Saturday, June 28, 2014

Peter van Inwagen & the Resurrection of the Body

I'm quickly growing to love this topic. In preparing for my presentation at the Rethinking Hell conference I've shifted my thinking on many a Christian topic. Not in regards to anything that would contradict Scripture or the Creeds, but on more ancilarry items that affect how I regard a lot of secondary doctrines. 

But that's not why you clicked the link.

Peter van Inwagen is quite helpful in this area for me, and I count him as both a mentor and a bit of a guide in the dark in regards to philosophy; an area I am woefully untrained in. This was his unpublished paper and I present part of it for your viewing pleasure. 

Please read and enjoy.

Van Inwagen:

Most people in most cultures believe in a life beyond the grave. They tell stories about it. But not all cultures tell the same story. Some cultures tell stories of reincarnation or metempsychosis. In our western culture there is a tendency to tell stories of the sort we see in the movie Ghost (you may remember it: Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Swayze, and Demi Moore). 

In this movie, dead people rise from their corpses, and have a kind of diaphanous existence. They look like human beings (to anyone who can see them at all), but they are able to pass through living people and walls and other solid things. (Why don’t they fall through the floor, then? You may well ask.) And, of course, they are for the most part invisible to the living. Eventually, bright beings summon them to ascend a beam of light to heaven, or dark, gibbering creatures drag them screaming off to hell. This is, I am afraid, exactly the picture of the afterlife that is current among undergraduates at Notre Dame, although they might be willing to admit that the visual representation of disembodied souls in the movie was either symbolical or what might be called cinematic license. Most of them, every Sunday and major feast day, say the words, “I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” And every time they are present at the baptism of a child, they promise to help the parents and godparents of the newly baptized bring the child up in a faith one of whose tenets is (they say these words), “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” But these words mean nothing to them. They say them, but they are getting no more meaning out of them than a famous six-year-old did from another well- known text; reciting the Lord’s Prayer, he said, “And lead us not into Penn Station.” A few days ago, I heard a speech by the President of Notre Dame about the difficulties of teaching theology to Notre Dame undergraduates. President Malloy remarked sententiously that we cannot presuppose, as we once could, that our students will bring some degree of catechetical formation to the study of theology. I don’t think he knows the half of it. 

This picture of death and immortality, the Hollywood-and-Notre-Dame- undergraduate picture, is, I believe, very far from the biblical picture of death and immortality. According to the bible, God formed us out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into us. When, in punishment for our rebellion against him we die and return to the dust out which he raised our first parents, we’re just, well . . . dead. 
For the rest, enjoy it here. The paper is the first one beneath the label Philosophy of Religion.


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