Everyone's an evangelist whether they know it or not. You may not be an evangelist for some large, organized religion or cult, but I guarantee you’re an evangelist for some belief. You are likely affronted by my calling you an evangelist because the term has taken on some very negative connotations in our age. The fervor, pushiness, judgmental nature, and self-righteousness of many evangelists likely fuels our aversion to the term - and rightfully so. Nobody wants to be evangelized because nobody wants to be objectified, and objectification is exactly what many evangelists do to potential converts. The evangelist's subject (or victim) is often merely seen as malleable gray matter - a fertile host into which the evangelist (or parasite) can inseminate their ideas.
As an evangelist for Christianity, I take exception to these negative connotations of evangelism, though I certainly understand and agree with their application most of the time. Such an acknowledgement of evangelism’s misuse is a sober warning to me that even in my noblest of desires, my self-centeredness may be the overwhelming motivation with which I lead. But potential egoism isn’t the only way in which I might err. When evangelism fails to be a good thing, its failure must be seen as in one of two areas: the objectification of another (which simultaneously entails the self-centeredness of the evangelist) and/or the untruth of the message - the "good news" being preached.
The simplest example I can give is the COVID vaccine today. It may be true that the vaccine tends to protect individuals and groups in great measure, or it may be true that the vaccine is an unsafe, government ploy to wrangle the masses and control the population. One of these positions may be right, and whichever one bears the truth, converting others to the position which is true isn't simply seeking to shift another’s ideology, but it's seeking the greatest well-being for the convert. If the vaccine preserves your life, I should want you to take it. And if it tends to do you harm or lead to government tyranny, I should want you not to take it. If one's ideology is true, then converting others to that ideology tends to be in the best interest of the converts, and the aim and desire of the evangelist to convert cannot, itself, be used to dismiss the message on grounds of conceit or selfish motives.
Perhaps a more esoteric, but interesting example, can be found in the Star Trek universe. One of the characters from the show, Data, is an android. His story arc throughout the seasons sees his crewmates gradually try to assimilate Data into becoming more human. He looks a lot like a human and he reasons similarly to a human, but there's just something not human about him. One of the final frontiers for Data to conquer is humor. Data just doesn't get human humor and can't tell or understand jokes. His crewmates so desperately want Data to gain the ability to recognize and create humor - they desire him to become as they are. But their desire for Data to assimilate to them isn't a self-centered desire or an objectification of Data, but rather a recognition that humor - this capacity of humanity which is integral to its essence - is a great and wonderful thing to experience. They want Data to gain humor not for their own benefit, but for Data's own joy and experience - a truly human experience.
It is the same with me here in this work. As I evangelize you, my goal isn't to increase the number of global Christians in the world. It's not an attempt to gain political power or religious dominance. In fact, by the end you will see that my goal is quite the opposite. I want to get you to empty yourself and sacrifice yourself for others. That’s quite the sale’s pitch, I know. My goal is that if what I say is true, you will believe it and adhere to it, and this truth will set you free. This truth will allow you to become more fully human as you discover the purpose for which you were created, and as you uncover what it means to truly live. So, here I am with everything laid out on the table. I am an evangelist, as are you. I am clearly trying to convert you, and you are testing your gospel against mine. Your job, then, is not to avoid conversion, but rather to determine if what I say is true. If it is, yet you continue to evangelize an alternative position, then you are the very type of evangelist you despise.
WHY PREACH THE GOSPEL OF THE RESURRECTION?
A few days ago I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, author of "Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel." It was a fascinating and enjoyable discussion, and a particular joy for me. It's not every day you get to talk with an author of an influential book and ask all the questions you had while reading it. Yet that's exactly what I got the chance to do. One of the questions I asked Dr. Christoyannopoulos was related to his assessment of the religious emphasis, or lack thereof, among Christian anarchists. His book identifies that there are many anarchists who consider themselves Christian, yet don't believe in miracles - including the miracle central to orthodox Christianity - the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Even Christian anarchists who would consider themselves more orthodox barely mention the resurrection in their works, and certainly don't emphasize it. How strange that sounded to me!
