Episode 7 – Salvation

Are you saved? What does the word salvation mean to someone who is not a Christian? What does Pamalogy say about salvation? Does your religion say the same thing about salvation as your neighbor’s religion? I think we’d get along better if we knew, and that’s what we’re talking about today. Ready?

If I ask a philosopher what the word salvation means to them, there would be a variety of answers. A general disrespect for Evangelicalism and belief in God generally prevails in academia. You might even get a disdainful response. As soon as you hint you might believe in God, you’ll run into the problem of evil in the world and no explanation you offer will satisfy them. They’ll say maybe there is a Multiverse, but there certainly isn’t any benevolent, Omnipotent God running the show. The idea of a soul that is somehow separate from the physical world is entirely speculative, as well. It’s something philosophers call  dualism. It went out of fashion with René DesCartes. Salvation of the soul makes no sense to a person who doesn’t believe in an eternal soul.

Caring and sharing. Is gaining a sense of values the same as being saved?
Caring and sharing. Is gaining a sense of values what it means to be saved? Ed Yourdon CC-BYSA 2.0

A philosopher might have some things in common with a Christian though. Even if you take both God and the soul out of their portrait of reality, many will likely still have an attitude towards life that values values strictly for their own sake. About half of academia would say they were either atheists or agnostics, but few would say they didn’t care about values. In fact, more than likely, they’ll believe that theists need to learn values from them, rather than the other way around. If salvation involves a turning from bad values to better ones and to a better world filled with those who are similarly enlightened, then that might just be the type of salvation an atheist would embrace.

This is something a theist ought to appreciate.  A theist can turn from sin but always has to question why they do it. Are they doing it so they can think better thoughts about themselves? An atheist might say the same. Being woke – embracing better values – will almost certainly make them feel better about themselves, but unlike Christians or Muslims and others, they aren’t doing it for a reward in heaven. They aren’t doing it because they think God is watching. They are doing it, supposing that whatever it is they are contributing to the world, this is it. All they are is dust in the wind. Yet, they build character in themselves, in their children, and their students despite such a bleak outlook on their future and that of the world.

If I ask an Evangelical Christian what they mean when they say they are saved, the answer will be entirely different. They’ll usually tell me about deserving to go to hell, coming to believe in Jesus, being forgiven, and their expectation of going to heaven instead. They are saved from hell. They are granted eternal life free of suffering or sorrow. It might have to do with valuing values, but usually not. Repentance is largely a matter of being sorry for sins. They knew what sin was all along but committed it anyway. Turning from sin, in their view, requires the miracle of grace. And for many of them, salvation is a matter of being forgiven rather than a matter of change anyway. Forgiveness leads to heaven. In contemporary Evangelicalism, change is somewhat optional.

I’m joking. You know the type of Christian I’m talking about though. They seem to be unaware of what the Bible says about repentance. The Greek word for repentance is μετάνοια, pronounced in Erasmian as “matanoia.” It means literally turning from sins. It involves much more than being forgiven. But an atheist who “becomes woke” and turns from sin isn’t even asking for forgiveness. They are simply growing. If they begin to embrace good values, they start valuing “goodness for goodness’ sake.” And if they avoid evil as a means to a good end, or good as a means to a bad end, they do so because of a sense of duty rather than religion.  Philosophers will refer to this ethical principle as deontology. You’ll find it in the rationalist philosophy of Emmanuel Kant. Kant’s idea was to supplant third party ethics from religious institutions and holy books with pure reason. We’ll compare Kantian rationalism with Pamalogist rationalism some time down the road. For now, we’re looking at what salvation means to people around the world.

If I ask a Catholic the same question, the answer won’t be so far from what it might mean for an Evangelical. The idea of repentance is similar and so is the idea of rewards in the divine judgement. It may involve a middle place for rewards and judgment called “purgatory” but it won’t be much different than the Protestant view, really. Punishment for sins is still assumed and then Jesus steps in and saves Catholic Christians from it by his mercy. The Catholic and Protestant views are both about justice being satisfied through punishment or through mercy.

