David Bentley Hart on the Interconnectedness of Persons

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6 Responses to David Bentley Hart on the Interconnectedness of Persons

  1. I tried posting the following earlier today. So far, it has not shown up. I am therefore posting it again
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    For my part, I have no dog in the univeralist/infernalist hunt. It is my hope that all may be saved, and further that all shall be saved. It is my fear, based on a number of statements by our Lord Christ, that not all will be saved. (And yes, I have read Dr. Hart’s disquisition on the subject. I will continue to entertain the ideas that he has expressed there; I am not convinced, however, that they are all true). Rather than ‘worriting’ about whether all shall or will be saved, however, I shall simply pray for others, that they may be saved, and attempt to cooperate with God, so that I may be saved.
    It is in that context that I must differ with the thought experiment which Dr. Hart expresses in the above video clip. Yes, I agree that if those in Heaven simply took pleasure in the sufferings of the damned, they would be malignant ghosts, or diminished parts, of themselves; and if God demanded such pleasure in His worshippers as a part of such worship, He would be unworthy of any worship at all.

    But, from what little I have been able to glean from the Scriptures, and the writings of the Fathers and the Saints, I don’t think that that is what is going on here. In short, I think that what Dr. Hart has constructed here is a perfectly formed and articulated straw man.

    The Psalms and the Prophets are replete with the outcry of those who have been persecuted, harmed, and killed by the ungodly. Likewise, the Revelation of St. John, in several places, tells of the outcry of those martyred, of their cry for justice, and of the promise that ‘all tears’ shall be wiped from our eyes. It is possible that what the blessed in Heaven feel may be, at least in part, relief that those who bullied, oppressed, exploited, and otherwise harmed them during life are at least no longer able to do so.

    Realizing that, on the one hand, that anecdote and example does not equal data, and on the other hand, that particular anecdotes might be worthy of further examination, scientific or otherwise, I will relate an unfortunate experience of my own. In my youth, I met another child of the ’60s, who was a complete devotee of the secular Dionysian religion of ‘sex and drugs and rock and roll’. His addictions, both psycho-sexual and pharmacological, proceeded to the point of the near-complete dissolution of his personality, and with being thrown into prison some years ago for the forcible rape of his thirteen-year-old daughter.

    I do not rejoice in his self-destruction. Rather, I mourn it, and pity him. I am, however, relieved that the damage that he can continue to do is limited to those in his prison. And I will cite the far greater example of the Blessed Lady in C.S.L.’s ‘The Great Divorce’. She did not take pleasure in the self-destruction of her ex-husband, but neither did she mourn it, because there was no one left to mourn over. It is possible that the same condition applies to the blessed in Heaven.

    The difficulty with such speculations, either those of Dr. Hart’s, or mine, or even C.S.L.’s for that matter, is that they are all of them made in the absence of actual experience of the subject upon which we speculate. Both Dr. Hart and I (and C.S.L. at the time of his writing) are all on this side of the door of Death. And such speculations are likely to be just as ‘off’ or wrong-headed as those we had in childhood, as to what it would be like to be an adult.

    But, as long as we are engaged in the process of speculation, I will end with one of my own. We all have experience with certain developmental limitations of human beings: if they do not learn to speak before the age of six or so, they will most probably never learn; if they do not learn a second language before the age of puberty, they will likely not be able to speak it without an accent afterwards.

    By analogy, it is possible that such developmental limitations may also be present in any life after death, and if we do not at least begin the process of theosis in this life, we will be unlikely to develop it in the next. In the parable of the man born blind, in the Gospel of John, our Lord has said: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” It is possible that what He is talking about here is the process of theosis in ourselves.

    But it is also possible that what is being talked about here is that process whereby, in prayer and fasting, we can give sight (either visual or spiritual) to those born blind. The apostolic tradition held in common by both Orthodox and Catholic churches speaks of the power of prayer both for the living and the dead. I only suggest that that practice of prayer might be more effective, in the salvation of ourselves and others, and more pleasing to God, than our ‘worriting’ about whether they will end up in Hell, or what we will be feeling about them, if and when we get to Heaven ourselves.

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    • Tom says:

      Hi Bernard,

      I can only speak for myself, but I confess that I’m quite unable to contemplate the unending torment of the wicked simply in terms of ‘relief’ that their wickedness no longer includes harming others. At the very least, they continue to harm themselves (continue to experience in themselves the harm of their own choices). What ‘relief’ does this provide the redeemed in their contemplation of suffering loved ones?

