The afterlife and Christ
and discussions of near-death experiences seem to emphasize an amazing, superworldly personal drama and fulfillment
: the person is brought into a miraculous, heavenly environment, re-united with his lost loved ones, and invested with bliss. To put it a bit bluntly, the general drift of these accounts seems to be “me and mine, me and mine, me and mine.”
My sense is that this idea of the afterlife is incorrect. Or, at least, it is not the highest form of the afterlife. What can and should happen after death is that we are united with Jesus Christ, so that he becomes our companion and guide through these superphysical experiences. Yes, we are re-joined with our long-lost loved ones, brought back to scenes of our past life where lifelong, troubling questions are answered and past hurts are made whole. But Jesus shows us the right way to experience all this. It’s not just “us” raised to a transcendent, heavenly realm and perhaps helped by mysterious angelic beings (as told, for example, in Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven, which I recently read); it is we accompanied and instructed by Jesus.
Here’s my deep conviction. The human self, even the most accomplished, happy human self, is inherently incomplete. The human self is designed to be incomplete, made whole only by Christ. The very nature of man, no matter how strong, well-made, and successful a man may be, is inherently flawed. Christ is our true self, our completeness. He is the eternal answer to the questions of all men, yet at the same time perfectly oriented to each individual. Thus he shows each person who turns toward him the way to union with himself and the Father, and the way to the particular fulfillment of that individual.
So I am contemplating an experience after death in which Jesus Christ is with me and is consummating my self by joining me with him. It is a relationship in which all that was flawed in my living experience is completed and made increasingly perfect and happy. I’m not concerned about heavenly scenery and visions. I am concerned with the quality of abiding with him.
Within this Christ-centered experience, we have our personal experiences of meeting loved ones, resolving past traumas, etc., but this happens in the context of an active companionship or discipleship in which we let Christ’s will be our own, without losing our own will. He does not eliminate our personal self, but shows us the true, higher way of that self through union with him, a union that does not cancel out our creativity and spontaneity, but increasingly harmonizes it with the divine will.
One of the most distinct things about Christianity is that it is a religion of the particular. Jesus was born to particular parents, in a particular body and personality, in a particular country and time, and to a particular people. That notion is offensive and offputting to many people because it seems to contradict Jesus’ universality. But it is the truth. It is a unique truth of Christ’s revelation. While he is universal and for all men, he came in a specific form and in a specific set of historical circumstances. Furthermore, because he was particular in himself, he relates to all men in their particularity. That God came to earth in such a manner (“How odd of God / To choose the Jews”) is highly “weird,” as all particularity is weird.
As I wrote once, regarding the amazing variety of living things, their organs, their reproductive strategies and so on:
Everything that exists is particular. And once you have particularity, you have oddness…. Moreover, it’s not just every existing thing in the universe that is particular and therefore odd, but the universe itself.
This will sound very odd, but I believe that unless we understand and accept the universal reality of oddness, and specifically understand it with regard to the incarnation of Christ, we miss something essential about him and his salvific relationship with us.
Laura Wood writes:
Well said. The saints are better authorities on the afterlife than people who have had near death experiences.
Regarding the particularity of Christianity, that pertains to the Church as well. A particular institution is guided by the Holy Spirit and has a mystical relationship with Christ.
One of the things that drew me to Catholicism was its embrace of particularity. But Catholicism’s embrace of particularity is combined with a rightly-ordered universalism. This requires some unpacking, but this unpacking will, I hope, shed some light upon both the Catholic Church’s accidental complicity with liberalism as well as its seemingly anomalous faithfulness to Christian orthodoxy (at least at the institutional level).
The God of Judaism is the same God as the God of Christianity, and He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This means that Christianity, rightly understood, is continuous with Judaism, and, moreover, that Christianity does not constitute a complete rejection of Judaism. Rather, Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. Now, the Jewish religion is a religion of particularity: God chose a man, named Abraham, and he chose him at a specific point in time and at a specific place. And he made a covenant with this man. And Abraham’s acceptance of this covenant would ultimately become the (etiological) reason why Christianity even exists and why our fallen race can become reconciled with God due to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.
