays a foundation for some of the things Father Rose says, which otherwise might sound implausible. We left off with his account of the two angels who meet the newly reposed, like a couple of taxi drivers waiting down at the terminal when you disembark from the plane. I can see them now, holding an improvised cardboard sign saying GOODWIN. (People always add in the extra O.)

By the way, Father Rose makes the important point that while angels are immaterial in relation to us, they are material in relation to God; this accords with the idea of the "ray of creation" extending from the cosmic center to the periphery, and which becomes increasingly material the further it extends from the center. You will have no doubt noticed that as you develop spiritually, you become "lighter" and more "transparent," so to speak. You may become especially aware of it during a religious service, while meditating, doing hatha yoga, etc.

Father Rose next discusses the "visions of heaven" that are sometimes seen by dying people, and which are possibly false and misleading. Often, "these visions are not spiritual, but worldly. They are so quick, so easily attained, so common, so earthly in their imagery, that there can be no serious comparison of them with the Christian visions of heaven..." One immediately thinks of Islamist visions of the afterlife, -- the 72 virgins, and all the rest -- which are pure demonic fantasy disgorged from the primitive unconscious.

In order to provide some additional context, Father Rose next discusses "how man, having originally been capable of the sensuous perception of spirits, has generally lost this capacity as a result of the fall." Interestingly, "by a man's own means," he "can enter into communion with fallen spirits; but he cannot enter into communion with angels except by God's will."

Now, I don't think it matters whether one regards the Fall as literal or metaphorical, for the more important point is the perennial truth it conveys. And it is surely true that, for whatever reason, as a man develops spiritually, it is as if he recover a capacity to discern the spiritual world.

In a way, this is no more mysterious -- indeed, probably less so! -- than what happens to an infant. One of the first things I noticed about having a child is that it is literally like watching someone miraculously age in reverse -- like a person recovering from a crippling stroke. At first he's paralyzed, nonverbal, and incontinent; he can't walk, feed himself, or auto-regulate his emotions.

But it's not just a "physical" recovery. Rather, day by day, he enters the nonlocal human realm and discovers -- recovers? -- himSelf. And I believe -- no, I'm convinced -- that this is a lifelong process. That is, in a very real sense, life is the process of "becoming who you already are." Only someone who is profoundly and tragically alienated from himself is incapable of sensing this.

I might add that this is one of the seals of authenticity in genuine mental illness, e.g., a real depression or anxiety disorder. One of the most difficult aspects of depression is the loss of one's self, as it causes a kind of profound ontological -- and therefore spiritual -- disorientation. Everything that connected oneself to oneself and to the world suddenly goes dead -- as if someone cut the lines. All the signposts of meaning vanish, so that the world becomes flat and empty.

To me, that is death. In other words, "death" is not something that could occur "after" life, only "within" it. It's like they say -- the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. To lose one's soul is to be dead, whenever it occurs.

To be continued....

39 Comments:

Anonymous Jack said...

“The greatest danger, that of losing one's own self, may pass off quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed.” -Soren Kierkegaard

12/15/2009 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Great post and title.

Yes, depression definitely felt as if something left. I always refer to it as a downward spiral. It feeds on itself until there’s nothing left. But I want to say, it was more like the Spirit went off, or withdrew, and it was my soul (and body of course) that was left behind. Something most definitely returned. Anyway, that’s the best I’ve come up with since to describe it. And as time passes I see a clearer distinctions between Spirit and soul and grace.
So it has that going for it.
Which is nice.

RR

12/15/2009 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

More on that title, I was poking around the innertubes yesterday for background on Father Rose. A reference in his wiki page linked to a letter he wrote in response to attacks by other Orthodox leaders. The leaders took issue with his support of other’s claims of Out Of Body experiences. His defense turned the tables to ask, paraphrasing, “please explain to me how it is possible for a soul to be in a body?”

Very Bob-ish, I might add, and a great point worthy of contemplation. Something we constantly take for granted. Who was it that said, “we are not a body that has a soul, but a soul who posses a body.” Eckhart maybe..

RR

12/15/2009 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, it reminds me of how people wonder about the existence of evil when the real mystery is the existence of goodness...

12/15/2009 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Indeed. With all the chaos we could truly unleash, how is it that order and goodness somehow flourished among humanity out of barbarism to civilized man?

12/15/2009 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Retriever said...

Especially good description of the death of the soul in the here and now that occurs in depression. Made me think of the Great Physician (albeit a John passage rather than a Luke one):

From John 10:vv9-13: "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.


The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.


I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.