They’re not exactly the same. For the Evangelical, God the Father is the judge and Jesus pays the debt of sin. For the Catholic, the angels and saints typically step in and help. Salvation is more of a group effort. But the two mostly Western Christian traditions are in agreement about the debt of sin, the possibility of going to hell, and how this is all somehow justified in the good judgement of God.

Pope Franciscus & Patriarch Bartholomew I in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
   Pope Francis & Patriarch Bartholomew I – Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem CC BY-SA 3.0 Nir Hason

If I look to the East, and ask an Orthodox Christian, they’ll likely tell me that all of this is a gross misrepresentation of God and the problem of sin. When Paul referred to sin as a debt, he didn’t mean it in a human way. Do they think it was an allegory? Not exactly.  In the Orthodox view, what we owe to God is holiness for the simple reason that holiness is good. If the debt was an exchange, then to whom was it owed? To the devil? To God? Who made that deal? When? Did you sign a contract with someone before being born? Where was your consent to the deal? What is the basis of it? Was it a sort of tacit social contract? Is it because of Adam’s disobedience? For an Orthodox Christian, Adam’s fall from grace is typical of all human beings. Sin is the opposite of divine intention in grace, or what they call “theosis” – our unity in the Holy Spirit. It isn’t some register of wrong doings for which atonement is required. For all of its many words, the Bible doesn’t explain this very well and neither do the churches. For the Orhodox, the fall of Adam is something we all share in as much as we all fall short of complete and utter holiness and divine love. We aren’t in debt for someone else’s sin. The New Adam, Jesus, isn’t paying our sin debt on the cross so much as expressing divine love and mercy.

Still, an Orthodox Christian might agree that he stands in desperate need of God for salvation . He may even believe he deserves to be consigned to the fires of hell forever in his humility and his compunction, but he will be very critical of his Western Christian counterparts’ view of how that deal is made. His idea of what original sin is is merely a reference to the history of human sins. He sees the complications of life caused by the sins of people who came before him, but doesn’t think he owes anyone for any sins other than his own, and that’s not so much as a debt as it is a recognition that he could do so much better. He prays for the souls of other sinners and for release from the bondage of curses out of compassion and mercy, along with Jesus and the saints, because prayer is merciful and mercy is the sort of thing the Holy Spirit inspires, and what he should have been doing wholeheartedly and non-stop all along.

Orthodox Christians are confusing and they’re inconsistent. They have so many people saying so many different things. It’s easy to find contradictions in their statements, but you’ll often hear them complain that Western Christians have made God look like some sort of monster. They are very critical of the view that if you happen to fail to hear the Gospel and believe, you’ll go to hell forever and live in maximized torture. “What kind of God is this?!” they ask. There will be no opportunity for you to escape. It will be too late for you to ask for mercy or repent. The mercy of God seems somehow absent in the Western picture. Jesus is sent to fix a deal. He isn’t expressing love on the cross. God is to be feared. Here comes the judge. The Western God is a stickler for legal details – or else!

To make matters worse, in Calvinist Christianity in particular, God actually planned this all along. He knew before you were born you’d suffer forever in hell this way. And because he knew this, He didn’t even die for you. He only died for those lucky souls he decided he’d grant the grace to accept salvation to. Nobody else ever even had a chance.

Portrait of John Calvin
   John Calvin 1509-1564 Public Domain

The Calvinist’s God seems to love torturing people. After all, narrow is the path that leads to salvation but wide is the road that leads to destruction. This sort of monster God stands in stark contrast to the God portrayed by St. Gregory of Nyssa, and Origen before him. These two early Christians believed in the total annihilation of hell, and the redemption and restoration of everyone, including the demons. Even the devil himself would one day be saved along with everyone and everything else. For Gregory, salvation referred to the restoration of all things. It was the end of all evil. Naturally, there is no hell in that picture. There might be a purgation of some sort that leads up to it, but no eternal torment.

