Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Life has Meaning. Therefore . . .

February 11th, 2016 by G.

For mortal human life to have meaning it seems that there must be both permanence and personal relevance for some things in that life.

If everything is washed away at death, then there can be no meaning – everything is just a momentary spark of sensation – a brief sensation, which might well be a delusion.

If all that is left is located in biological memory, then this depends on brains which are fragile and temporary, and memories are fallible and may be false.

So (for mortal life to have meaning) there must be some realm or place or time in which at least some thing are ‘stored’ permanently (some kind of ‘Platonic’ realm of true reality, beyond the changes and decays of mortal life).

And this must have memories which are true, real, accurate and valid – which means that there must be a possibility of direct, unmediated transmission of information or knowledge.

(Because any ‘normal’ material processes – working by means of the usual perceptions and senses and the usual modalities such as light, sound and touch – must be incomplete and distorted, and indeed may be wholly illusory.)

But an accurate and true reality ‘somewhere’ is not enough – that reality must also be linked to us as individuals, and to our specific mortal lives – or else mortal life is meaningless.

-thus Bruce Charlton


Absolutely right. We know from experience that our actions are meaningful. We experience the meaningfulness directly. But from that fact, eternal life or the existence of a God who cares, or both, inevitably follow.

If death is the end, over the long run, people’s acts can cease to be meaningful. Hundreds of years ago, many, many, many faceless masses of people lived who no one now remembers, not even vaguely. They do not live on in anyone’s hearts. Any effects their actions may have had have been swamped by time and change. If one more or less of them had never been born, it would make no difference. It is as if they never were. That they once may have existed has become meaningless. And what is meaningless in the end is meaningless all along. The apparent meaningfulness in the short term is only apparent. What is true of Groundhog Day is also true of Groundhog Week and Groundhog Month and Groundhog Life. Decisions that converge on nothing mean nothing: the rate of convergence is irrelevant.

But if the soul lives on . . .

-from How Can Anything Be Meaningful?

Comments (4)
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February 11th, 2016 07:18:03

Bruce Charlton
February 11, 2016

I appreciated re-reading that linked piece of yours.

I think that many Christians seem to reduce the whole of mortal life to a binary Pass or Fail: Salvation or Damnation – which apparently implies that actually nothing about mortal life matters except which way the tree falls at the moment of death – because the tree lies where it falls eternally.

So (by this account) life matters (only) because it is a stepping stone to what comes after.

This seems to be linked with the idea of original sin – and that we have to live our mortal lives in order to have a chance (however minute) of escaping our otherwise inevitable fate of Hell.

This, of course, implies that those whose lives are too brief to be saved – or who for whatever reason never have, or miss, the opportunity – are damned by default. And this, rightly, troubled may theologians in the dark and middle ages – the problem of the ‘virtuous pagan’ and of unbaptized Children. It still does trouble many Christians (or would-be Christians) – because it implies a monstrously immoral God who does not even live up to the normal human ethical standards expected of a parent.

Ultimately, I find this (seemingly common) interpretation incompatible with a genuine belief in the goodness of God our Father. Because, really, there is no need for extended mortal life if it is merely to be summated into a binary decision. It makes more sense to go directly to Heaven (or Hell) – or be sent there – without all the pointless messing around of mortal life.

I think it is an error resulting from bad (and unneccessary) metaphysics – and an aspect of the Great Apostasy. It is one of the things which made the Restoration necessary.

The difficulty is that some human lives probably *are* binary – in the sense that they are so brief that they are ‘merely’ a stepping stone: such are simply incarnated to get a body and then die, so as to be able to move to the next stage of exaltation – since there is no imaginable space for any kind of experience, growth, deliberation etc.

Yet of course everybody reading this is confronted with a different set of problems – because their lives are prolonged, conscious, full of experiences and choices…

What makes sense of this must be (I can think of no other plausible explanation) that different souls need different experiences, and our destiny encompasses this. Those who die in the womb, or very young – either got what they needed (based on their pre-mortal state) – or else will be coming around again for a second (third, fourth etc) try.

As Brother LeGrand Richards commented (in that 1971 talk you linked recently) about his ow loss of a young daughter – he suspected that she was already so perfect a soul as not to need a long life, and for a long life never to have been intended for her. This seems very plausible to me – just the kind of thing a loving Father would arrange.

At least, if not exactly so (and I don’t suppose this speculation is at all exact) this would seem to be *the kind of scheme* which a loving God would have devised for us – how he would have set things up here.

i.e. Everything has consequences, there is a destiny; human choices make a difference – but another person’s human choice (eg a murderer) would not be allowed permanently to thwart the spiritual progression of an innocent fetus or child who needed to live longer in order to have experiences which were vital to his or her spiritual progression.

Note: I realize that this scheme includes reincarnation as a kind of ‘back-up’ plan – but since reincarnation is regarded as a *possibility* in scripture (eg the debate about whether John the Baptist was, or was not, Elias reincarnated entails the possibility that he was) I don’t think this is too big a stretch of credibility (and it is a very different thing from the reincarnation as a norm and a necessity which is taken by many non Christian religions).