I asked Dr. Christoyannopoulos how such a lack of emphasis didn't undermine the Christian anarchist position. If Christian anarchism is about doing what is right regardless of what the outcome may be - defending the poor, fighting for justice, promoting abolition of slavery, and denouncing war, all in the face of the nearly omnipotent state - then it seems tossing the resurrection to the side would undermine such non-consequentialist morality. If there is no resurrection, then why denounce war? Do non-resurrection adhering anarchists denounce war just because, as Erica Chenoweth argues in her work, “Why Civil Resistance Works,” nonviolence tends to work better? But what does that make anarchism? A moral democracy? A position which chooses action based on pragmatic tendencies? Doesn’t that make moral outrage simply a frustration at others not being smart enough or analytical enough to pick the choice that tends to work better? What about those instances where killing and war would actually save more lives or do more good? Without resurrection, we're left not with absolutes and the concrete, but with tendencies. But with the promise of resurrection, good always prevails in the end, as our souls are preserved - both the souls of the righteous and the wicked - for final judgment. The resurrection provides an absolute grounding.
Dr. Christoyannopoulos responded by asking me some questions. He asked whether or not I thought I was being too narrow, as there are indeed other moral systems that can be offered which don't require religion. There are systems of virtue ethics, deontological systems, and consequentialist systems. There are many who consider themselves atheists who adhere to these various systems and live what most Christians would consider to be very moral lives without God. It’s not as though when a Christian converts to atheism they suddenly become a serial killer. People don’t tend to act sadistically apart from a Christian moral framework. What does the resurrection provide for coherence that other proposed systems can't provide? Why bring religion into the conversation unnecessarily? When there's already so much conflict in the world, why emphasize resurrection and divide the anarchist community into religious and non-religious factions?
These questions of morality are questions I've been thinking about for many years, but even more intensely over the past few days since my conversation with Dr. Christoyannopoulos. Non-religious morality has always been a hang-up for me. Even at moments in my life where Christianity became doubtful, one of the thoughts which kept me going was similar to the thought of Peter when Jesus asked Peter if he was going to leave him like many of his other disciples had. To whom would I go? What worldview would provide me with a more satisfactory foundation? Christianity may have holes, but other worldviews - especially when it comes to morality - have gaping holes. In the space below, then, I want to lay out a case for the foundation of morality as centered and cemented in the resurrection of the Son of God.
THE INCOHERENCE OF ALTERNATIVE MORAL THEORIES
Before getting into a positive case for a moral philosophy built on the resurrection of the Christ, I think it is first important to explain why I believe the alternative moral theories are incoherent. There are two basic ways in which I see moral philosophies destruct.
Alternative Moral Theories are Arbitrary
The first way in which most moral theories destruct is in their arbitrariness. Let's take a very brief look at how each moral theory embraces the arbitrary.
Virtue Ethics: Virtue ethics believes that what is vital to morality and purpose in a given situation is that we foster particular virtues throughout our lives. But without a divine decree of what these virtues ought to be, or without platonic essences of sorts woven into the fabric of the universe, who is to determine which virtues ought to be pursued over others? Different cultures at different times, or individuals may value certain virtues over others - and who's to say who is right or wrong?
Arbitrariness also rears its head when virtues come into competition with themselves. For example, do we kill an intruder to love our neighbor, or do we refuse to kill the intruder and love our enemy. Virtues can also come into competition with other virtues. For example, do we run into battle to grow bravery and selflessness, or do we cultivate wisdom and ambition by running away and living to fight another day under better odds, and perhaps doing more good in the long-term?.
Consequentialist Ethics: Consequentialism identifies some goal or end as being that which justifies a certain position. One's goal may be the survival of oneself, one's family, one's community, or one's country. Another goal may be to gain political advantage over an opponent so one can impose their morality on a nation. The goals can be anything. But once again, without a creator who decrees an end goal, or without platonic essences which weave these goals into the fabric of the universe, the goals consequentialism identifies are arbitrary. The ends may justify the means, but who justifies the ends? Anyone and everyone. It’s arbitrary.
Deontological Ethics: Deontological ethics runs into the same arbitrariness as the other two theories, yet because it houses Divine Command Theory, I saved it for the end.
On deontological ethics we ought to do some moral action because we are obliged to do it. Without God or platonic essences, it's unclear what gives us objective obligations. And without a personal creator, it’s difficult to see how we have any obligations at all, since obligations are rooted in relationships. I can't have an obligation to a car, unless that car is being borrowed from a friend. But then my obligation isn't really to the car, but rather to my friend.
