Thursday, October 13, 2022

On monkeys and exemplar theories of salvation

On “exemplar” theories of salvation, Christ’s work of the cross saves us by providing a deeply inspiring example of love, sacrifice, or the like.

Such theories of salvation have the following unsavory consequence: they imply that it would be possible for us to be saved by a monkey.

For imagine that a monkey typing on a typerwriter at random wrote a fictitious story of a life in morally relevant respects like that of Christ, and people started believing that story. If Christ saves us by providing an inspiring example, then we could have gotten the very same effect by reading that fictitious story typed at random by a monkey and erroneously thinking the story to be true.

Of course, that’s just a particularly vivid way of putting the standard objection against exemplar theories that they are Pelagian. I have nothing against monkeys except that they are creatures, and so that if it is possible to be saved by a monkey, then it is possible to be saved by creatures, which is Pelagianism.


SMatthewStolte said...
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Walter Van den Acker said...

If there are certain conditions that people have to live by in order to he saved, and some written texts presents exactly those conditions, then I don't see why people living by those conditions would not be saved.

Colin Causey said...

What we ought to conclude, I think, is that exemplar theories are bananas. :-)

On a more serious note, one thing that I think a proponent of exemplar theories could say in response is that a mere fictional story would not be sufficiently inspirational. For example, consider the story of the Little Engine That Could. This might inspire someone to persevere during a difficult trial in life to some degree. But it likely wouldn't be a life-changing sort of story. Such a person reading the story might say, "Yes, that is all well and good and is somewhat encouraging, but it isn't as if there was actually a Little Engine that came to belief in itself and accomplished a seemingly impossible task." Or, perhaps a better example, consider the first Avengers movie in which Tony Stark against all odds destroyed the Chitauri mothership, nearly losing his life in the process. This might be somewhat inspirational, for instance, to a soldier who finds himself going up against similarly dismal odds. Nevertheless, it is likely that the soldier will also be somewhat dismissive of the story as a source of inspiration because, after all, Tony Stark is a fictional character who has his fictional Iron Man suit, something that the soldier obviously does not have. What would be far more inspirational to the soldier is a true story about the D-Day invasion and the bravery of the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy against dismal odds. If this line of thought is right, then it seems that the exemplar theorist could insist that the degree of inspiration necessary for salvation simply could not come about unless the exemplar is real and not fictional. This would rule out the monkey example. And, it could be further argued, the exemplar (or the cause thereof) would have to be divine as only the divine could create a true story that is sufficiently inspirational for salvation. Thus, we avoid Pelagianism. How an exemplar theorist would proceed to spell all of this out, I have no idea. But it is a line of argument they could take. I think a major issue, however, that the exemplar theorist will inevitably run into is explaining why it couldn't simply be the case that a fictional story could be sufficiently inspirational for salvation so long as people *believed* it was true, which is of course all that the monkey example involves. Perhaps it could be argued that the story of the Gospel qua story could not have been produced but by divine intervention and/or inspiration? I think that would be a difficult line of argument to take, however.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I definitely agree that taking the story to be true is essential to its effect. That's why I was imagining that the reader thought the monkey's story was true.
Maybe the exemplarist can say that the inspirational effect itself requires a supernatural grace working in the heart to overcome our weakness, in addition to the story. But then this grace had better come from the Cross, and the story about this grace will not be exemplarist.