One does have to wonder how anyone could be happy living in heaven knowing there were people suffering horrible torture in hell. Where is the compassion? Where is the empathy? Where is the mercy?

Oddly, the idea of a place of eternal torment from which there could be no return or repentance was a Greek mythological concept, one that Jesus may have referred to. Did Jesus just want to scare us into salvation by letting us believe in a Greek myth? Maybe he did.

Today I want to look at some other views of salvation though, especially Christian ones. It’s particularly important at this time to focus on Orthodox Christianity because of the war in Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church has always seen itself in unity with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but in 2019 the Patriarch of Constantinople authorized an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church in a move towards what the Orthodox call autocephaly. Autocephaly means self-headship, or self-rule. While Ukrainian autocephaly was welcomed by many Orthodox Christians in the West, who believed the Ukrainian Church deserved self-governance, being so numerous and historically grounded in Orthodox Christianity, the timing was suspicious in the light of the political tensions that were at an all-time high.

A disapproved declaration of autocephaly resulted in a dis-fellowshiping between Patriarchs Cyril of Moscow and Bartholomew of Constantinople, or Istanbul. “Dis-fellowshiping” is the next closest thing to a schism.  The faith itself is the same, but Orthodox Christians both in Russia and throughout the world, said that Bartholomew acted like a pope, without the consent of the larger body of Orthodox Christians. From the perspective of the Russian Orthodox, it was seen as yet another attempt to bring Western civilization to the Russian border.

Know this first. It is hard to comprehend how much the Russian Orthodox look down on Western civilization. Their religion, including their way of looking at salvation, is just a part of it. They see the new European emerging religion as liberalism. For them, it’s all one thing. Wokism, with its gay pride parades and insistence on inclusive language, seems to be a direct declaration of opposition to historical Christianity – the one thing Russian Orthodoxy prides itself on maintaining against the currents of Christianity everywhere else in the world. For the Russian Orthodox, all of Western civilization represents a falling away from the one true church. The apostasy found in Protestantism is a mere reflection of the Catholic schism a thousand years ago. You might think that differences of opinion about the meaning of salvation wouldn’t matter much, but its actually a center-piece problem. The Orthodox didn’t have indulgences. Penance was a medical prescription, not a payment for a sin debt.

Another dramatic difference can be traced back to whether or not we should accept the eschatological vision of St. Gregory of Nyssa as a sound Orthodox theological view. The idea here is that everyone and everything gets saved, better yet restored.

St. Gregory wrote down his homilies, so a lot of what he said has been preserved. In his Homily on Ecclesiastes, he says “the resurrection is nothing more than the restoration of all things.” You may remember the statement in Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Gregory took this literally to mean that in the beginning everything was made complete. All that would and could be good was included in the work of God. The resurrection, by restoring all things, saves us from the destruction of the temporal world, and restores the whole cosmos to that perfect state of creation I talked about last episode.

Teaching soteriology
Soteriology is the area of teaching concerned with what salvation is and how to achieve it.

What a very different picture of salvation we have in the East from what we have in the West! In the West, the new heavens and the new Earth that we are promised seems disconnected from the past.

If you go still farther East, to the non-Christian traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism, you’ll find certain points in harmony with Gregory’s restoration resurrection concept. I’ll return to that in a moment. First, let’s consider what the Jews and Muslims have to say. Then after comparing it all, we’ll see where Pamalogy fits in.

We might start with the fact that, like Orthodox Christians, Jewish people don’t have the Catholic concept of original sin. For modern Jews, the idea of redemption, or salvation, is the action of God related to the whole nation turning from sin. By turning from their sin, the Jews are saved from exile. Individual morality matters as it contributes to the people as a whole. Individual redemption and an afterlife are speculative. Salvation is salvation of the Jewish people throughout the world and in Israel. The concept of a state and a religion being united is largely rejected in the West, but that is not the case at all in ancient cultures.

