Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky
NEW CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY
original was published in Russian: ALEV-V Publishing House,
GOOD AND THE “FUNDAMENTAL PARADOX OF CHRISTIANITY”
We have already spoken about the illegitimacy of the philosophic application of the juridical principle: if not proved, does not exist. But, unfortunately, many contemporary philosophers (especially followers of Existentialism and Postmodernism) use the similar principle, trying to convince us that, from the scientific point of view, the concepts “good” and “evil” are as relative as “right” and “left”. If we develop this idea in the strict logical direction, it turns out inevitably that there is neither good nor evil.
A great number of examples may be cited. Is the atomic energy good or evil? It can either bring electric energy or destroy the mankind...
Even if we are guided by the simplest determination of good as a creative principle and evil as a destructive one, anyway many objects and substances may not be referred to either. For example, fire: it is possible to prepare food on it, but it also can burn a house.
It is possible to say that the matter is not an object itself, but its usage is the object, and good or evil depend, first of all, upon people.
Such is the case, but even having turned from “good” or “evil” objects to “good” or “evil” acts, we shall not be able to determine anything unambiguously.
A simple example. An old man suddenly fell amidst of a street. People rushed to his help, lifted, carried to a bench in order not to let him lie on the asphalt, called the ambulance, but doctors arrived and verified the death of heart seizure: as it is well-known, a man with the heart seizure may not be carried, it is better not to touch him at all. If he had been left to lie on the asphalt until the doctors arrived, most probably he would have remained alive. Let us ask: good or evil was done by the people?
Jaroslav Hasek in his novel “The Good Soldier Schweik” cited such a tragic example (used in a comic context though): a man found a freezing dog in a winter street, felt sorry for the dog and brought it home. And the dog had been rabid, and when it warmed up, it bit everyone in the house, dragged a baby out of his cradle and nagged. Let us ask: is good worth committing? May be, that one is right, who lives by the saying: “Don’t commit good, and you won’t get evil”?
One more example: somewhere in
It is possible to cite endlessly such “life” examples, confirming the relativity and ambiguity of good and evil. From the social point of view, we commit rather evil than good, even giving a charity to a pauper (all the more to a child-beggar).
But, nevertheless, we give the charity, and help people who have fallen in a street, and save freezing dogs... It is most important that we do that, first of all, intuitively, not thinking about the philosophic questions.
So, what is going on? Why does our intuition disagree with contemporary achievements of philosophy, the “science of sciences”, which tell us about the relativity and the ambiguity of good and evil?
And the point is that we have come again to the shank of philosophy – the moral imperative. Any speculative conclusions may be done around it, but at the subconscious, intuitive level it says, – Help your neighbor! Save the drowning man, not thinking if he is a good or evil person!
Sometimes it really happens that the moral imperative plays a role, which is rather negative than positive: all over the world, visitors of Zoo (not only the children) try to feed animals, knowing at the same time that animals get enough food and may feel badly or even die because of the overeating...
But, nevertheless, something makes people feed polar bears with rolls, and I can not lift my hand to cast a stone at that people. Today they feed animals in Zoo, and tomorrow they will possibly save a hungry mongrel...
A temptation arises to call the theory of probability for help and to say that, for example, if we lift a man who has fallen in a street, good will be committed with 99% probability, and evil – with only 1%. But in actual fact, of course, it is impossible to calculate these percents, so the subconscious expression of the moral imperative remains in any case the only instrument of the understanding of good and evil.
But we have already seen that philosophy is the worldview of specific people, so let us not go away from these positions.
So let us state: good is determined by people’s thoughts and acts, which conform to the moral imperative. Accordingly, evil is determined by thoughts and the acts, which do not conform to it.
The shank is to be somewhere inside an object. The degree of the approaching to the shank of person – the moral imperative – may be different, and therefore there are no unambiguously good or evil thoughts and acts, like there is no absolutely white or absolutely black color. But it does not mean that we have no right to use the concepts “white” and “black”, although with some approximation, which is conditioned by the certain situation. It is possible to say the same about good and evil.
In that case, if we speak about the moral imperative as about the source of good, we must try to answer the question: does Christianity conform to it? Is it an adequate expression of the moral imperative?
