ON THE HUMAN SOUL AND ETERNITY

George Anastaplo

            600. On the other hand, it is said that children today “witness” so many killings on television that they can become quite casual (or is it benumbed?) about the deaths they encounter and even occasionally cause. Central to one’s inquiry into the intentions and meaning of a serious author should be an awareness of that author’s circumstances and primary intended audience. See note 578, above. Most readers, however, should be cautioned against trying to make too much of this sort of thing. We can well wonder what it may be like for any one of us “personally” once dead. It can be argued that each of us has already had as much of the “experience” of  “eternity” that any human being may ever have. That is, it is believed, if the material universe is forever, however varied its forms (just as, say, numerical relations are forever), that there has been as much of eternity “before” any one of us as there will be “after” any one of us. This can be understood to “mean” (in a manner of speaking) that each of us has already “experienced” for a very long time (“half an eternity,” again in a manner of speaking) what it is like (what it “means”) to be dead. Thus, death can again be likened (as at the end of Plato’s Apology) to a dreamless sleep, but a sleep from which one does not wake. See notes 635 and 656, below. See also note 601, below.

601. Montaigne, The Essays, 89. Nature does “tell” us that we will die. But what does it tell us about what happens to the human soul after death? See note 600, above. Jonathan Edwards, in his notable 1741 sermon (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), insists upon the need for even the typical Christian to be “born again.” Only the Christian revelation provides reliable guidance to eternal salvation (or, even more compelling, away from perpetual condemnation). Nature as a guide is repeatedly condemned by Edwards, even though it should have been obvious to him that that is all that may be sensible that much of the human race have ever had to rely on. Does an emphasis upon this kind of eternal salvation (Machiavelli asked) tend to leave decent people poorly equipped to deal, especially politically, with everyday problems requiring foresight, toughness, and so on?  It may even be wondered whether all this is a poor (even fundamentally unfair) way for things to have been arranged. Still, it can be argued that one consequence, or effect, of the grim Edwards argument is that it may make it easier for most people to regard human life as intrinsically meaningful. (I hope to include, in another volume some day touching on these matters, writings which include both my play The Last Christian [on Judas Iscariot] and my talk “God in the Hands of an Angry Preacher” [on the Jonathan Edwards sermon].) See note 768, below. See also note 635, below.

____________________

These notes are taken from George Anastaplo, THE CHRISTIAN HERITAGE:  PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS (Lexington Books, 2012), pages 399-400.

(Martin E. Marty provided the Foreword for this volume.)

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