Saturday, November 8, 2008

A consideration against Christian materialism

Christian materialism holds that the human being is a fully material entity, with no immaterial soul. Here is a problem for this view: What happened, on this view, when Christ died? After all, death is the destruction of the body.

Option 1: He ceased to exist. This option is distinctly unsatisfactory theologically—Christians have never believed that. On the contrary, Christians believed he descended into sheol to draw out the souls of those awaiting him there. And if God is omnitemporally eternal, it has the consequence that one of the persons of the Trinity ceased to exist, which is contrary to divine eternity.

Option 2: He ceased to exist qua human. But this simply means that the Incarnation ceased for the second person of the Trinity, and he was back to the state he was before the Incarnation. Since the Incarnation was not a gain for him, neither was this any loss. But then the sacrificial meaning of his death is undercut.

Option 3: He continued to exist, because a chunk, or the whole, of his brain was miraculously preserved, and then that brain piece or that brain descended into sheol to draw out the souls awaiting him. This seems implausible. Moreover, unless something like this happens for all of us (Peter van Inwagen played with this option), then his death was radically different from our deaths, which is theologically problematic. And if this is what happens to all of us, then death is not as evil as it seems—it's really just like an amputation of a lot of one's body, but not of all of it.

Option 4: He continued to exist, and so the Logos was the dead body of Christ. This view is similar to the orthodox view that the dead body of Christ was still united to the divinity. But do we really want to take the further step of saying that the Logos was a dead body?

5 comments:

Roger said...

While I'm not a materialist, option 4 stands out to me as being particularly promising, perhaps in conjunction with something like 3. Meaning, Christ did die, but our idea of death is somehow flawed and incomplete.

By that I mean, imagine world A where resurrection of the dead was an obvious certainty. In world B, it's regarded as a possibility of whatever judged likelihood - but in both world A and B, it's an actual certainty. Would people in world B regard death the same way as in world A? Could it rightly be called 'death' at all?

Personally I find myself leaning towards a thomistic hylomorphism, but I'm always trying to learn more about these things. And I sometimes wonder is more options are available on something analogous to a simulation argument, where (roughly) our world would be viewed as a program, and the divine persons as programmers of sorts. Then again, at that point the question of what qualifies as materialism or naturalism seems to me to be exploded.

Heath White said...

I am quite unsure what to think here, but I wonder if you would expand on this critique of #2, "But then the sacrificial meaning of his death is undercut", because I don't get it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

Doesn't the concept of sacrifice entail that of loss?

Heath White said...

OK, I see what you mean, but now how is this going to work. Suppose we agree that Christ's death has sacrificial significance. Then we must say his death involves loss. Then (I think) we must say that the Incarnation involves gain for the 2nd person of the Trinity. But I am reluctant to say that--God's situation, pre-Incarnation, cannot be improved.

Alternatively, we might say that the death involves loss but not of something gained in the Incarnation; maybe it involves the rejection of the Son by the Father. But that doesn't depend on any materialist commitments.

So I'm not seeing any way to make this a problem for the materialist that's not also a problem for the immaterialist. But it is quite likely that it's there and I'm just not seeing it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

For the dualist (whether of the substance or hylomorphic variety), death is the destruction of a significant part of the person--namely, the whole body. Thus, it is bad for one at least in the way in which it would be bad to have an eye or brain hemisphere destroyed.

Now, could the materialist say the same thing? After all, on the materialist's view, Christ's body is destroyed on the cross, too. However, the destruction of Christ's body, on the materialist's view, is equivalent to a return to the pre-incarnation status quo. And if that were a loss, then the incarnation would seem to have been a gain, which doesn't seem right.

There may be a way out of this maze for the materialist, I guess.

A further, theologically very serious, problem in this vicinity for the materialist is what to do with the doctrine of Christ's descent into hell/hades/sheol.