February 11, 2016

Bruce, there is a binary saved/damned dichotomy on a big picture level: one attains unto exaltation or not. In that sense, those in the two non-exalted lower tiers of the Celestial Kingdom (DC sections 76 and 132) are just as non-exalted as those in the Terrestrial Kingdom and Telestial Kingdom, they just inhabit different places and experience different levels of light and joy until the end of time. (What the “end of time” is, and what happens then is another speculative discussion.)

The scriptures, specifically the NT and the BoM (and maybe the DC) explicitly say that the “heathen” inherit the Celestial Kingdom, though it is unclear if that guarantee means exaltation, or if there is some form of judgment still yet to determine which tier in the CK for those individuals.

Section 76 gives more of a picture of how the Lord will judge and divide everyone up, the NT gives bits and pieces here and there, but it is still not exact, and doesn’t seem to cover all possible situations and combinations. And of course, we can’t see into peoples’ hearts, & don’t know how much light they’ve been given, etc., so we have no basis to judge any particular individual as to what kingdom they will attain.

My point is that it’s all still fuzzy as to who goes where. But the big qualitative difference is between exalted and non-exalted. The quantitative difference is the amount of glory/light found in various divisions of the non-exalted.

As far as I rccall, the scriptures don’t explicitly rule out progression between the kingdoms, but the finality of the language strongly implies against such progression for non-exalted individuals. To “read in” the possibility for progression between kingdoms would require a nuancing and parsing that, as far as I believe, the scriptures do not support.

The phrase “eternal progression” in church parlance has always been strictly limited to the exalted couples, and none else.

As far as I recall, the last over-the-pulpit mention of progression between Kingdoms by an apostle was Bruce R. McConkie, who explicitly ruled it out.

Reincarnation, for a human who has taken at least one breath post-birth has been explicitly ruled out from the pulpit by General Authorities on multiple occasions.

It has been said over the pulpit, by Joseph Smith and many others since, that children who die will be resurrected as children, and continue to “grow up”. I forget if there was a qualifier “before the age of accountability” in there.

Questions as to what happens in cases of miscarriages, stillborns, and abortions, have frequently and consistently received “We don’t know” answers from Apostles. My assumption is that every spirit child of Heavenly Father gets one live mortal birth, no matter how short a life. I get that from extrapolating the “one breath, then resurrected” statement, -and- how the church handles live births versus stillbirths on official church records. (Live births get a church record, stillbirths/miscarriages do not.)

Therefore, whether the fetus was quickened by a spirit, or not, prior to miscarriage/abortion is a moot point. The spirit child that was in, or “intended for” (if that’s possible), the fetus will evenutally get a live birth, somewhere, at some time, to someone. Since Heavenly Father knows the future, it is hard to say if a spirit really was “intended” for a fetus that was not live-born. (I think we have to assume that Heavenly Father has ultimate authority over which spirit-child of His goes into which mortal baby’s body.)

Of course, Heavenly Father can still do things behind the scenes without the need of informing us. Reincarnation may make parent-child sealings tricky. But we don’t know all there is to know about sealings anyway.

You are absolutely right about some spirits being so pure and advanced that they don’t need much of a mortal existence, they only needed to get a body with which to be resurrected. Such has been preached by all the prophets since Joseph Smith. I imagine something similar with people who do live past the age of accountability, but never are truly accountable due to handicap. I assume they accepted a calling to provide testing opportunities for the rest of us.

Bruce Charlton
February 11, 2016

@Books – I don’t really want to persuade anybody about any of this stuff, and probably could not if I tried! It is just a report on the current status of how I am trying to make sense of things.

I myself am quite confident that there *is* post-mortal progression between kingdoms (upward progression, only), and I think there is support for this view – mainly from the whole structure and intent of the plan of salvation – from Heavenly Father’s deepest wishes for His children, and His power to make a scheme of salvation to put those wishes into effect.

Also from Prophetic and Apostolic teachings that people should be confident of post-mortal celestial marriage for those worthy persons who were unable (through no fault) to attain this during mortal life.

In general, I understand mortal life to be minimally about incarnation, death and resurrection after which we must choose salvation.

Prolonged mortal life is about spiritual progression arising from (e.g.) experiences, choices, repentance; and the salvation of others – but I understand such matters to be personal, individual – and more like building a pattern than moving along a linear scale.

As I say, I personally feel quite confident about this. But I would not like to try and prove it to you with texts, when you know the scriptures so much better than I do!

February 11, 2016

BC: good response.

You do raise a point that is an opportunity for further clarification.

Yes, there is port-mortal opportunity for learning or progressing _in the spirit world_ _prior_ to resurrrection. We are often reminded by GAs that missionary work is done in the post-mortal (pre-resurrection) spirit world. We are told that people move from the spirit prison to spirit paradise after they repent and/or pay/suffer for their sins, and accept the gospel. We are told that even more progress is available to them when their proxy temple work is done.

That kind of progress in the spirit world, or learning/doing the things that the person had no opportunity to do in the flesh, is a whole other thing than post-resurrection/post-Judgement Day progress between kingdoms.

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