natural theology

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volume II: Synopsis

section V: Applied Divinity

page 40: Heaven and hell

The final phase in the Christian history of salvation is an apocalyptic remaking of the world, removing the disabilities God imposed as punishment for the Fall. Most of us will die before the end of the world, and then, according to the Catholic Catechism:

1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification, or immediately, -- or immediate and everlasting damnation. . . .
1023 Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see him as he is," face to face . . .
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. Holy See

Christian Eschatology - Wikipedia, Last Judgement - Wikipedia

This rather simple scenario of reward and punishment is part of the political mission of the Church: to control people ostensibly to bring them to heaven, but also for its own welfare. The Catholic Church promises perpetual felicity and eternal life as a reward for good behaviour. By inducing people to trust this promise, it has become one of the most powerful organizations on Earth. Pope Benedict XII

Natural theology might take a more scientific and disinterested view of life, based on common experience: we all experience periods of heaven, periods of hell. and periods in between. Our aim is to understand why this is so, and use this knowledge to promote the experience of heaven on Earth while eliminating hell as far as possible. Experience - Wikipedia

The terms heaven and hell here refer to the two poles personal experience. We follow Thomas Aquinas in seeing heaven as a state of bliss (beatitudoinduced by the vision of God. Aquinas 600

The Catholic Church reinforces the attraction of heaven with a very repulsive picture of Hell. Jesus started the trend with frequent references to 'Gehenna', eg Mark 9:47: 'And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell [gehenna], where their worm does not die not their fire go out.' When I was a child the Passionist Fathers spent hours elaborating on the pains of hell, trying to scare us into obedience. Pope Benedict XII made Hell official in the Constitution referenced above. Gehenna - Wikipedia, Passionist - Wikipedia

There seem to be no grounds for believing in this hell, which is reminiscent of the sort of revenge absolutists take on those who oppose them. Nevertheless, life includes hellish experiences, ranging from war and natural catastrophe through emotional disasters to minor injuries. From a scientific point of view, it seems best to conceive these hells as a consequences of error rather than judicial punishment meted out by God. Nevertheless, given that the Universe is divine, disasters caused by human error can be conceived as judgement from God.

Reducing hell can thus be seen as error correction. Often we do not have a lot of control over our personal feelings, but there is a strong connection between out internal state (feeling) and our external environment. We can reduce painful experience by working to prevent the physical events that lead to such experience. The control of hell thus becomes an exercise in improving health and safety.

If hell is the spiritual equivalent of loss, we can correlate heaven with profit, when income greater than the cost of production. The heavenly feature of horticulture and agriculture is that if all goes well, we will harvest much more than we sowed. The search for heaven correlates with the search for productivity, that is searching for more good for less effort.

Despite enormous increases in material productivity, many people in the modern western world feel that they are working harder for less real quality of life. Although our material productivity is high, our spiritual productivity measured by human experience seems low, a circumstance that points to error in our spiritual system. Human Development Index - Wikipedia, Deakin University | Robert Cummins: On Quality of Life

The problem seems obvious. Human spiritual health is nurtured by a plethora of religions, many in conflict with one another on one or more points of doctrine and practice. Given that God is one, this suggests that at least some of our religions are wrong in some places. The conflict between religions translates to conflicts between people. All the losses associated with these conflicts stunt the spiritual growth of the world. Religious experience - Wikipedia

The answer seems equally obvious. The traditional religions maintain their differences mainly by appealing to invisible authorities. If we accept that the Universe is divine, theology can become a real science working on a visible God, and, because the Universe is one, theology will eventually become unified as the other empirical sciences have done.

Given theological unity, we can ultimately expect religious unity The function of a religion is to unite a group of people with their environment to increase their fitness. Our natural environment is one planet. Our fitness will be maximized when our human environment is also one, that is when we are all peers on the human network. Under these circumstances, we all have a vested interest in minimizing error on the network by helping one another .