Bluntly speaking, did Jesus Christ teach the world good, only good and nothing except good?
In the beginning of the third millennium, the essence of Jesus’ teaching is intuitively understandable almost for everyone. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5); “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9); “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44); “Thou shalt love thy neighbour like thyself” (Matt. 21:39)... Seemingly, the evident things.
But those things became evident for the majority of people not long ago – only after the Reformation. Before that, the key points in the teaching of Christ were highlighted in quite another way. Let us remember the fires of the Inquisition, the Society of Jesus, the claims of Churches for state government and other similar facts of the medieval (and not only medieval) life. Unfortunately, all that facts also were based on cunningly selected quotations of the Bible.
A typical example is Jesus’ phrase, on which the Inquisition’s activity was based: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). An evident parable is present, but because of literal and, moreover, unfair interpretations of these words thousands of people were faggoted.
And Muhammad, having created Koran, quite logically based it on some books of the Bible, but the religion turned to be absolutely another...
So, it is necessary to understand the teaching of Christ as correctly as possible, and it is not as simple as it can seem at first sight.
Therefore, our methodological point of view must issue from the task, which demands a solution, i.e. from the necessity of understanding of Jesus’ teaching. I accentuate – exactly of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, but neither teachings of the “Fathers of the Church” (Augustine, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus and many others), nor teachings even of the Evangelists or Apostle Paul.
It may seem that the latter statement makes the task insoluble: on what can we base in the understanding of Jesus’ teaching, if not on the evidences of the Apostles, who listened to Christ’s words directly?
But in actual fact, there is no principal insolubility: to listen does not necessarily mean to understand correctly. The correct understanding usually is not required of the witnesses, they have the duty to impart, what they heard, and the interpretation is quite another task.
In principle, a witness and an interpreter may be the same person (as in the case of John the Evangelist), but our methodology must be here also the same: the separate examination of evidences and interpretations. If we use the concept “evidence”, then we must not exceed the limits of jurisprudence, which say that honest evidences are facts, and interpretations may be conditioned by momentary causes, personal features of an interpreter, a lack or surplus of information and a great number of other factors.
We have already shown that we have no basis for doubting in the honesty of the Evangelists. Therefore, we must firstly examine the evidences, and then any interpretations. That will be our methodology of working with the Holy Scripture, and with its help, we shall try to solve the most acute problem, which may be named the “fundamental paradox of Christianity”.
The point is that in the Gospels there are a number of Jesus’ phrases, which at first sight cast doubt on good and love – the moral basis of Christianity.
Let us give some examples.
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword, for I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:34-37).
“I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened to be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father...” (Luke 12:49-53).
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26);
“For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:26-27).
“And another of his disciples saith unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:21-22).
“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:29-30).
These are only some of many Christ’s phrases, which in no way accord with the idea of his teaching as of the most adequate expression of the moral imperative – good, only good and nothing except good.
However, these phrases relate to common, “earthly” life. It would have been possible either not to notice them or to interpret somehow and to stop at that. But the situation is much more complicated, because even the key Christian concepts of the retribution in the “life of the world to come” (the “life after life”), – paradise for good, hell for evil, – contradict to the moral imperative.
Let us quote Jesus’ story about the beggar Lazarus as an illustration, which is tremendous in its uncompromising stand and even with some kind of “black humour”.
“There was a certain rich man... And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores...
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31).
At last, let us remember some more Jesus’ “kind” words:
“Ye serpents, ye generations of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23, 33).
“Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
We see a frank, paradoxical discrepancy between quoted Christ’s words and his teaching of love and good!
Actually, if sinners are waited by God’s punishment in the form of hell, there takes place the Old Testament’s principle of the retribution of evil for evil: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hell for sins.
But didn’t Christ himself say: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also...” (Matt. 5:38-39)? Didn’t he also say that it is necessary to forgive neighbors infinitely (Matt. 18:22; Luke 17:3-4)?
And it turns out that righteous people will eternally enjoy peace and cloudless happiness in heaven, and sinners will eternally suffer in hell without any hope for salvation.