However, deontological ethics houses something called Divine Command Theory, which posits that something is good or bad simply because God commands it. This, then, is not arbitrary from our perspective. If God commands something, we are then in relationship with him and have a directive. We don’t get to make up morality. However, the question then becomes "what grounds God's command?" If God can just decree anything and it be deemed moral, he could command a brother to rape his sister and it become moral the moment the decree is made. What we now call evil could become “good” in an instant. That possibility - even if it never became actuality - would mean that morality was arbitrary, as it could be changed on a whim, and this fragile mutability indicates the strength of its foundation.
Divine Command Theory accepts one of the terrible horns of the Euthyphro dilemma and runs with it. It's an easy position to run with because it allows one to just read the Bible and take everything as a directive without discernment. But that's also where we get the justification of things like slavery and native eradication. Didn’t God command the Israelites to take slaves and virgin women in conquest? Didn’t God seek to wipe out the heathen Caananites who worshipped other idos? Such morality leads to a terribly immoral universe of atrocity and a morality that I'm not sure could be called good without rewiring our most basic moral intuitions and redefining the word “good.”
Platonic Essences: I did want to say one other thing here to end this section. You'll notice that I have brought up the idea of platonic essences as a grounding for the explanation of morality, yet that may be a new concept for many. It may come as a surprise to many, but there are actually atheists who believe in the world of the immaterial. There are a number of reasons for this related to communication, identifying objects in the real world, and mathematics, but it also comes into play for morality. With platonic essences one would not have to necessarily believe in a god who declared "love" to be a good in order to believe that love is more than just synapses firing in the brain. If one believes that love as some immaterial essence exists in the universe, then love could be real apart from any god.
The main problem with grounding morality outside of a god, and in essences, is that immaterial essences are not personal beings, and therefore not relational. You cannot get obligations from entities which are not personal beings. Like I said, you don't have an obligation to a car unless that car belongs to someone else. The car doesn't give you an obligation, the personal being who has a vested interest in it does.
If the essence of love existed as an impersonal essence woven into the fabric of the universe, the best we could get would be to say that love exists. We could describe love, the feeling it tends to give, and we could call love as an entity real in a sense that goes beyond mere verbal fiction. It would truly be real. But a world in which those things we wanted to call “moral” resided only in impersonal essences, we could not move beyond description to obligatory prescription. You could tell me love existed, but not that I ought to love. You could even tell me that if I wanted to feel good or if I wanted to make someone else feel good then love would be a good tool to implement. But unless those were goals I wanted to pursue, there is nothing that would give me the obligation to pursue love.
I liken this scenario to the existence of gravity. You can tell me that gravity really does exist here on earth and the way gravity works is that the more massive something is, the more gravity it exerts. What should I think of you if you were to then prescribe to me that I eat more fast food in order to gain more mass so I could exude more gravitational force? The fact that gravity exists in no way obligates me to pursue the fulness of gravity in my being, nor does it prescribe for me how I should pursue gravity. There are different scenarios in which I may choose to either diminish the gravitational force I exude (i.e. lose weight),, and others in which I may choose to increase my exertion of gravity (i.e. gain muscle mass). There may also be instances in which I choose to embrace gravity (e.g. skydive), and others in which I choose to avoid experiencing gravity in greater measure (e.g. belay while rock climbing to avoid falling). The simple existence of gravity as a force in no way infuses any "oughtness" into how I should handle the fact of gravitation. It's valuation is placed upon it through some other determination. That determination ends up being arbitrary. Do I value my life? I may choose to avoid extreme gravitational pull and avoid heights. Am I at a place where my life feels empty and I want to end it? I may want to increase gravitational force on me by jumping off a bridge. I may choose to lose weight and be healthy, or I can choose to value food and sensual gratification over bodily health and embrace increased gravitational pull. Valuation doesn't arise by the mere existence of something.
Alternative Moral Theories Are Self-Centered
Beyond the problem of moral theories being arbitrary and having no grounding or force behind them, alternative moral theories also end up leading to absurd conclusions which revolve around the fact that they end up being self-centered. I recognize that this sounds overstated at first - that morality would somehow be self-centered, but I think it's inevitably true of most, if not all the moral systems mentioned so far. So as we did with the last section, let's look at each moral system again, but this time searching for the self-centeredness embedded in them.
Virtue Ethics: Virtue ethics is my favorite ethical system outside of the system I'll propose later, because I think virtue ethics comes the closest to getting morality right. It's hard to conceive what would be problematic with a system which encourages individuals to build positive character traits. What is self-centered about growing in love or patience?