This is particularity on steroids: In the natural order of things, there was no reason, that we can discern, for God to have picked Abraham as the vehicle for initiating his covenant with humanity over any other fallen human. But God chose him, and as a result he chose the Hebrew race (the descendents of Abraham) to initiate his plan of salvation.
Now, this ties in directly with what I began with, although it may not seem like it at first. Christianity is less particular than Judaism, because it universalizes the possibility of entry into a Covenant with God. Whereas Old-Testament Judaism is grounded upon an entho-nationalist nation that is nevertheless divinely inspired as the vehicle for God’s plan of salvation, under the terms of the New Covenant, some of that particularity has been dispelled. i.e, God opens up the covenant given to Abraham and his descendents to everyone, irrespective of their birth-origin. But He still entrusts the task of transmitting the terms of this new covenant into the hands of a particular people. Namely, the people who constituted the Greco-Roman Civilization and, by way of extension, its pagan adjuncts who lived in western Europe. Thus is born what we now call Western man and Western civilization. Or, in other terms, the civilizational entity known as Christendom.
Now, as a Catholic, I would say that the particular institution that was chosen as the authoritative vehicle for transmitting knowledge of the New Covenant is the Roman Catholic Church. But you don’t have to be Catholic to understand how integral the concept of particularity is to both Western Civilization and to Christianity. We can all recognize that: (a) Western Civilization was, by God’s decree, uniquely positioned to transmit knowledge of the New Covenant to humanity at large; and (b) the fact that God chose Western Civilization as his instrument for doing so is yet another manifestation of particularity. And for the same particular and seemingly arbitrary reasons that he chose the Jews as his instrument for implementing the Old Covenant, God chose a bunch of white European barbarians as his instruments for implementing and spreading the terms of the New Covenant.
Because the New Covenant is open to all, the seeds of multi-culturalism and egalitarianism are already present in incipient form in Christianity. But this extrapolation from Christianity to liberalism can only take hold if, as Christians, we ignore the radical particularity of God’s actions in history. And, in order to derive liberalism from Christianity, we must completely expunge the scandal of Jewish particularity from God’s salvific plan, and the scandal of Western particularity from Christianity. And this leads to a universalism that cannot tolerate any “privileged” race or civilization.
Is it any accident that anti-Semitism and liberalism are so often bed-fellows? I think not. Anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity are reactions against the scandal of particularity; although both reactions may be borne of the same truncated and distorted apprehension of Christian universalism.
M. Jose writes;:
This is nice, but I think you may have missed the point of my original question that started this.
Do you believe that the fulfillment you will find with Christ after leaving this life is the universal experience of those who die, or that there are some who suffer eternal non-completeness? Or to be more blunt, do you believe in Hell? And on what basis do you believe that you are amongst those who will be fulfilled?
That is what concerns me more than the specifics of what the afterlife will be like.
As I have said many times, I have a very inadequate formation as a Christian, especially in doctrinal matters. So I am not a good person to ask such questions. What I wrote, I wrote from my own experience and intuition, from a sense of what may be our relation to Christ in the afterlife, extrapolated from this life. I see possible directions, not a dogma. The entry was an exploration, not a dogmatic pronouncement.
Another sign of my poor Christian formation is that I’ve never been particularly concerned about whether I personally am saved, about whether I have the formal or determined status of being saved, which seems to be the primary, even exclusive, concern of Protestants starting with Luther. I feel the purpose of life is to be with and follow God, and that is the direction in which we try to grow. The rest—whether we are fulfilled—we leave up to God.
As for hell, it is the state of permanent separation from God. It is not a place, but a spiritual state that a person may create for himself by thoroughly rejecting God. So, yes, I suppose I believe in hell. But, again, this is not dogma or knowledge. I tentatively accept what has been said about it. That’s all.
