Re: [asa] consciousness, ASA article feedback

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Wed Sep 23 2009 - 01:42:50 EDT
Thanks for the exchange. I didn't didn't take your post as a no-God implication.

That definition of Christianity becomes a personal one when the definitions at hand differ too much. But where to set the boundaries is itself a variable. I expect there are many who classify themselves as disciples of Christ, but who fall well outside the mainstream definitions. That sensibility has been expressed a fair number of times here. That notwithstanding, it is our inner conviction that ultimately must be satisfied in all of us. Though we may differ on this matter, I believe we should do so respectfully. That includes a respectful attitude toward what I understand as the more exclusive criterion for membership in ASA.

With my last (or first, depending on where you live) post of the day, good night, all!  
JimA   [Friend of ASA]

Schwarzwald wrote:
Heya Jim,

That much I can entirely get behind - the idea of trusting in God, and doing so completely, such that questions of the afterlife, etc, are left up to Him and His justice. That's part of the reason why I emphasize not just one, but a multitude of possible answers to the question of life beyond death, etc. And why I tend to emphasize that the specifics of heaven and hell aren't crystal clear to us - nor do they need to be, really. I think even the limits and boundaries of orthodox christian faith are sometimes not recognized for what they are. At the same time, I think there does come a point where 'Christianity' is not 'Christianity' anymore. Specifics may be foggy, but I do not think we are utterly in the dark. (Through a glass darkly, rather than completely blind, so to speak.)

Either way, I didn't mean to imply you were making a case for no God, so forgive me if I came across that way. Indeed, I was trying to emphasize that the question of 'God' is broader than people often seem to realize. I'd also point out that some deists (including, I believe, Thomas Paine) themselves believed in a just God who would resurrect them.

And I believe that's my fourth post for the day, so now I become silent for a while.

On Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 1:11 AM, Jim Armstrong <> wrote:
(and responding to Jack as well)

I don't disagree with most of what you say here (though I wasn't making a case for no God). My particular resonances turned into bold print below, one modifying comment in blue, and points of disagreement in red bole.

I'm just here to tell you that if the death of my physical body were the end of anything distinctively me, I would still have thought it an extraordinary privilege to exist in God's Creation, to be able to conceive of beginnings and authorship of Creation and respond to that understanding (however flawed it might be in detail), and to be able to discern and act on a sense that I have a charge (call it a sense of stewardship) to do those things that are distinctively human, both individually and in community, that accomplish that which lies otherwise outside the capacity of Creation to bring about beneficially and benevolently.

I simply take to heart, Job's declaration, "Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him." My expectation is not of the Mormon sort where I expect to be some sort of like being to God, nor is it the gaining of some preferred post-death state. At the end of the day, my trust is in God (the sole foundation of faith in my view) to do as He sees fit. Christian or not, if there is a God (which I fundamentally accept), we are and always have been at His mercy to do as He wills - whether just, or just sovereign - on the other side of my death. I just don't know enough to speculate or even act in contingency on what I may think about what lies, or does not lie, beyond the veil.

Jack - I know that Paul stands very tall in our tradition, but in light of the writings attributed to him, one has to cut him a little slack as well in what he believes, and at what stage of his life. In any case, I have addressed the "basis for faith" pretty much in the preceding. I take that particular passage to refer to faith in gaining heaven, in which case that "basis for faith" might fail if there is no resurrection. But my basis for faith is ultimately rooted in a simple trust in a just God - and I accept that to be using His metric, not mine. I regard this as more fundamental that the question as to whether the resurrection is real or not. I do recognize that this is not consonant with mainstream Christian thought, and is a tilt toward some flavoring of deism. And, I am still a work in progress, though I've been progress a long time in human terms. :-)


Schwarzwald wrote:
Heya Jim,

I think there are a few issues at work here. One is that it's possible for God to exist, even if there is no eternal soul, or even if [some aspect of or the whole of] Christianity is wrong. The second one in particular always amazes me, in that it's a point which seems to be missed again and again. One only need look as far as Anthony Flew, who became a deist while continuing to believe and hope (hope: that should be stressed) that there is no life beyond death.

The second would be that I have to disagree with Jack, or at least with what I take him to be saying. I wouldn't count universalism as being 'non-Christian' - he didn't come right out and say this, but I think it's strongly implied. Second, I'm not sure the belief that the forever fallen are annihilated, rather than hellbound, is non-Christian either. And third, I'm not sure hell is the same thing as 'eternal torture' - indeed, I think even if the existence of eternal souls was assumed as certain, the particularities of hell and heaven are very foggy. Mind you, I come from a catholic background where this subject can get pretty speculative.