But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.


The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep."

12/15/2009 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Lan asked, "...how is it that order and goodness somehow flourished among humanity out of barbarism to civilized man?"


Well, folks used to work at it. Which helped.

12/15/2009 10:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's get back to Islamist heaven with the 72 virgins. Try as I might, I can't seem to shake off the sense that I'd like to experience that heaven.

It doesn't seem demonic to me; I imagine a warm chamber, with peach-colored brocades, subtle aromas permeating the air, tasteful art, fountains, and of course, the virgins...

One could deflower one each night for 72 nights, in an artful and beautiful celebration of erotic energy.

And to be immortal too! It is something to think about.

One of the main problems with real life is scoring an ample a pleasing array of mates. This solves the basic dilemma of life.

I can see why the Islamists like it.

Granted, it does not seem spiritual in the traditional sense but it should not be dismissed out of hand either....

12/15/2009 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Jack said...

A theme of sorts. The other side of the same coin re: Prager's comments in Jonah Goldberg's column. Instead of working hard at being a decent person we have "reality" television that is only incentive for greater and greater flights of narcissism and self-preening idiocy. No wonder so many are depressed.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-goldberg15-2009dec15,0,5497124.column

12/15/2009 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Can someone help me out? If our souls are non-local in space and time -- if they "participate" in the timeless realm beyond the spacetime continuum of this universe -- then the whole question seems, well, moot. From the "vantage point" of the timeless there is no "life after death" for the soul because there is no before/after in the first place. There just IS.

I get a bit lost though when I attempt to reconcile his with Jesus's own words about the end of time, burning the weeds, etc.

12/15/2009 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

And speaking of Goodness:

Merry Christmas: "An 8-year-old special needs student from Taunton was sent home from school and ordered to undergo psychological testing after drawing a stick-figure picture of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross, when asked by his teacher to depict what Christmas means to him."

12/15/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Is Julie around?

There are few things more joyful and blessed than getting a call from the obgyn and hearing that all tests are normal. We did an ultrasound today and at 19.5 weeks thank God all systems are go. (no sign of a miniature coonskin cap yet ;)

For others here this is old hat, but this is my first and I'm almost 50! (Really need to up that gym schedule now).

12/15/2009 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Yep, still here.

I'm glad to hear things are going well, NB! I'm at 15 weeks. I had a basic appointment last week (just listening for the heartbeat), and go back in January for the 2nd trimester detailed ultrasound. So far all tests are good here, too.

Walt,
I saw that article this morning. I shouldn't be shocked by this kind of abject stupidity anymore, but I still am. One more argument against public schools.

12/15/2009 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

NB asks,
"Is Julie around?"

Is that a pregnant joke?

:-)

Glad things are going well with the Mrs. NB and the little 'un.

RR

12/15/2009 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

One good thing about Walt's article...

It can't get much worse!

(famous last words..)

RR

12/15/2009 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Nony, please leave your 72 whoris out of the conversation. The stench of your imagined boudoir is totally barftastic. I haven't had morning sickness yet, but stumbling across one more comment like that might change things.

12/15/2009 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

RR,
NB asks,
"Is Julie around?"


lol - I'm getting there...

12/15/2009 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Yay!

12/15/2009 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Captain Bob,
We're gonna need a bigger den.

RR

12/15/2009 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Retriever said...

NB, I know Julie better than you, but congratulations! Am so happy for you and your wife. And what a blessing to visit Rome when expecting your first kid. Will be saying special prayers for both babies and their moms over the next few months.

12/15/2009 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Thanks Retriever!

Back from Rome now. Absolutely positively recommend this as a destination for coons. I found it remarkable how congenial the various seminarians and clergy found the coon perspective -- at least insofar as I was able to articulate it.

Even though I am not yet Catholic (wife is, baby will be) I was profoundly moved by the degree to which the Vatican lent substance to my coonified Christianity.

wv: unspap

(yes, and much worse besides)

12/15/2009 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

By "substance" I mean the see-touch-hear variety. OC is a feast for the mind and spirit, but sometimes an LCD monitor isn't enough ;-)

La Pieta was sublime. (Did you know there are about a dozen of them in Italy by other sculptors?) It's a shame the great masterpieces have to be kept behind glass now. I did stand right next to Rodin's The Thinker however. It just sits out in the open in a Vatican museum room with no security at all.

12/15/2009 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"As a matter of fact, much of this morbid discussion comes down to the question of whether the soul exists."

Yep.

"If she does,..."

And it does,

"... then I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that she is nonlocal (both in space and time).."