The “fundamental paradox of Christianity” brought also to the theological absurdity. Indeed, if sinners eternally suffer unimaginable tortures, then the expiatory meaning of the crucifixion of Christ comes to naught. The intuitive understanding of justice does not accept that the Savior for all innumerable sins of humanity suffered on the cross during some hours, and some picker for his minor law-breaking is eternally tormented in the hellfire...
Of course, in the view of the modern theoretical philosophy one minute and a thousand years of suffering are almost the same, the cross and a red-hot furnace are also almost the same, sins of one picker and of the whole mankind are also almost the same. But as long as we are examining Christianity in respect to the moral imperative, we have to take into consideration the intuitive understanding of justice – it is also based on the moral imperative.
At the same time, a fundamentally incorrect stereotype of the perception of Christ as a person is created. Even many of historians present Jesus of Nazareth as a bearer of either the Old Testament’s or the Persian-Arabic prophetical tradition. Some kind of dervish-sorcerer shapes, who threatens to punish killers, thieves and corrupt officials by throwing them into red-hot furnaces in hell.
Let us sum up everything aforesaid: the “fundamental paradox of Christianity” brought to the fact that few contemporary educated people seriously believe in blazing inferno and paradise in heaven.
Nature abhors vacuum: teachings of Buddhists, Hinduists, Mexican maguses etc. are immediately offered to us instead of Christianity. A “higher level of perception”, an “Astral vision”, “Karma”, “Chakres”, a “world energy”, the “meditation”, the “reincarnation”... Contemporary people, having an access to any information, do not know where to look first because of the plenty of alternatives. All bookstores are filled up with books about “Astrals” and “Chakres”, and newspapers are dazzled with advertisements, which welcome to courses of magic, of extrasensory or even of shamanism. And we see promises of “other worlds” everywhere.
It turns out that “they” have everything in a logical and actual way, and “we” must still tremble in the face of hell.
The concept of the catastrophic “Doomsday” is also tightly connected with the concepts of heaven and hell, and here the “fundamental paradox of Christianity” yields not only theoretical results, but also much more sorrowful practical ones.
In the first three Gospels, the considerable attention is given to the predictions of the catastrophic “Second Coming” (Matt., chapter 24; Mark, chapter 13; Luke, chapter 17; chapter 21), and it is difficult to argue against them. The Revelation was also written on their basis. Therefore, it seems to turn out that after the death, according to the New Testament, we are awaited by hell tortures with a large probability. And then the “Doomsday” (“Armageddon”) will come, and people will have no place to hide from the hellfire, even if they will not have yet died...
And here are speculations on this fear: I think that everyone remembers at least two-three “loud” predictions of the “Doomsday” and another ten “local” predictions during the last decade. How fruitful this ground is for sectarianism!
For example, you have a chance to be one of 144000 elite righteous people (Rev. 14:1), so enter in a sect like “The White Church of Christ”, give all your property to it and tremble, waiting for the “Last Judgement” and hoping that you will not turn to be 144001st member of this sect and will be in time for heaven. However, there are usually much less members in sects, although there are seemingly about three millions of “Jehova’s witnesses”, and each of them also waits for the “Doomsday”...
Nowadays, sectarianism has somewhat calmed down, rank members are usually only exploited for the welfare of the beloved sect and its leaders, but previously even self-burnings sometimes took place – isn’t it better to torture for some minutes in an earthly fire than eternally – in hell? But hitherto, sometimes we can see on television something similar – either somebody has burnt himself or somebody has self-exploded...
So, the suffering of that unhappy people is an oblique fault of Jesus Christ?
If we do not solve the “fundamental paradox of Christianity”, it will turn out that it is.
Modern attempts of the major world Churches to justify hell tortures sound at best as casuistic, at worst as fondly.
First of all, there is such a “trifle”, as the discrepancy between the “particular” judgement immediately after one’s death with the “Last Judgement” for everyone. Is our Lord unable to reach a correct decision at once?
Theologians of the major Churches traditionally consider that there is a “processual” difference between these judgements.
For example, concerning the “particular” judgement, Basil the New (the 10th century), and after him Pavel Florensky, wrote that angels are standing at one side, the devil at another side of a bed of a departed human, and they are “measuring” good and evil acts of that human. After that, the human soul must pass twenty “toils” (something like the Hellish Circles), where different sins are “presented” to the soul, and it “pays off” by good deeds. If good deeds are sufficient then the soul reach paradise, if not, the soul remains in the circle, where good ceased...