Islam is no exception. It joins kingdoms with faith through caliphates. Islam also rejects the distinctly Western Christian idea of original sin. Muslims may believe Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, but as in Orthodox Christianity, each person is accountable only for their own sin. This is one of the reasons they don’t accept the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. One person’s righteousness can’t make up for the sin of another. It is also considered a curse to hang on a tree. The idea of Jesus taking on the curse belonging to the descendants of Adam, particularly if he were to be the S0n of God, would be exceedingly blasphemous to a Muslim on several levels. Individual repentance, on the other hand, is highly valued and extolled in Islam. A Muslim is saved from sin through this repentance and turning their life over to Allah in service and obedience to the dictates of Muhammed. In the end, a just reward awaits a repentant Muslim in heaven after this life ends. The cosmological system is similar to Christianity.

Muslims gathered at the Kaaba
  Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca to visit the Kaaba. CC BY-SA 3.0 Muhammad Mahdi Karim

It all follows the Western Christian pattern with respect to rewards, judgment and heavenly cosmology – only in Islam, a person who is not a Muslim cannot go to heaven. There is a barrier. The result is sometimes compared to Catholic purgatory or maybe limbo but that’s not accurate. The Western word for it is “annihilationism.” The person dies but does not rise up for a judgement. The unbeliever doesn’t go to hell, but their unbelief is an obstacle to their entry into heaven so the kafir remains in a nothingness state, enjoying neither any reward nor punishment. They simply are no more.

I’m basing this summary on conversations I’ve had. If you are Muslim, let me know if I have any of this wrong, as I’m less familiar with it. There is just one other point to cover before moving further East. Many Evangelicals have the same criticism towards Islam as they do against Catholicism. They don’t like the idea that a Muslim has to earn their salvation through good works. They believe salvation is impossible to earn. Part of this stems from the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity. The idea is that we have nothing good in us that God doesn’t first give. We are utterly dependent on God to do even the first good thing.

Catholics and Muslims, and Orthodox, as well, are likely to respond to this, saying that that goodness from God was supplied when we were created. Even if we tend to sin badly, our nature, even in this fallen condition, is not entirely devoid of goodness. We may not be able to earn our way into heaven without help from God, but the goodness of our nature didn’t disappear entirely when Adam or anyone else sinned. Total depravity, they will say, is not to be taken in an absolute sense. If you say “all have fallen short of the glory of God,” then does that word “all” not also refer to Jesus? This is what happens when you take words in their absolute sense. Has Jesus fallen short of the glory of God? The Bible says so.

So far, I’ve been pretty rough on Calvinists, but they do have a number of Bible verses on their side and this is one of them, just a perplexing one. They are also well known for upholding an absolutist conception of the idea that God would foreknow and predestine all things, or that He is the source of all that is good. These ideas are not only Biblically supported but reasonable to anyone who expects God to be perfect. The CounterChecker would be a great place to sort problems like that out. Please support me in building the CounterChecker. I’m seeking $1.4 million to develop it and will take about nine months to complete. We will beta test it and validate it with the help of epistemologists, in a sincere effort to create the ultimate truth machine.

Anyway, I’ll end my survey of salvation in the dominant religions of the West by offering that that same problem of earning one’s own salvation would apply to the great religions of the East, but differently. Because the religions of the East see the soul as migrating from body to body, the cosmic picture is more like a purgatory than heaven or hell scenario. There isn’t really any punishment. It is more like a law than judgment. It is something like an energy carried from one form of life to another by the soul, best known by Westerners as karma. But the endless migration of souls is itself a result of a fallen state of the soul. The Buddhists have less of a sense of self than Hindus. Samsara, as it is referred to in Buddhism, is to be set free from the suffering caused by the cycles of birth and death through enlightenment. Enlightenment, or what we call nirvana, is attained through the practice of meditation. It is earned through practice.