Natural theology suggests that peace and profit are both gifts from God, since they result from the way the Universe is structured, that is from the nature of God. Because God has a definite nature which we can partly understand, we can minimize hell by reasonable evidence based action. Heaven can then flower, driven by the natural exhuberance that we harvest from the Sun

(revised 28 May 2013)

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Further reading


Click on the "Amazon" link below each book entry to see details of a book (and possibly buy it!)

Leigh, G J, The World's Greatest Fix: A History of Nitrogen and Agriculture, Oxford University Press 2004 Preface: 'In the current world, knowledge is rarely valued for itself, and much more often for its commercial potential. Nevertheless, for nearly 30 years my colleagues and I had the immense privilege of studying a challenging problem with a minimum of bureaucratic interference. During this time I became aware that we were all members of a long line of investigators that stretched back for thousands of years. Each of us saw the problem of soil fertility, expressed for us as the conundrum of biological nitrogen fixation, in a different way, and each of us added a small brick to the imposing edifice of modern agricultural science. I have attempted to show in this book how human beings have solved the problems relating to soil fertility, using imagination, ingenuity and understanding of how the world works. ... ' 
Lonergan, Bernard J F, and (edited by Frederick E Crowe and Robert M Doran, Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St Thomas Aquinas, Jacket: "Grace and Freedom represents Lonergan's entry into subject matter that would occupy him throughout his lifetime. At the same time it is a manifestation of the thinking that has made him one of the world's foremost Thomist scholars. ... Lonergan's thesis is that from the sixteenth century onwards, commentators on Thomas Aquinas lacked historical consciousness, raised questions that Thomas had never considered, and obfuscated the issues. Lonergan's achievement consists in having retrieved the actual postion by adopting a historical approach that has reconstructed [Thomas's] intellectual development on grace. ... What Lonergan also adds is a unique diagnosis of the mistakes made by the modern scholastic authors in their treatment of grace. Throughout this work, Lonergan discovers in Thomas a mind in constant development, displaying radical shifts on fundamental questions. ... ' 
Lovelock, James, Ages of Gaia: A Biography of our Living Earth, W W Norton 1995 'This book describes a set of observations about the life of our planet which may, one day, be recognised as one of the major discontinuities in human thought. If Lovelock turns out to be right in his view of things, as I believe he is, we will be viewing the Earth as a coherent system of life, self regulating and self-changing, a sort of immense living organism.' Lewis Thomas 
Moore, Thomas, Care of he Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, HarperPerennial 1994 Introduction: 'The great malady of the twentieth century, imlicated in all our troubles and afecting us individually and socially, is 'loss of soul." When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it. We have today few specialists of the soul to advise us when we succumb to moods and emotional pain, or when as a nation we find ourselves confronting a host of threatening evils. But within our history we do have remarkable sources of insight from people who wrote explicitly about the nature and needs of the soul, and so we can look to the past for guidance in restoring this wisdom. In this book I will draw on that past wisdom, taking into account how we live now, to show tht by caring for the soul we can find relief from our distress and discover deep satisfaction and pleasure. ...' page xi 
Aquinas 600 Summa I II, 2, 8: Whether any created good constitutes's man's happiness? 'I answer that, It is impossible for any created good to constitute man's happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man's appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man's will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Psalm 102:5: "Who satisfieth thy desire with good things." Therefore God alone constitutes man's happiness.' back
Christian Eschatology - Wikipedia Christian Eschatology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The major issues and events in Christian eschatology are: death and the afterlife, heaven and hell, the return of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, the end of the world, the last judgment, and the new heaven and new earth of the World to Come. Eschatological passages are found in many places in the Bible, both in the Old and the New Testaments. There are also many extrabiblical examples of eschatological prophecy, as well as church traditions.' back