Regarding the “Last Judgement” there is a more “progressive” stereotype of perception, however deriving even from Ephraem Syrus (the 4th century): the judge (Jesus Christ) is sitting on the throne, the “advocate” (an angel) tells him about good acts of a man, the “prosecutor” (the devil) – about sins. And then a final and non-appealable sentence is pronounced.
Hellfire was understood differently by different theologians. Augustine and John Chrysostom interpreted it literally – as unimaginable physical tortures. Basil of Caesarea and John of Damascus were inclined to its symbolic interpretation – as tortures, which are mainly spiritual, but not becoming less painful because of that.
However, for somebody tortures may be less painful, and for somebody – more painful: practically all theologians of the major Churches said that the degree of hell tortures is different for different degrees of depravity. That fully coordinates with the stereotype of the “judgement”.
Any understanding of any “judgement’ and the following hell tortures does not coordinate only with Christian forgiveness (Matt. 5:38-39; 18:22), and any attempt to unite these incompatible concepts leads to the absurdity as a result.
For example, in the 19th century Macarius, metropolitan (archbishop) of
“We say, God is good: how to make eternal tortures of sinners agree with his endless goodness? God is really endlessly good; but goodness is not his only virtue, – he is also endlessly truthful, endlessly holy, endlessly just, and all these perfections, as all the other ones, proportion each other in his acts in respect of creatures... Is it unnatural, if after this manifestation of endless goodness of God in respect of the sinners, at last, the manifestation of his endless truth follows? He does not cease to be good when sinners torture in hell; but in respect of them he does not act according to his goodness, which has already, so to speak, completely poured out on them before and has not called anything worth in them. God acts in respect of sinners according to the absolute truth”.
In other words, the classic of theology of the Orthodox Church considered that in God there is some kind of “balance” of contradictory forces, i.e. God “plays the double game” concerning goodness and truth.
As a matter of fact, that is usually called no goodness, but dishonorableness, and that is inadmissible even in relations between God and “creatures”.
Descartes’ statement “God is no deceiver” is well known. Indeed, any “double-dealing’ and other cunning of God is inappropriate. Goodness of God is truth itself, and it is quite wrongfully to separate them – in that case, it turns out that God’s goodness is not truth, i.e. that God is evil.
Christ said: “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18).
Shall we after these words follow Archbishop Macarius and imagine “good” God, indifferently (possibly even with satisfaction) committing sinners to terrible tortures, and then indifferently (possibly even with satisfaction) looking at them?
I do not want to say that Christ was not right, threatening sinners with hell and the catastrophic “Doomsday”.
But I want to say that we understood him incorrectly. I shall try to explain this.
Let us think: Christianity exists during two thousand years. Is it much or little?
The first thought is that it is little. Really, our planet exists during some billions years. Dinosaurs lived approximately hundred million years ago, Neanderthal men – some tens thousand, and Christ – “only” two thousand...
But in fact, on the scale of human civilization it is much. Very much. Since the Great Egyptian Pyramids until Christ, no much more time passed then since Christ till our days. And since Moses until Christ, much less – about one thousand three hundred years.
No less than one third, even almost a half of the “conscious life”, the mankind has lived with Christianity.
And up to now there was neither the “Doomsday”, nor the “Second Coming”, though Christ said: “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34), and John the Evangelist, in the Revelation, described all horrors as coming quite soon.
Of course, it is possible to interpret thousand years of Christ’s Kingdom (Rev. 20:3) as having begun either with Jesus’ birth or with his resurrection (what was done in the Middle Ages). It turned out that the “Last Judgement” was to fall on 1000–1030. The panic was unbelievable in the beginning of the second millennium, but nothing happened.
In the 14th century, the “calculations” were conducted from 313, the “Edict of Milan” of Constantine the Great, and the “Doomsday” was foretold to occur in 1313, but nothing happened again.
In the end of the 20th century dodgers-casuists found hints to
So, shall we wait longer? Until 2030? Or one thousand years more?
Or, possibly, it is time to understand what Christ meant really?