Maitreya Buddha Statue in Leshan
Maitreya Buddha in Leshan, China, an eschatalogical savior? CC BY-SA2.5 Ariel Steiner

Some say that Buddhism has less doctrine and speculation than Hinduism, rendering it less of a religion and more of a practice, but majority Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, certainly has religious elements, including prophecy and an expectation of the return of their Messiah figure. Saskyamuni Buddha fulfills Buddhist eschatology. He is predicted to restore pure dharma when he comes as Maetreya. In the present age, the practice of meditation is thought to be somewhat futile for obtaining enlightenment. So for Mahayanans, Maetreya becomes the Buddhist savior.

I should also point out that the incarnation is not the same in the reincarnations of either Buddhas or Krishnas in the East, the way most Christians think of the incarnation of Jesus. To start with, the very idea of deity itself is different. The attributes of omniscience and omnipotence belonging to perfection are speculative in Buddhism and they’re difficult in Hinduism, which is polytheistic at heart. It sees Brahma as creator, Vishnu as preserver and Shiva as destroyer. Seeing them as one deity isn’t something Hindus seem to focus on. What is one in Hinduism is the Universe and the way it is connected to the law of karma.

In harmony with Buddhism, the many reincarnations of Krishna in Hinduism are seen as manifestations of Vishnu. The gist of the three Gods working together as a Hindu Trinity is that the description of the cycle of life and death are found in them. Our conscious awareness arises from an act of Brahma. It is sustained and preserved through the work of Vishnu. It ends in death through the work of the destroyer, Shiva. Acceptance of death is part of Hindu spiritual growth, which like Buddhism, is ascetic. It renounces the things of this world and meditates and practices the yogas in order to attain Krishna consciousness.

Krishna consciousness and Buddhist enlightenment are about the same in that way.  I should mention Jainism here too. Jainism sees the world as an uncreated eternal phenomenon. It doesn’t believe in a Creator, but it does accept the idea of karma and the soul. Salvation for a Jainist, involves eliminating their karma, which it sees as a pollutant that prevents a state of transcendence. Jainist moksha is about the same as Buddhist nirvana. Their Christ figure, Mahavira, as with Gautama Buddha, is more of a role model and a teacher than a God. Salvation is earned through the practice of detachment from the world. God doesn’t step in and help.

I also mentioned Sikhism. This is not well-known in the West. You may be curious about those people you’ve seen with the nice pleated head coverings, distinct from the headdress of Muslims. Like Hindus, their idea of salvation involves karma, but it also involves social transformation. Sikhs don’t believe in divine incarnation. Like Jews and Muslims, they are monotheists. But what separates them most,  I think, is that like Gregory of Nyssa, they believe in Universal salvation. They have a very positive outlook of the future.

I hope I’ve said enough about these various ways of looking at salvation to peek your interest so that you’ll look more deeply into what it might mean for each religion involved so that you can get to know your neighbor. Be a listener. By putting it altogether in one place, we can start to see some common themes. We can see that some people don’t believe in God, but they still believe in virtue. Some are are concerned about personal transformation and others are concerned with societal transformation, while some think in terms of a Universal transformation or restoration.

Pamalogy is awesomeology. The end goal of salvation in all of these dimensions is what matters to a Pamalogist. Do we need God for salvation? If we do, then awesomeology needs God. But if the philosophers are right, that God can’t possibly exist, given the idea that God would never create a world so filled with evil, then it is reasonable to suppose that we’re on our own. A philosopher who believes that might embrace Sikhism or Jainism.