Deakin University | Robert Cummins Australian Centre on Quality of Life 'Quality of life is emerging as a central construct within many disciplines, such as those comprising the social sciences, economics, and medicine. Its attractions, in part, is that it offers an alternative to some traditional disciplinary views about how to measure success. First, it directs attention onto the positive aspects of people's lives, thus running counter to the deficit orientation of these disciplines. Second, it extends the traditional objective measures of health, wealth, and social functioning to include subjective perceptions of well-being.' back
End time - Wikipedia End time - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The end time, end times, or end of days is a time period described in the eschatological writings in the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and in doomsday scenarios in various other non-Abrahamic religions. In Christianity, the End Times are often depicted as a time of tribulation that precedes the Second Coming of the Christian "saviour" or a "hoped-for deliverer", Jesus, the Christian Messiah, who will usher in the fullness of the World to Come and Kingdom of God and bring an end to suffering and evil and all things wrong with the current world which is tainted by Original Sin.' back
Experience - Wikipedia Experience - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Experience as a general concept comprises knowledge of or skill in or observation of some thing or some event gained through involvement in or exposure to that thing or event.[1] The history of the word experience aligns it closely with the concept of experiment. For example, the word experience could be used in a statement like: "I have experience in fishing". The concept of experience generally refers to know-how or procedural knowledge, rather than propositional knowledge: on-the-job training rather than book-learning. Philosophers dub knowledge based on experience "empirical knowledge" or "a posteriori knowledge".' back
Gehenna - Wikipedia Gehenna - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Gehenna (Greek γέεννα), Gehinnom (Rabbinical Hebrew: גהנום/גהנם) and Yiddish Gehinnam, are terms derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Hebrew: גֵיא בֶן־הִנֹּם or גיא בן-הינום); one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City. In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba'als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6). In both Jewish and Christian writing, Gehenna was a destination of the wicked.[1] This is different from the more neutral Sheol/Hades, the abode of the dead, though the King James version of the Bible translates both with the Anglo-Saxon word Hell.' back
Holy See Catechism of the Catholic Church 'PROLOGUE "FATHER,... this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Jn 17 3
"God our Saviour desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Tim 2:3-4.
"There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" Acts 4:12 - than the name of JESUS.
Human Development Index - Wikipedia Human Development Index - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic used to rank countries by level of "human development" and distinguish "very high human development", "high human development", "medium human development", and "low human development" countries. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare. It is used to distinguish whether the country is a developed, a developing or an under-developed country, and also to measure the impact of economic policies on quality of life. There are also HDI for states, cities, villages, etc. by local organizations or companies.' back
Last Judgement - Wikipedia Last Judgement - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The Last Judgment, Final Judgment, Day of Judgment, Judgment Day, or The Day of the Lord in Christian theology, is the final and eternal judgment by God of every nation.[1] The concept is found in all the Canonical gospels, particularly the Gospel of Matthew. It will purportedly take place after the resurrection of the dead and the Second Coming of Christ . This belief has inspired numerous artistic depictions.' back
Passionist - Wikipedia Passionist - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The Passionists (The Congregation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ) are a Roman Catholic religious institute founded by Saint Paul of the Cross (Paul Francis Danei). Professed members use the initials C.P. after their names.' back
Pope Benedict XII Apostolic Constitution "Benedictus Deus" 29 January 1336 ' By this constitution which is to remain forever in force, We with Our apostolic authority . . . We define that after this intuitive and face to face vision has or will have begun for those souls, the same vision and enjoyment remains continuously without any interruption or abolition of the vision and enjoyment and will remain up until the final judgment, and from then on forever.' back
Religious experience - Wikipedia Religious experience - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Religious experience (sometimes known as a spiritual experience, sacred experience, or mystical experience) is a subjective experience in which an individual reports contact with a transcendent reality, an encounter or union with the divine.' back is maintained by The Theology Company Proprietary Limited ACN 097 887 075 ABN 74 097 887 075 Copyright 2000-2018 © Jeffrey Nicholls