Assumptions are inevitable and unavoidable. One assumes that other drivers are not going to run stop signs and red lights. One assumes that the floor one was standing on yesterday will not give way today. The food that sustained us yesterday will not poison us today. We make innumerable assumptions on faith without evidence, or with weak evidence, and without them we cannot continue to live our lives.
Goedel’s theorem and Aristotle’s notion of first principles formally acknowledge our reliance on assumptions that can’t be proven. As a result of Goedel’s Theorem, mathematicians have to acknowledge that they can’t prove mathematics to be true – one area of life that might seem to be the most provable. Similarly, one can’t use logic to prove that logic is a legitimate way of finding things out about the world – one can’t rely on the truth of the very thing one is trying to prove true or not. For the same reason, one can’t meaningfully question whether one is conscious or not, or whether one has free will or not – since, logically, one is assuming that one is freely arriving at one’s conclusion.
So, why might one believe in God? At the heart of the matter seems to be a kind of intuition not susceptible to argument. Confusingly, intuitions differ between people and they may even differ at different times in our lives. These intuitions seem to be much more important than arguments either for or against the existence of God. Arguments usually seem to come after the fact – after one has effectively made up one’s mind for or against.
I had a conversion experience around the age of twenty eight. The idea of God had up until then not seemed to conform to what I thought I knew about reality – some of those thoughts being the product of skeptical attitudes imbibed in high school and university. My public high school, I felt, seemed to have some huge belief in the prosaic nature of existence; that life was far less interesting than some stupid teenage might imagine it to be.
In my conversion, I suddenly discovered that I could believe in things I had previously thought I could not. I now saw the point of God. I realized that the notion of the sacred has no adequate synonym in non-religious vocabulary and is itself enough to justify a belief in God. My father pointed out that love is connection, linking ‘God is love’ to the notion that all is one, an idea that had always appealed. The notion of Logos/God as the cosmic principle of order and also seemed congenial. The fact that Plato and Jesus, the two biggest reformers of our ideas about morality, claimed experience of the transcendent to be the source of their knowledge also played a role in confirming my newfound belief in God. I later found that morality and moral realism could only be sustained by a pervasive intrinsic goodness in the universe that is not explainable naturalistically.
Rational theology is little more than the notion that things make sense – the same faith that scientists need to have. Anything that directly contradicts the actual findings of science is thrown out or modified. So, rational theology must reject the existence of hell as a place of eternal damnation. Hell is inconsistent with a belief in a loving God. Hell paints God as a sadist, endlessly torturing his victims for as little as not believing in Him, though otherwise living exemplary lives. Hell suggests that God can hold an eternal grudge and will not accept a sincere desire to turn one’s life around and repent. Thus, God would be less of a man, so to speak, than the father of the Prodigal Son. God’s love would be less unconditional than this. Hell lacks a sense of proportion – the punishment being more severe than any possible infraction. Most importantly, the putative existence of hell severely interferes with free will and love. For love to be meaningful, not loving must be a possibility. Your love for me means something and is valuable because you could choose not to. If your love stemmed from compulsion, it wouldn’t be love at all. The threat of hell is the ultimate example of duress.
The idea that we come from nonexistence and die into nonexistence would seem to make life pretty pointless. Anything we had learned would be extinguished. Our coming into existence would be mere chance and the lack of continuity after death would make life less meaningful and make less sense. On top of this can be added actual evidence for the existence of an afterlife. These include deathbed visitations, where dying people are visited and comforted by deceased relatives – deceased relatives sometimes seen by hospital staff and later picked out of photographs as the people they had seen. These kinds of visitations also occur to seemingly sane and calm people, sometimes at the exact time of death unknown to the visited person. Near death experiences are frequent and offer evidence of the continuity of consciousness after the brain has ceased functioning as evidenced by patients recalling the conversations of medical staff while the brain has no blood flow, no oxygen and no recordable EEG readings and in some cases while their eyes are taped shut and their ears plugged with mini-speakers. Certain mediums have been found by top scientists to be reliable and communications with the dead to be legitimate.
There is also evidence for reincarnation. Many children have recalled past lives. One memorable story involves a three year old boy who was repeatedly found screaming and kicking upwards in his sleep. He told his parents that he was re-experiencing being burned to death in the cockpit of his World War II plane on an island off the coast of Japan. The cockpit cover wouldn’t come off and he was kicking at is with his legs. Later research and contact with a veteran who had been on the same aircraft carrier, confirmed that boy’s story fit the known facts.