Pamalogical Soteriology Chart
In Pamalogy, salvation is to discover & pursue the potential of personal awesomeness

Philosophers tend not to think like Calvinists. They mostly see human beings as capable of learning right from wrong, even if that involves figuring  out what that might mean as they go along. Pamalogy is more open to the God theory than other forms of philosophy but it won’t exclude anything good found in these other notions of salvation either. What salvation is to a Pamalogist, is maximized awesomeness. It’s the ideal goal both for humanity and life as a whole, and for individuals and for the entire cosmos. That’s why it’s compatible with many religions, even Russian Orthodoxy.

Being awesomeologists, our view is that philosophers should admit that when we add God into the picture, our potential is greater than when we’re on our own. So long as God isn’t some sort of cruel and arbitrary judge, human potential is greater if God is real. And in favor of the God theory is the fact that the Universe seems to be fine tuned for life. Clearly, our next step needs to be to sort out the God theory with philosophers and that’s what I want to discuss in detail using the CounterChecker platform.

In my opinion, odds are against consciousness ever appearing. It’s not just the improbability of a point in time now occurring simultaneously with your personal consciousness, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, as much as that matters in terms of a priori reasoning. Are you aware that if the force of gravity didn’t exist, there would be no planets, stars or galaxies in the Universe? All matter is comprised of atomic particles that are regulated by a strong nuclear force. Did you know that if that nuclear force was just 50% times stronger, that there would be nothing in the Universe but Hydrogen?

Philosopers are aware of fine tuning. Theists like to remind them that the two lightest sub-atomic particles relative to the electron, the up and down quark, which are intrinsic to literally everything in the Universe, would make every atom unstable if they possessed even a slightly different mass. The argument for God based on fine tuning points out that every single force that is fundamental to what the Universe is comprised of, has to be just as it is for life to have ever come into existence.

Philosophers accept the truth that the Universe is fine tuned for life. They also admit they have no explanation for or theory of consciousness. Somewhere in the midst of fine tuning, the philosopher has to recognize that salvation means the ability to be alive, and that salvation involves forces in the very fiber of the Universe they have yet to explain. The God theory poses itself as a strong contender for that explanation.

But as incredible as the problem of fine tuning is, it’s not enough. To convince a philosopher that maybe they shouldn’t give up on God so quickly, will require better ways of handling the observation of the existence of evil in the world. Physicists and philosophers seem more apt to believe in a theory of a Multiverse, or leave the question of God open, than admit that their absence of any explanation for consciousness, is attributable to God. They can acknowledge that something they don’t understand has saved them, but life itself is not enough. God still seems to be cruel and arbitrary.

The Pamalogist will offer philosophers theories dealing with the problem of evil that might make both divinity and the idea of the multiverse more plausible. The philosopher who expects God to create a Universe without evil might be satisfied to find that in the Multiverse, all sin may have been taken away.

And when I say “taken away” I mean, not having ever existed.

For something that looks like it exists, to not really exist, that thing must somehow be an illusion. I’ve spoken at length elsewhere about the fabric of reality being illusory and I’m going to come back to this subject some more. Suffice it to say here, that if the illusion of evil could be proven to be the case, the philosopher would have a very great objection to belief in God removed. In philosophy, solving the problem of evil is called a theodicy.

The Pamalogist’s theodicy is awesomeology. Awesomeology, by definition, must combine all that is good in salvation as reality. When I say this, I mean all that is good in every version of salvation that I’ve just described today. I’ll begin explaining the Pamalogist’s theodicy in our next blogcast. What I think you will like about it is that it is based on foundational logic, which is to say, we can be certain that it is as true. It’s like 1+1=2. We’re not just saying, “wouldn’t it be nice if it was true.” We’re saying with certainty that it is true.

This is a strong assertion and it deserves careful attention to prove, so we’ll take it one point at a time, spreading it out over several episodes. Once our theodicy is clearly stated and proven, we will then review some of the theories of consciousness that exist in modern philosophy and science with the intention of advancing the field.

You are about to realize what we mean when we say we’ve got good news for you. If it would be good it’s true.

Ciao!

 

 

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