That said, I agree that there's nothing in science to cast doubt on the eternal soul (though I stress that what comprises the 'soul' is a question that has been historically debated - there's no singular view. Even people who enter a state of 'sleep' at death, until resurrection whereupon they are restored, I personally would see as having a soul.) And I'd agree that if death meant utter and eternal annihilation, then Christianity would be meaningless. I think Pascal's Wager is valuable and should be discussed far more, even expanded on. But arguing that Christianity is true even if we're all destined for annihilation seems very similar to affirming that Christianity is still true even if God (even a God unlike the traditional conception) doesn't exist. Imagine a buddhist saying, "Well, there's no transcending desire, pain, and self - but I think buddhism is still true." Or better yet, "Alright, the universe has a creator, an intelligent being that made our world and has plans for us. But atheism is still true."

On Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 11:14 PM, Jim Armstrong <> wrote:
Re:  "Personally, I agree with your position that without an eternal soul, Christianity is meaningless."
Isn't this rather like the "house of cards" premise that has been argued against when dealing with the evolution vs God argument?
Granted, this is central part of the belief system for most Christians....but not all (though you may take issue with this broader application of the label, Christian - though the apparent origin of the term evinces a sufficiently large contextual umbrella).

"Meaningless" would suggest that there is nothing of value, no possibility of God's expression of intent, ...etc. ... and no meaningful obligation to the present, should this belief prove false. I think we should seriously ask test questions like this. In fact, one thoughtful soul on this list flat out asked me "what is left?" should there be no resurrection (to mention another belief indispensable to most - but not all - Christians).

To be honest, one of the issues that grew in me in my denominational setting for so many years was precisely the heavy-duty focus on evangelism (the hope of souls in heaven) at the expense of a well manifested balance between hope for the future and stewardship of the present. [Though this denomination is well-known for missionary endeavor, still I found myself troubled that the widespread sense within the church body that missionary outreach is motivated by evangelism, and not simply because the needs existed.]

With that bias, I wrestled/wrestle with many "what if" questions, including the "What if there is no soul?" question, and including exploration of some of the specific arguments Bernie spoke of. It's good to do so, because for most, it is hard to otherwise differentiate strong tradition from some form of absolute truth in refining our own belief systems. And we are not alone in such ponderings because there is historical and even traditional precedent. And, there remains a diversity of opinion among Christians even on beliefs as central as this, the existence of a soul. Pascal's wager applied more widely provides some interesting illumination.

BTW, Jack, I do recognize that you did say that you personally agreed with the position, not taking the position to be absolute. But I personally do not find any more that the essential Christianity collapses, becomes meaningless, even if one of its central tenets proves ... uh ... misunderstood.

I personally list toward the agnostic on this matter of "soul" - with many unresolved questions. The inability to resolve these questions satisfactorily has had the practical consequence of  the "now" and its needs/stewardship becoming more compelling, an understanding which I have found most satisfyingly in harmony with the core teachings and example of Jesus. I am constantly awed at every turn by the near-spectacular and unassuming Christ-likeness embodied in many of those brothers and sisters who labor tirelessly in work that was slightly disparagingly categorized in my former church life as "social ministries".

JimA [Friend of ASA]

Jack wrote:
"I think the main point of the argument was that neuroscience experts and many modern theologians now see the soul as emergence, as in a form of monism.  "

Obviously there has to be more to your concern than just this article, but what makes you think that the author of this article is correct?

Personally, I agree with your position that without an eternal soul, Christianity is meaningless.  Monism, defined as a Christian philosophy where there is no mind/body dualism that nevertheless allows eternal salvation, leads to two possible outcomes, annihilationism, or universalism. Either all unbelievers cease to exist after death and God "recreates" and resurrects believers, or everyone is recreated and saved. (I have a theodicy problem with God creating a body/mind just for the purpose of eternal torture.) So, monism is not consistent with Christianity.

But there is nothing in modern science or philosophy, in my opinion that convinces me that the traditional concept of an eternal soul is incorrect. You have to keep in mind that we see, hear, understand, and reason within our brain, so our seeing hearing and understanding are limited to those functions that our brain can sustain.  Which is not to say that there are not experiences beyond our understanding, i.e. beyond our brains ability to process it.

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