Last Post I argued that the Biblical “perspective of individual immortality, and the eternal judgment of the divine Creator, is the only foundation for morality, for personal freedom, and for surety of happiness and justice.”
We live in a rapidly changing world. Many important discussion going on in within Western culture today, which have the potential to impact the future of our civilization. Whether it is about ‘law and order,’ environmentalism, human rights, constitutional interpretations, international wars, abortion, or even political theory, many old ways are being challenged, and new perspectives are emerging.
With change, there is both opportunity and hazard. The British Prime Minster David Cameron is currently calling his nation to take on personal responsibility as a way to overcome the challenges and changes facing British society (link). If we desire healthy democracies, which balance social responsibility and personal freedom, on what bases ought we (or can we) proceed?
I hope in this post to continue to show that our only hope, as history, philosophy and theology all inform us is to regain the consciousness of the value of the human being as an immortal individual, morally responsible to their Creator.
Historically, whenever the individual has become viewed as part of the machine of a culture, freedom and hope are destroyed for all but the few who gain power. Popular unrest and change came to France in the 18th century. But, when he rose to power through this opportunity, Napoleon Bonaparte harnessed every individual, indeed the very soul of France to the machine of his own aggrandizement. Any who got in the way, he destroyed. Both the ideals of the revolution and the freedom desired by the individual were lost.
Again, the 20th century saw a very similar rise of the disenfranchised in Russia, give way to the dictatorships of Stalin and Lenin, as the Communist Empire soon eliminated the happiness and freedom of the greater part of their society, as man was seen as a mere cog n the machine of empire.
Conversely, the Greek Democracies challenged by all the idiosyncrasies of individual freedom overcame the invasion of the greatest dictator of the ancient world, Xerses of Persia, in the 5th century BC. The same spirit of freedom animated “the American experiment”, which has given rise to the world’s greatest superpower.
The difference is an elementary one. Both Napoleon, and the Soviets were secular naturalists, which placed all their value in the state, as greater than the short lived individual. The Greeks, let by the philosophers of the golden age, and the British settlers of America, believed deeply in the individual as an immortal being.
The immortal individual is a foundational value. American philosopher William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) argued: “Life itself is individual, and the most significant things in the world – perhaps in the end the only significant things – are individual souls.” (“The Philosophical Anarchist” in R. Hoffman, ed. Anarchism, New York: Lieber-Atherton, 1973, pp. 120-121.) Plato, through a Socratic dialogue concludes: “beyond question, the soul is immortal and imperishable, and our souls will truly exist in another world.” (Pheado, 63c).
The Theological Argument. The great religions agree with the Philosophers in being certain of the immortality of the individual. Hindus believe in a reincarnated soul, whose immortal existence strives to build good karma and ascend to perpetual bliss. Other eastern religions share this view of immortality and bliss through moral virtue, including Taoism, which has been called, “a school of thought focused on the quest for immortality” (Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank A. Kierman, Jr. Taoism and Chinese Religion (University of Massachusetts Press, 1981), p. 211).
The Judeo-Christian perspective is perhaps best known in the West. God creates Human Beings as immortal beings, who will life forever in either eternal bliss with their Creator, or eternal punishment apart from him (John 3:36). Each of these faiths provides a similar foundation for ethics. However, the distinctions between them lead to very different ethics. A judicial perspective of eternal judgment shapes Judeo-Christian ethics. While Eastern faiths propose personal enlightenment as the foundation of moral valuation.
The point however, is that humanity has a shared consciousness of immortality, which no amount of time, circumstance, or oppression has been able to shake. When this is encouraged and nurtured, free and responsible societies are able to flourish.
What unique contribution does Christianity contribute to this discussion? How can this practically help us evaluate current opportunities? Find out in post three, coming soon.