Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Desiring Heaven

 One of the best new blogs that has come along in some years is Larry Chapp's Gaudium et Spes 22, and his most recent post is one which particularly stuck me.  He's writing about the concern of some more traditional Catholics that the hope that all souls might be saved (expressed notably in current apologetic circles by Bishop Robert Barron, who is in turn echoing Balthasar) is incredibly dangerous because it takes away any reason to practice the faith.  As with most of Chapp's posts, the lead in is long, but I'd identify this as the core paragraph and I think it makes an incredibly important point:

The fact of the matter is that Martin and other like-minded traditionalists get something very wrong. Namely, that the indifferentism and lukewarm laxity that afflicts the modern Church has been primarily caused by a loss of belief in the reality of eternal damnation for most. In reality, the laxity in the modern Church has not arisen from a lack of faith in the eternal horrors of Hell. Rather, the laxity comes from a lack of faith in the existential reality of Heaven. In fact, it comes more specifically from a generalized lack of faith in the eschatological power of supernatural realities in the first place. Because if people really and truly believed in the reality of our liberation from bondage and the joys of Heaven, and truly understood what these realities mean, then the very real possibility of eternal loss would be powerful and palpable. Furthermore, if people had a deeper grasp in faith of what such liberation means then the question of why I should strive to be morally good even if all end up in Heaven someday answers itself. We seek moral goodness because it is liberative and integrative. It opens us to beauty and a holistic happiness. And the more we are on that path the more we begin to realize that Heaven isn’t a Disney World in the sky, or an undifferentiated “reward” for having been a “good person,” but is rather a nested hierarchy of souls that have differing capacities for love, and thus beatitude, depending on what one has done in this life. Jesus says that in his Father’s Kingdom there are “many mansions.” I think this is what he meant. Finally, none of this will come without purgation, in this life or the next. And that purgation will be painful and difficult. Even among those Catholics who feel confident of their ultimate salvation there is still a rigorous desire to do penances now, to lead a life of holiness now, precisely in order to avoid such purgations later. Therefore, I do not need to believe that anyone is in Hell in order to desire the highest and most luxuriant of Heavenly mansions and to avoid the fiery cauldron of purgatory.

I think this gets the problem with so much modernity, including wishy-washy modern Christianity, precisely right.  The problem with them is not that they do not take the idea of sin and hell seriously, it's that they do not take the idea of God and salvation seriously.   Oh sure, it's incredibly common for people to believe in "some kind of higher power" and that we "live on in some way after death".  Lots of people talk about meeting their loved ones again after death or about going to a "happier place".  I think it's only the dedicated few who are serious about materialism and atheism.  But a great many people, including many Catholics, do not really take seriously the idea that there truly is a God, that He is perfect, and that our eternal happiness depends on our willingness to become "perfect as your father in heaven is perfect".  

This, I think, is the truly radical idea which so many have lost.  God is truly and utterly Good.  To experience God totally in eternity is either to be united with Him or to burn in resentment against Him.  

If we really believe that, then the desire to give up much that we desire in this life in order to get used to forming ourselves to God is not a burden.  Rather, it should be our highest wish as Christians.

But for a lot of people, even if they in some sense believe in God, they believe in God as either the giver of prizes or the giver of punishments (or for those who are less "judgmental", God as a vaguely positive force who loves everybody without expecting anything of them.)  This is a God who is not really God in any sense worth talking about.  This is God as a pleasant sunset, a peaceful forest, a soothing musical riff.  These are people whose conception of God is not actually all that far from the ideas of the afterlife which appear in Pixar movies, where we are judged only in the sense of being rewarded to the extent we are remembered and eventually fading into a kindly bureaucratic nothingness.  

If that is the set of beliefs that people implicitly have, telling them that they need to believe in the eternal punishments of hell does not really break through their key misconception.  Sure, they don't really conceive of the punishment of eternal separation from God, but that's mostly because they don't really conceive of God at all, even though they don't actively disbelieve in Him.  

The news we need to bring is not that hell exists.  Lots of people are willing to believe that something vaguely called "hell" exists for "bad people" like Nazis and child molesters.  The problem is that such people think of hell as an eternal penalty box for cinematically bad people.  They don't really believe in the idea that being united with God is morally challenging.  That is the idea which is foreign to people: that God exists in such a way that it matters and demands change on our part in order to embrace the goodness which is God.


mandamum said...

Your blogroll introduced me to his blog, and I have been glad to go there and find challenge and clarity. Many of the things he has been examining recently have helped me chew over things. I'm caught between the Scylla of a "Catholic fundamentalist" homeschool group and the Charybdis of the various scandals in the Church, surrounded by people whose children question the prudence of Vatican 2 without having ever read the documents, while the parents deride the morality of the Covid vaccine. Meanwhile I'm trying to offer my own kids the riches of the Catholic Church rather than a withered "safe" version. Dr. Chapp's Gaudium et Spes 22 has been a tremendous resource, sometimes echoing my own thoughts and sometimes giving me a new direction to explore or making me rethink an assumption.

Good to get the brain workout too!

Agnes said...

Oh dear. As parent I'm trying to teach my children to do good for the sake of good rather than because of fear of punishment. It seems a sadly immature faith and a sadly false image of God to be motivated by fear of Hell. I agree that modern Christians tend to forget that the choice between good and evil is a real one with real significance, but we should be drawn toward God rather than trying to escape punishment.