Seems reasonable,

"... and that she could under no absurcumstances result from a strictly blind material process..."

Absolutely.

"... Therefore, the soul must continue after the event of biological death, or it's not much of a soul, now is it?"

O, I don't know... though I certainly like the assumption.

Riddle me this B'atman, do you know how to ensure that a Riddle keeps people in the riddle game and stay's on their mind long after it's been posed?

Provide clues, and clues that lead to further clues... but no answer (at least not while the game is still on).

12/15/2009 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"... He notes that Descartes affirms the existence of the soul, but then diminishes its significance by equating it "with things the Scholastics would have called its accidents," that is, mere thoughts. "

Hmmm... if Descartes owned a pet shop...
"Well, of course it was nailed there! If I hadn't nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent 'em apart with its little pecker, and VOOM!"

Lovely Plumage though!

"This is in contrast to Aquinas, who maintained (correctly, in my opinion) that the soul must be an individual substance which determines "the nature of the whole person, independently of the conscious phenomena of thoughts and sensations they may entertain." "

Yep.

12/15/2009 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Sort of completely off-topic...any other Raccoon admirers of the music of Arvo Part? I just got his "Miserere".

Wow. I've listened to it about 5 times in the past 2 days. I feel changed after listening to this music.

Okay. I just wanted to say that.

Be well.

12/15/2009 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Now, most any person infected with the soul-killing virus of postmodernism will say that Aquinas is not only wrong, but that he cannot possibly be correct, since he is making an "essentialist" argument, and we all know that essences do not exist. There is no enduring self; rather, it's just a side effect -- a persistent illusion -- that is recreated on a moment-to-moment basis by brain activity."

And pragmatism is how the virus enters past your defenses"Oh... principles shminciples, you are being too simplistic! " and replicates, if your P cell count is low. If you don't hold strong to your principles, you risk exposing your soul to the virus, for without them, any truth can be reduced to a fact, and then to a point of data to be outweighed by more data.

Any pragmatist recognizes it's blood enemy at the first whiff of a principled statement, and every leftist 'argument' will always be in opposition to Principles, Rights & Soul... to say nothing of what is Good, Beautiful and True... divide and reduce and conquer... they must hang together, or they will certainly hang separately... pump up those P cells.

12/15/2009 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"To me, that is death. In other words, "death" is not something that could occur "after" life, only "within" it. It's like they say -- the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. To lose one's soul is to be dead, whenever it occurs."

Cooncur.

12/15/2009 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Jack:

Love Arvo Pärt. this is an outstanding introduction. Just make sure you get it used, as it's overpriced...

12/15/2009 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

GB-

I have a inexplicable sense that what Part creates isn't "music" in the mundane sense. Call me a snob but I can't put him in the same category of expression for what often passes for "music". It just seems like it is music that goes beyond music.

And I am currently reading "Beethoven: His Spiritual Development" and while Part seems a completely different type of composer...somehow a feel a connection. Perhaps I need to play a glass bead game with Beethoven/Sullivan and Part?

Thank you for the recommend. I will see if I can get my hands on it.

12/15/2009 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, Pärt clearly uses sound to channel spirit... To reduce it to "music" is like reducing poetry to words.

12/15/2009 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Coongrats to the Baby derby contestants and crew!

12/15/2009 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Beethoven was born on December 16th, 1770; happy Beethoven, birthday! ---speaking of swell music, which symphony of Sibelius was Glenn Gould's favourite? I plead the 5th [recall reading that, Karajan's]

12/15/2009 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What did the nondualist say to the hot dog vendor?

"Make me one with everything!" (Pa-DUM!)

Later Descartes came by, asked for a dog. "You want kraut on that?" asked the vendor. "I think not", said René, and disappeared. (CHING!)

Thank you thank you, I'll be here all week.

12/15/2009 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

The Arvo Part collection Bob raccoomends is $5.99 on iTunes.

12/15/2009 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

In case y'all missed it, GB could have written this...Pathology of the Rich Socialist.

Ka ching!

12/15/2009 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

NB--so glad to hear good news! Isn't that first u/s just remarkable? Brings tears every time; it just never gets old.

12/15/2009 09:57:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Listening to "Magnificat" on YouTube...thank you, Jack.

12/15/2009 10:39:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2009/05/art/robert-lawlor-with-christopher-bamford-and-dorothea-rockburne

=[THE KIND OF INTERVIEW THAT MAKES ONE'S DAY]

wv we kid not: ROCKS

12/16/2009 04:43:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/16/2009 02:22:00 PM  

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