Bottom line: dogmas that various religious groups state as certainty—things that no living person actually knows or experiences—are just dead stuff in the brain, repeated through the mouth. It’s not lived reality. People mistake verbal formulas for reality. And that is just boring to me.
I’ve never claimed to know something I don’t know or to be something I am not. I am, at best (and this is more a present hope and aspiration than a fact) a “mere Christian.”
I overstated in the previous comment. Of course I do not mean to dismiss religious doctrine as such, and particularly doctrine concerning the afterlife and the destiny of the soul. Not everything can be known through personal experience. People need basic truths they can count on, which they may not have had the grace to experience directly and personally, in order to orient themselves to life and God in the right way. My problem is with what I see as overly dogmatic and precise statements about matters which we cannot know.
It is perfectly reasonable and correct to say, for example, that from what we know of the nature of God, he intends our good, especially the good of those who believe in him, and that having created our soul he will preserve it and assure for it continuing growth in truth, as in the closing words of the Nicene Creed: “And I believe in the life of the world to come, world without end, amen.” But when we go much beyond that general truth to speaking about exactly what the afterlife consists of, we go too far.
There’s a basic human fallacy in which we imagine the “other world” to be just like this world, only better. In reality, the other world is in a higher dimension. We cannot picture it accurately or even imagine it (though we think we can), just as a two-dimensional creature, confined to the surface of a sheet of paper, is deluding himself when he thinks he can picture or imagine our three-dimensional world, or imagine himself living and moving about in the three-dimensional world. When we die, assuming our soul/consciousness survives death, our soul enters a higher dimension, a reality utterly incommensurate with our present world. Yes, we know that God exists in that higher world and intends our good. But the form and structure of our personal being and experiences in that higher world is beyond our present conception.
I have never interpreted near-death experiences as “me, mine, me, mine” as you state in your current post. The overriding characteristic of most NDE’s is a feeling of love and acceptance. People express the experience as being immersed in this love. [LA replies: Yes, I probably overstated that point, but it seems to me there is an element of truth in it.]
Many people who have had NDE’s describe a Christ-like figure who greet them. However, I think it is a mistake to try and force NDE’s into the confines of any existing religious dogma. If you do so, then you are attempting to conform revelation to preconceived beliefs, when in fact, you should be adjusting your preconceived beliefs to fit revelation. I see preconceived beliefs, particularly on religion, to be putting your brain in a small and confined cage.
I saw one case on television where a young boy was badly injured and had a NDE. His mother took him to discuss it with their priest. The priest asked him if he had seen Christ, and the boy said “no.” The priest then informed him that his experience was created by demons and dismissed it. This was very disturbing to the boy and did not help him in any way to gain peace of mind over the experience.
Love God, not dogma.
Also, I very much agree with your comment that people falsely believe the other world to be just like this world, only better. In fact, as you say, the other world is in a higher dimension which we cannot picture at all accurately from the point of view of our known experience.
Bob L. writes:
“Everything that exists is particular. And once you have particularity, you have oddness.”
As Laura Wood said, this is profound. It reminded me of a Jewish blessing I could not help but find funny when I first heard of it, because it is said when one sees extraordinarily strange or ugly looking people or animals:
“Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the Universe, who makes the creatures different.”
By denying the inherent differences within the human race (and even by denying the inherent difference between human and animal, sometimes!), liberalism denies the order of reality that God created.
Yes, Judaism centrally acknowledges particularity and difference. At the very beginning of the Hebrew scripture God creates the world by separating different things from each other. Difference and particularity (and the need to discrimate between different particular things) are intrinsic to existence itself. The Jewish tradition emphasizes this truth far more than does Christianity, and thus orthodox and traditional Judaism is not in constant danger of veering into suicidal universalist gnostic blah blah as Christianity is (e.g., “We cannot stop illegal aliens from entering our country; we must see every every illegal alien as though he were Jesus and act toward him accordingly”). With Christianity, as I’ve often pointed out, recognition of particularity and difference, as well as the knowledge of how to organize earthly life and political existence, has to be introduced from sources that come from outside Christian scripture.