      I’ve tried but cannot appreciate Lewis’s attempt to make sense of such torment by effacing those in hell, supposing ‘there is no one left to mourn’. But this doesn’t work. There is certainly someone left to suffer torment. Why not mourn then? Even if they were completely reduced to their lowest animal nature, there would remain something to mourn, some object of compassion and concern. If my dog were locked in unending torment, I’d mourn him, as would I a snake, or a fly. And to suppose our condemned loved ones become less than these, sentient enough to suffer anguish and torment proportional (mind you) to their evil, but sufficiently reduced in nature and capacity to render them ‘not worth mourning’ (and so less than the lowest sentient life form we know). I suspect such a view of Hell says something about us who propose it. Does it not turn Heaven into a kind of Hell? I mean, what is Heaven (and who is God) if I come to view my deceased atheist father, in his perpetual torment, with ‘relief’ (that he is doing no one but himself any harm), and that in the end he is something less than the lowest animal we know (any of whom we’d mourn were we to view its perpetual torment)? It seems to me that if the divinized become this, evil wins.

      I may view it this way because I don’t define what constitutes human beings (as the personal-relational beings we are) in a way that permits their self-disposing into so degenerate a state of being as to no longer be proper objects of love and compassion. God’s valuation of us (his love for us, interest in us, pursuit of us) is not in the first place a response of his to, or his being moved by us toward, some value that inheres in us and over which we have final say-so, as if God is simply observing us (as worthy of compassion or not) and not always acting in a way so as to constitute us in his own estimation of us. Thus, God’s love of us (not any response of ours to that love) creates our worth and value and makes us objects of compassion and interest. We literally have no say-so in the matter. We are, one might say, asymmetrically related to the divine act which is God’s creating and sustaining us ‘at all’. So it simply doesn’t lie within our God-give natural capacities to determine ourselves on so essential a level. To deny this, I think, is just to say that God loves us conditionally.

      Tom

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      • Tom says:

        You’re bound to find typos, Bernard.

        I am cursed to commit them, and, like Cassandra, to know that I ‘will’ commit them. But unlike Cassandra, I can go back and correct them!

        “…quite unable to contemplate of the unending torment of…” Remove the “of.”

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      • brian says:

        Nicely stated, Tom. While he is obviously sincere, I don’t think Bernard has properly understood Hart’s argument, the particular quality of God’s freedom that is uniquely acute for Christian theology, or the logic of creatio ex nihilo. I’ve responded numerous times on this, so I’m not going to reiterate all that every time someone chimes in. In addition, the full-fledged metaphysical flourishing of human being is a pleroma as Gregory of Nyssa and others teach. You can’t approach eschatological realities with mere surmise extrapolated from one’s psychic experience alone. At minimum, this notion that the blessed experience relief as safe haven from one’s enemies is entirely confined to prudential considerations of
        finite existence that are utterly transcended in theosis. The proper understanding of the kenosis of the Cross is, in fact, the daring intimacy of redeeming love with persons entangled in evil. So, it is the polar opposite: courage is also a perduring aspect of the Holy.

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  2. Robert Fortuin says:

    What I find particularly disturbing, and wholly unaddressed by Mr Brandt (which I suppose makes it even more offensive) is the character of a god who for a finite transgression punishes to no end. The infinite disproportion is so ugly, so hideous, that this must be why such is not addressed by those merely hoping (which, as an aside, I surmise is not a true hope in faith at all, but a ‘roll of the dice’ that perchance this capricious god may not be so bad after all – good night and good luck!). The divine monstrosity is at pains erected and in turn against love and rationality defended, for it then only to be lukewarmly denied in the hope that all may be saved.

    May God save us all from this monstrosity of an idol, and from its defenders going about in God’s name and the cause of the good evangel.

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  3. JBG says:

    “The God of that picture of reality is not worth loving.”—DBH

    DBH is spot on, as usual.

    I have a question: If God’s actions can be so diametrically opposed to everything that a human being knows and experiences about loving, moral action—so much so that if any human did for a brief moment what God will purportedly do for eternity, they would be deemed a deranged, sadistic psychopath—how do we not know that some figures that are, in fact, deemed as sadistic psychopaths are not actually possessed by God and executing the perfect will of God?

    If, under certain circumstances, submitting a human being to torture can be holy, then it only follows that at least some people that have inflicted gruesome torture others may have acted in a Godly, holy manner.

    Remember, we are told to be like God.

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