Thursday, 28 March 2013

Last Judgment at Doomsday

The penultimate conversation between Fr. Tischner and Jacek Żakowski concerns the Catholic doctrine of the bodily resurrection of the dead, who will come to life at the end of the world, to be judged by God, after which there will be eternal reward or punishment.

A very difficult notion for me to accept. While the eventual fate of planet Earth is known (it will be swallowed up by an expanding Sun some five billion years from now, long before which time all life will have ceased to exist, a mere billion years from now), the fate of the Universe is not. [See competing theories here - Ultimate fate of the Universe] And God, being the God of the entire Universe, not just of planet Earth, nor of Christians, no doubt has other plans.

Nevertheless, some ideas in the chapter that resonate with me. Żakowski asks whether this bodily resurrection concept is not something invented to assuage our attachment to life. Fr. Tischner replies, paraphrasing the words of Jesus Christ, saying that something will change, but our identity will be retained.

Here we should pause for reflection. The Christian notion that an individual lives one life, and on the basis of the moral quality of that one life that individual is either rewarded with an eternity in heaven or punished by an  eternity in hell - is to me deeply questionable. I won't set out my ontological views here, in this post (readers will have to wait until Easter Sunday), but that one-shot chance at redemption set against the aeons of time and the vastness of the universe, seems limited by 1st Century AD imagination.

The individual nature of our identity, spread out against time and space, needs careful consideration. Again, not here or now.

Fr. Tischner attempts to describe how we will look after our resurrection "Our body after it is resurrected will look like the body of the resurrected Christ. It was easy to recognise Christ after his resurrection. The appearance was, I think, identical. On his body there weren't even any scars from his wounds."

Żakowski asks whether our resurrected bodies will be those of children, adolescents, mature adults or as old people. Fr. Tischner replies that theologians have had many conjectures, but tend towards the conviction that the body we resurrect with will be subject to our will; the body we most loved.

This kind of debate, of the nature of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, is, I think quite spurious and indeed futile, as I really don't buy this notion of bodily resurrection. However, the identity of our consciousness is a different matter, and here, I think our dreams are a good indicator. Despite my 55 years of age, in my dreams I am ageless, a young mature adult. And so it has been ever since I became a young mature adult, unless the dream is of hair-loss or some other age-related anxiety, though such dreams are mercifully rare.

We move on to the Apocalypse. The Greek word means 'an uncovering', of truth, for instance, or 'revelation', a revealing. Yet the word has come to mean 'ultimate catastrophe' - unleashed by global war or intense climate change or pandemic. St. John's Apocalypse - the Book of Revelation, is full of symbols designed to inspire shock and awe, signs in the sky, that the Son of Man, brings at once hope, and the impending end of the world.

And with it, the Final Judgement.

According to whose criteria will we be judged? Liberal, wishy-washy criteria? Or the fire-and-brimstone criteria of the Integrists? The Bible says 'all will be uncovered/revealed'.

Fr. Tischner says that the Last Judgment functions in Christianity as a court, which will uncover before each person their responsibility. All the masks, artifices and disguises which you cover yourself with during your life will be stripped away. The naked truth about oneself will be made manifest.

But, I pencilled in the margins, what truth? Whose truth? Surely one man's sin (eating pork, for example) is not a sin for another.

For me, it is the individual conscience, which either allows a man to sleep easy, or bothers him relentlessly, that determines whether we die at peace with ourselves and the world - or not. Shakespeare's Hamlet: 'To die - to sleep. To sleep to dream, aye, there's the rub'. Shakespeare's imagination could envisage one's conscience continuing to plague one's consciousness even after death. This resonates with me.

Will the Last Judgment bring justice? (Here, we are not talking any longer of social justice, but of the individual kind). Fr. Tischner: "On this earth virtue is not rewarded, nor crime punished. And if the world is sensible, reasonable, then the Final Judgment is a final demand from our conscience."

Żakowski asks whether we shall be judged according to our own conscience. "Will you be judged according to your intentions or according to the arguments of others?" "The Bible says that we have already judged ourselves... It lies within our powers to be evil" Again, here I disagree. Our genetic make-up, our upbringing, our life's experience, determine this to a great extent. I certainly don't have the capacity for evil - I have no desire to commit evil acts - from this point of view, I am powerless to be evil.

The capacity to be evil Fr. Tischner calls saying 'no' to God. "When God is calling to them to follow, and they say to Him, continuously, 'No! We will not go!' God, having created us with a free will, has in this way limited Himself."

I wouldn't agree. People born or raised with a capacity for evil - tyrants, murderers, thieves - will all justify their actions, and may not even be troubled by a guilty conscience. Would a Stalin or Hitler be plagued by guilt? I doubt it. But a good man may lose sleep over a good deed left undone. Conscience is indeed an individual matter.

But in essence I find myself rejecting the notion of bodily resurrection and a Last Judgment as being little more than a metaphor used for two millennia by the Church to impose social order, not in itself a bad intention, just an incorrect one.

The final chapter/conversation of Tischner czyta Katechizm considers Heaven. Stay tuned!

This time last year:
Sunny Scotland at +23.9C 

This time two years ago:
The iconic taste of Marmite

This time three years ago:

This time four year ago:

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