It cannot be said often enough: the New Testament by itself is not a guide to political and social existence; it is a guidebook to the kingdom of heaven, which lately I’ve been defining as life in companionship with and conformity with Jesus Christ. That is the highest goal of a Christian. But life presents us with a hierarchy of goals and goods. And Christians who do not recognize them, who treat the New Testament as their sole guide, adopt principles that are suicidal to earthly society.
My statement needs to be qualified: St. Paul does acknowledge the importance and the duty of protecting the social order, following the laws, and so on. But this is not a dominant element in his writings and people can easily overlook it.
It used to be that the Catholic Church did address the needs of political existence in a realistic way, but since Vatican II the popes and bishops have become more and more like sentiment-driven evangelicals who want only God, despise earthly society, and adopt positions that would damage and doom it.
Sage McLaughlin writes:
You write, “St. Paul does acknowledge the importance and the duty of protecting the social order, following the laws, and so on. But this is not a dominant element in his writings and people can easily overlook it.”
This is all too true, just as many people forget Christ’s admonishment, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Mtt 5:17, KJV) This is the crucial answer to those who would sell the lie that the New Covenant gives us a substitute God who is different from that nasty old Jehovah (or, as people like to say, “The God of the Old Testament”). The primitive Christians were intensely interested in the proper ordering of society and the ritual form the Christian religion should take. They would never have recognized this contemporary notion of a purely “spiritual,” by which people mean formless, Christianity. Equally they would have been uncomprehending of any notion that Christianity meant the annihilation of all practical distinctions among peoples.
For a fuller view of the subject of Christianity in relation to particularity and nationhood, I again recommend my 2004 FrontPage Magazine article, “How Liberal Christianity Promotes Open Borders and One-Worldism.”
Mark P. writes:
This notion of particularity and universalism is very interesting and I’ve been thinking about it lately. I’d say the larger problem for liberalism is not that they don’t acknowledge difference. They seem to do that quite a bit. It’s that liberalism assumes that being different is the same as being better. They treat particularity as equal to, or better than, the good. They encourage deviancy based on this belief and actually raise the level of alienation in society.
It’s not that they regard deviance as “better” exactly, because, as you just said, they want to diminish the concept of the good, and thus they also reject the concept of better, which means closer to the good, the idea that some things being closer to the good than others. Rather, they value deviance because it subverts the notion of the good and destroys any sense of normative or higher standards.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 24, 2013 02:56 PM | Send
However, they do reject the notion of true difference as distinct from deviancy, because they think that if something is different from another, it will also be better than it.
Here I return to my idea of the two axes of existence, the vertical and the horizontal. The horizontal axis consists of things that are on the same level that are significantly different from each other but not necessarily superior or inferior to each other. Particularity is on the horizontal axis.
The vertical axis consists of things that are better or worse than each other, such as virtue and sin; excellence and mediocrity; goodness and badness; truth and falsehood; beauty and ugliness; and nearness to God and distance from God. Of course I am not speaking of simple dichotomies, but of relative degrees of these qualities.
Liberalism rejects both axes of existence. They reject the idea that different entities, such as men and women, such as different cultures, such as marriage and homosexual “marriage,” are significantly different from each other. And they reject the idea that any entity can be significantly better than another. Liberalism says that everything is equal to everything else and that everything is essentially the same as everything else.
Any diference they acknowledge will be either insignificant or subversive in the manner of deviancy and transgressive behavior.
As I said, liberals mistakenly believe that an assertion of difference is an assertion of superiority. But since they also reject assertions of real difference that do not involve the superiority of the asserting party, it doesn’t matter. They are at war with the structure of existence. And they are at war with the particular existence of any particular thing. And when a person asserts that particular things exist and cannot be reduced to the liberal global blob, they regard him as a personal threat to themselves and they hate him. I have the scars to prove it.