Yes, without the strict opposition “paradise for good – hell for evil”, it would have been hard for Christ to “knock” at the hearts of millions of little educated people in the beginning of our era.
Furthermore, Jesus of Nazareth could not do without the prophecy of the forthcoming “Doomsday” – didn’t he preach as the Christ-Messiah, in the context of the Old Testament canonical tradition? And in Jesus’ time the religion of Jewish people was built on the basis of the expectation of the Messiah, who was to come to the Earth with fulmination, save righteous people and sit on the right hand of God. Even the fact that Jesus named paradise “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) refers to the Old Testament tradition.
But under the pretext of the Old Testament’s Messiah, the world obtained no triumph of one nation, but the Christian teaching of good and love.
We understood for a long time ago that Christ gave his teaching not only to Jews, but also to other people.
We understood for a long time ago that hell is not a big brazier in the center of Earth, and paradise is not situated on clouds and is not inhabited by angels with wings.
We understood for a long time ago that if the “Doomsday” even comes, then it will come not in the least necessarily during the life of our generation or in the next millennium.
We understood much during these two thousand years, but through the habit we are still going on perceiving the Christian teaching of heaven, hell and the “Doomsday” as it was “in order” in the Middle Ages.
So let us understand at last that the Old Testament’s principle of the retribution of evil for evil (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hell for sins), which is supposedly supported by the hard-edged words of Jesus, has a relation neither to his teaching nor to his person.
And the proof turns out to be quite simple here.
Christ said: “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). In other words, it is possible to judge people only according to the results of their acts.
“Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake” (John 14:11).
Let us examine the following example: many contemporary people are “confused” by Jesus’ wonders – numerous healings (Matt. 4:24; 8:2; 9:2; Mark 5:41; Luke 17:14 etc.), five loaves of bread and two fishes for five thousand men (Mark 6:33-44), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) and others.
I would like to reassure the most categorical skeptics: let us not forget that Jesus, as the Messiah, “was to” work wonders necessarily. Prophets foretold that (Is. 29:18; 61:1-2), and if Jesus even had not worked wonders, this would have been thought out by his followers and worshippers.
Wonders were worked also by the Old Testament’s prophets (1 Kin. 17:21; 2 Kin. 4:41; Dan. 6:16 etc.), and by Apostles (Acts 3:6; 8:6; 19:11 etc.), and by early Christian martyrs. Historiographers of that time usually “decked” acts of all “good” preachers in that way.
Nevertheless, towards the end of this book we shall understand that there was nothing “mystic”, particularly “antiscientific” in Jesus’ wonders.
But now the following is of the fundamental importance for us: if Christ worked wonders or not, in each case the wonders underlie to the context of his teaching of good and love, and that is enough. Moreover, the Gospels’ descriptions of Jesus’ wonders are one of the main proofs of the fact that Christ brought a system of value of good and love to the mankind.
And if to speak about “practical results” of Christ’s earthly activity, there were a number of healings, the raising of Lazarus and no instance of causing evil to people.
Let us cite an example: Jesus was not received in some Samaritan village, “and when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as E-li’as did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:52-56).
For comparison, let us notice that the Old Testament’s prophet Elias killed a hundred warriors only because they asked him to go to the king with them (2 Kin. 1:10-12).
And there is even a more typical episode of the life of Prophet Elisha, who also became famous for a number of wonders and had a considerable political authority.
“And as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said into him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned backed, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them” (2 Kin. 2:23-24).
Is there a difference between the life’s position of Jesus and of the greatest Old Testament’s prophets? I should say: the fundamental.
It was not so simple to conceive the teaching of Christ as the system of value exclusively of good and love, and even the Apostles were not able to do it at once. We have just remembered that they proposed to Christ to destroy the Samaritan village (Luke 9:54).
Let us remember one more instance when, soon after Jesus’ ascension, Apostle Peter practically murdered Ananias and Sapphira, who had concealed from the Church a part of money, which was gained for the sold possession (Acts 5:1-11). But this sorrowful episode was the first and last in the New Testament.
Sometimes one more episode is mentioned – when Apostle Paul blinded the sorcerer, but that blinding had the form of a “lesson” and was temporary (Acts 13:11). Apostle Paul was also temporary blinded in his time (Acts 9:8).