The goal of virtue ethics is for an individual to obtain particular virtues, which isn't self-centered so long as a part of this ethic expects individuals to seek the well-being of and growth of virtue in others. The self-centeredness, as I see it, arises in at least two places. First, it rears its head in scenarios where there is competition for virtue.
As an example, let's say love is the most valuable virtue one can pursue on virtue ethics. Let's say a scenario arises where a tragedy is about to occur, but only one individual can sacrifice themselves in order to prevent this tragedy. Such an action would instantiate love to a great degree. But what if there were two competitors for sacrifice? What if two individuals were willing to sacrifice their lives in order to love well, and in order to prevent tragedy. One competitor could be generous and allow the other to sacrifice himself, and therefore express the most love. But is that generosity as great a good as the love missed out on? Would it be immoral or unwise on virtue ethics to sacrifice an opportunity to express the greatest virtue, love, for a lesser virtue of generosity?
In the middle of the night one of the competitors left and sacrificed himself, whereas the other was intending to do so in the morning. On a version of virtue ethics where love is the ultimate virtue to be cultivated, the individual who ends up sacrificing self and prevents another from such an opportunity is actually, in a way, self-centered, as though he sacrificed himself, he also ensured that he was able to cultivate for himself the greatest meaning and morality in life while the competitor could not. Virtue ethics may tend to seek building others up, but only so long as others aren’t competing for that which is truly valuable – virtue.
The second way in which egoism is infused into virtue ethics is in the ability to form virtue in the first place. The goal of virtue ethics is to cultivate virtues which are not yet present. But how does one cultivate virtues which aren't yet present? One needs tension or animosity. While plenty of virtues can be built to a great degree apart from relationship, like learning patience and temperance through fasting or by learning wisdom in saving money rather than spending on whatever you want - there are some virtues which can only either be built through or grown to their maximum through conflict with others. Paul perhaps makes this case most succinctly in Romans when he declares that "rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." If virtue ethics is correct, then for me to grow I need others to be unvirtuous. My virtue and the realization of my morality requires the unvirtuous to exist and persist in their vices. How can I grow my love to its maximal degree unto enemy love if there aren’t any unvirtuous enemies to love?
For Christians, virtue ethics ends up having two other problems. The first is that, like the divine command theorists and their deontological morality, Christian virtue ethicists seem to grab one of Euthyphro's horns - just the opposite one from the divine command theorist. If our goal is a particular virtue, then achieving that virtue is the end goal of morality. This means that if God is perfectly moral, his end goal would seem to be the maintenance of whatever virtue or virtues were required for morality. So unlike the divine command theorist, God's decrees wouldn't be arbitrary and mutable, but rather, they would be commands that God himself is required to adhere to because there was some moral ethic or standard outside himself.
The second problem Christian virtue ethicists run into (or at least the non-Catholic ones) is in explaining how we can become perfect and sinless in the new heavens and earth without some sort of purgation. If virtues are built over time and through trials and difficulty, we have to ask how individuals could suddenly find themselves perfectly virtuous upon their resurrection.
Deontological Ethics: Deontological morality also seems to find itself wrestling with egoism. Perhaps the simplest example I can give of deontologists which would help you see the self-centeredness immediately is the example of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were very devoted to the commands of God, yet they were the biggest group of conceited jerks you can imagine. Yet Jesus says in Matthew that we need to be even more righteous than they. They valued the decrees of God and were right to do so, yet they had a problem in that they only valued the decrees simply because they were decreed by God, which missed the relational heart and substance God intended to flow through those decrees and guide their implementation.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that deontological ethics are selfish and empty because I have employed this ethic at times. I employ this ethic often when I work with the poor. There are so many times that the poor I have worked with are trying to use me, objectify me, lie to me, and get whatever they can out of me. It's exhausting and overwhelming. Most of the time I persist in working with them not because I genuinely love them, but because I know I'm supposed to work with them. That's a deontological ethic. God told me to serve the poor, so I do it, even though it's often without love.
Now I think that deontological ethics are a good starting point, as doing something because it's commanded and going through the motions can be a way to create disciplines, which then foster loves that weren't originally there. I pray to God that he grows in me a genuine love for the poor through my first obeying his commands. Following commands are good stepping stones to true morality and love, but to make the following of commands the end of morality rather than the beginning turns you into an arrogant, judgmental, self-righteous, white-washed tomb.