An Australian documentary had a film crew follow some Australian housewives who under hypnosis remembered past lives in England, Scotland and France. In each case the women related events consistent with facts that they could not have known about otherwise. One woman remembered being a male doctor in Scotland and could accurately remember the layout of the hospital where he had worked despite the fact that the building had been extensively remodeled and only one person who worked in the library had access to the original blue prints of the building. This person confirmed the accuracy of what the woman said.
So, my views on reincarnation are a combination of rational reflection and evidence. I had also thought that one could only be as happy in heaven as one was on Earth. Following the notion that wherever you go, there you are, this had seemed to make sense. I have revised this belief thanks to Michael Newton’s book ‘Journey of Souls,’ based on past-life regressions and inter-life memories gleaned through hypnosis. After hundreds of these hypnosis sessions, Newton claims that we are a combination of a soul mind and physical mind. The soul mind enters the embryo at around three months old. The physical mind contributes a temperament (calm, excitable, easily placated, irascible, introverted, extroverted, etc.), a will to survive, and emotions like fear and anger. The soul mind contributes a moral sense, an imagination and intuition. There may be a conflict between the soul mind and the temperament of the physical mind and the soul mind might give up, handing control to the more beastial physical mind.
This bifurcation between different kinds of minds makes rational sense, giving the soul multiple opportunities to learn. Having just one chance, in one lifetime, to get things right and living with the consequences of having an imperfect soul for all eternity does not make sense. Having as many opportunities to perfect one’s soul as one needs seems much more plausible and fair. But changing up these opportunities by changing one’s parents and social environment and mixing the soul mind with different physical minds avoids redundant repetition and minimizes the chances of getting stuck in self-destructive cycles.
Talking about a physical mind seems consistent with what we know about the brain so far. Things like walking, talking, anything to do with the senses, etc., all seem to be related to specific areas of the brain. I.e., physical abilities are relatively localizable, while more characteristically mental abilities, like remembering and understanding are not similarly localizable.
Newton suggests that upon death the physical mind and the soul mind separate. All memories of what was said, and thought and done while the two minds were united are retained. I have seen it claimed in multiple sources that there is a life review where one is asked to assess how well one has lived. This is not a judgment passed upon you by someone else. This is your own assessment. One assessment tool is to experience everything you made other people feel in the course of your life. This would mean that someone like Hitler would have to experience firsthand all the pain and suffering that he had inflicted on other people. While not intended as a punishment, I can’t help imagining that it would be pretty horrible and a terrific kind of justice.
If it’s true that we as embodied on Earth are this combination so described, then our lives in the afterlife, in ‘heaven,’ will be a lot nicer. This is because with the death of the physical mind, fear and anger cease. Lying is not possible. You return to your more eternal nature as a soul mind where hatred and negative emotions are not possible. You are not perfect and so your happiness will not be perfect, but it will be better than while you are embodied. Each of our incarnations is unique and not repeated. The soul mind is reincarnated but the physical mind will be contributing the rest, making each experience distinct. Simple repetition makes no sense and is redundant, therefore we can conclude it does not occur.
Hitler had a kind of punishment; a kind perfectly fitted to his crimes. He, as that combination of soul mind and physical mind has ceased, though his soul mind retains the memories of what he did. I’m not entirely sure how or why it is that psychopaths exist, but since all incarnations are a learning experience (why else bother?) I’m assuming that there is some point. Whether psychopaths are simply born with a malfunctioning brain, or whether psychopathy occurs when the influence of the soul mind has been lessened, I don’t know.
The reasons for incarnation are related to what the soul mind needs to learn. Based on the recollections of someone who worked in a soul nursery, Newton describes a process whereby souls are like sparks broken off from a divine source; each one unique. Some come into existence and immediately are reabsorbed; others are deemed suitable for continued existence. Some never leave this realm, being too weak for one reason or another. Others begin the process of incarnation where lessons are learned and negative tendencies overcome. Each lifetime being a chance to correct certain characteristics like greed, or jealousy, until the soul has reached a point where further incarnations are unnecessary and one continues by being of service to other souls, serving as guides and mentors, slowly coming closer to the divine Source.
Richard Cocks teaches philosophy with key interests in ethics, metaphysics and consciousness from Platonic, Christian and Buddhist perspectives, with an especial interest in canonical works of Western Civ.