But Apostle John the Evangelist, having written in the middle of the 60s the ominous Revelation, in twenty–thirty years came to the fourth Gospel, where nothing is said about either the catastrophic “Last Judgement” or the hellfire!
“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
“And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29).
“Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust” (John 5:45).
“And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39).
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).
“And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, has one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:47-48).
And nothing more.
Apostle Paul in his Epistles also said nothing about the hellfire, considering the death as the worst punishment for sins (Rom. 6:23), moreover, interpreting the death symbolically (Rom. 7:8-13; 7:24; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). We are in to discuss this in our book soon.
And now let us explain why John, Paul and other Christ’s contemporaries not at once, but understood the parable sense of the words about hell for sinners.
Firstly, the mostly comprehensive concept of hell in the Gospels (Mark 9:43-46) is used in the direct context of the famous final words of Isaiah: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Is. 66:24). So, Jesus’ concept of hell turns out to be the symbolical fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy.
Secondly, in the Authorized (King James) version of Bible’s translation the traditional word for the world of dead – “hell” (from Old Norse “Hel”) – is used instead of two Greek words: “Hades” (Luke 10:15; 16:23) and “Gehenna” (Matt 5:29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33; Mark 9:43; Luke 12:5).
The word “Hades” sends us directly to the Greek mythology, i.e. has an undoubtedly symbolical character.
And “Gehenna” is only the valley Ge Hennom under the walls of Jerusalem, into which in Jesus’ time the city garbage was thrown and where the fire was constantly burning, as in many heaps in contemporary Eastern countries. And there in King Ahaz’s time the idolaters burnt children in furnaces in honour of Moloch (2 Chr. 28:3), hence in Christ’s words the “furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:42) appeared.
Thirdly, the ominous “Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16) is in fact the small valley Megiddo in Israel. In the ancient history, it turned out that Megiddo became the place of battles not once. The most well-known one took place in 608 BCE, when King Josiah fought against the Egyptian army and was killed (2 Kin. 23:29; 2 Chr. 35:24). Exactly Josiah in his time had ceased idolatry in Ge Hennom and had made there a heap (2 Kin. 23:24; 2 Chr. 34:33).
Summing up the contextually connected concepts of “Gehenna”, “furnace” and “Armageddon”, let us pose a question: how should we perceive today the words that sinners will be thrown into the garbage heap of history? Allegorically. And the words that sinners are waited by the destiny of Napoleon at Waterloo? Also allegorically.
So if already in a half of a century after Christ’s crucifixion, his favorite disciple John the Evangelist did not mention all frightening words about hellfire, then two thousand years later it is all the more possible to interpret Christ’s words about paradise and hell exclusively in the symbolical context of the spiritual uncompromising stand.
Yes, we live in the imperfect earthly world, where the victory of good and love is still very far, and in Christ’s time it was even farther. Yes, the life makes us compromise, and Jesus said: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).
But there must be no spiritual, no moral compromise with evil! “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he would hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).
In this book, we shall have possibility to discuss once more how to understand the “Second Coming”, but now we can say with confidence that it will not bring a hellish catastrophe to anyone. And Jesus’ words about the hellfire mean, firstly, the passionate and convincing appeal for the complete spiritual uncompromising, and secondly, that good leads to good and evil – to evil.
Let us note that all major Churches are gradually coming to similar positions, though with reservations that paradise and hell are however some specific conditions of people after the death, i.e. it will be very good for good people and very bad for bad ones.
But in reality, paradise is the whole spectrum of positive consequences of good both for a man himself and for the outward world. Hell is, accordingly, the whole spectrum of negative consequences of evil.
These spectrums are extremely wide in practice, and we shall touch them on in different aspects, speaking about good and evil, the Kingdom of God, righteousness and eternal life.
But that conclusion permits to solve the “fundamental paradox of Christianity” and to show that the moral imperative is consistently expressed by the Christian spiritual system.
It remains to estimate the importance of the exactly Christian expression of the moral imperative in comparison with other expressions – abstract duty, abstract conscience, abstract goodwill, abstract humanism...
It is possible to enumerate many constituents, but they are only constituents. Christianity absorbs them completely by means of the only one word – spirituality.
In last decades, this word has become common, and few people think about its origin, though using it in tens of different contexts – if not in hundreds. Sometimes this word is identified with religiosity, sometimes with intelligence, sometimes with education, sometimes with art, sometimes with culture...
In each case, it is the characterization of a person, which means the belonging to the highest positive system of value. If we say in our terms, it is the following to the moral imperative.
And now I propose to think about the origin of the word “spirituality”.
An analogy with the word “soul” is inappropriate – the concept “soul” includes character, temperament, knowledge, thoughts and many other things – even that which Descartes named the “Goddamned psyche”.
In short, all people have the soul, but far not everyone may be called as a spiritual human. Some biologists and psychologists consider that animals also have souls (anyhow, its resemblance), but to give a soul to a tiger or a dog – thank God, nobody hit upon this idea.
The words of Ecclesiastes – “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth” (Eccles. 3:21) – are an example of mixed concepts of spirit and soul, and this is exclusively on the conscience of the translators. However, the word “soul” in the Greek philosophy is also often translated as “spirit”.
The word “spirit” has also other meanings, including a mystical shade being. Therefore, let us determine that we speak about the concept “spirit” exclusively in the meaning of “spirituality”.
So where is this concept from? The concept of spirituality, which is endlessly capacious and includes practically all possible aspects of the moral imperative?
Let us get the answer from... the Apostles.
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8:9).
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
“But the natural man receiveth not the not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
“And they did eat the same spiritual meat; and they did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:3-4).
“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).
“Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Gal. 5:22).
“How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 18-19).
As we can see, these quotes contain the practically complete conceptual system, which is connected with all that, which we nowadays, consciously or unconsciously, name spirituality. Apostles Paul and Jude used it, basing on the substantially blurred, but intuitively clear concept of the Holy Spirit.
And in the Gospels, sometimes God the Father is named so (or by its Old English synonym, Holy Ghost – Matt. 1:18), sometimes the Holy Spirit is God’s envoy (Matt. 4:1), even in the form of dove (Luke 3:22). But in the overwhelming majority of cases, the Holy Spirit is exactly that we name spirituality (Luke 4:1; 11:13; John 3:34; 15:26; 16:13 etc.). And we have already quoted the words of Epistles.
Thus, the consideration, which is based on the “copyright”, demands to acknowledge that the word “spirituality” has descended from the Holy Spirit, i.e. belongs exclusively to Christianity. The words “spirituality” and “Spirit” are cognate also in the majority of the European languages.
This confirms the position of Christianity as of the universal system of spiritual value, mostly fully and adequately expressing the moral imperative.
We have examined a considerable material, but all that was only the preparatory stage, – the determination of initial philosophic positions for the further research.
Thus, our initial positions are the following:
Firstly, we accept the existence of God as the source of harmony, expediency and the moral imperative. It is no less provable than the existence of the material world, and from the moral point of view, it is wrongfully to consider the world without God.
Secondly, we have clarified: there is no equivalent alternative to Christianity as of the expression of the moral imperative, and the research of philosophy from the moral point of view inevitably leads to theology.
It follows from all the foresaid that to understand, who we are, where we came from and where we are going, it is necessary to engage in the Christian theology.
Let us, first of all, formulate the “fundamental question of theology”.
It may seem that the fundamental question of theology is the existence of God. But that is not so – the concept of “theology” itself means its acceptance.
As a matter of fact, this question sounds in another way: the existence of what God do we accept? Good or evil? Sole, dual, triple or multiple? Cognizable or incognizable? Active or inactive?..
In parallel with these fundamental problems, we shall examine also “local” ones, which are connected with the Christian doctrines. But the solution of these problems is also necessary, because we, having spoken about Christianity, have not yet determined what it includes.
we have not yet answered the question, raised it the beginning of our book: why
did Christianity in the beginning of the 20th century in
All that we could understand to this moment: there were no objective prerequisites for that losing. Christianity was and remains the most adequate expression of the moral imperative, and speculative ideas of the social justice, put forward by Marx, could not make themselves a serious spiritual competition for the teaching of Christ.
Consequently, some other set of factors came into action, and we shall have to work with them in the nearest future.
Sergey Zagraevsky © 2004