Consequentialist Ethics: Consequentialism and utilitarianism are the easiest places in which you can see self-centeredness. When there is some goal that you elevate to primacy, then anything else can be sacrificed to that goal. It's how electing corrupt politicians is justified (because she's not as bad as that other guy), it's how wars and civilian deaths are justified, and the list could go on. I can kill my enemies so long as they're the enemies of the goal to which consequentialism tells me I must sacrifice all.
My favorite example of consequentialist ethics is a quote from the atheist Christopher Hitchens, who made the following statement in a debate against his brother, Peter Hitchens. Dr. Hitchens said,
"It's in my interest that people don't suffer. I don't want someone bleeding to death from AIDS on my doorstep. Not just for their sake - for mine I don't want that. Oscar Wilde in 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism' puts it very beautifully. He says, 'Socialism would free us from the awful necessity of living for others.' George Bernard Shaw when he ran for office in London said that there should be no more houses built for the working classes without baths. It was objected by certain politicians who said, ' Why give the poor baths? They're so stupid they won't know how to use them. They'll keep coal in them. They don't deserve baths. You're wasting your compassion on them.' He said, 'I don't want them to have a bath for their sake. I want them to have a bath for my sake.' That's the right mix of self-interest and morality."
Notice how the goal here was comfort for the greatest number of people. If there are a bunch of smelly people running around, that's going to be inconvenient for everyone. If we can cheaply and efficiently provide baths, then let's do it for our sake, not for the sake of the poor. In fact, this is one reason why nonviolence tends to work - because most people are significantly consequentialist. Justice issues don't start to become resolved until it becomes inconvenient to the status quo majority not to fix injustice, or until it becomes convenient for the status quo to coopt justice issues for political power. Indeed, this is what CRT is all about. CRT recognizes that the history of justice legislation isn't really about fixing injustice issues, but often merely abates the loud outcry and conserves the status quo as much as it is able to. Justice legislation tends to be damage control rather than real justice. Consequentialism is all about some goal rather than some one. The goal may at times be someone, like saving the president's life or protecting one's family. But those goals are goals to which those on the outside can be sacrificed.
One of the greatest sacrifices on any of these systems is the sacrifice of the logical and intuitive. When I think about the word "altruism" on Dr. Hitchens's system, I have to ask myself how that notion is recognizable as altruism. How can you call helping an AIDS victim or a poor person altruistic when you're not seeking their good, but your own? "Altruism" on alternative moral theories becomes its own antithesis. It means the very thing of which it is the exact opposite. Altruism is merely a synonym for egoism, it’s just housed in its antonymic partner. While this antithesis may be the most pronounced on consequentialist systems, it rears its ugly head in subtler, yet significant ways on deontological systems and virtue ethics as well.
Those are my two main qualms with most moral philosophies. They are steeped in arbitrariness and egoism and cause altruism and love to become muddied, if not unintelligible.
HOW THE RESURRECTION HELPS MORALITY
Let's go back to my conversation with Dr. Christoyannopoulos. I obviously didn't get to lay out my whole case to him as to why I didn't find most moral philosophies uncompelling, but I did get to explain how I thought self-centeredness was a big part of the problem, and how words like "altruism" lost any sense of their meaning. It was then that Dr. Christoyannopoulos asked me a very important question, and really the question which gets to the heart of this discussion. It's all well and good for me to sit back and throw stones at other philosophies, but did I myself live in a glass house which could be shattered just as easily? Dr. Christoyannopoulos asked me how grounding morality in resurrection avoided my own critique of self-centeredness. If I need the resurrection in order to motivate me to be good - if it's the promise of reward in heaven or the threat of torturous punishment in hell which entices me to be moral - then isn't my morality based on self-preservation, and therefore, egoism? Now that's a great question.
Before we get a look at why the resurrection is so important for grounding and giving meaning to morality, we must look at what made the resurrection necessary in the first place. Let's go back to the beginning.
In the Beginning, Adam...
According to orthodox Christianity, in the beginning, only God existed. The ontological argument tells us that God was full of all the great making properties. One of the least disputable great making properties is necessary existence. It is better to exist than to not exist, thus God, who is uncaused and uncreated, necessarily existed from eternity past. Of course God, being a perfect being, would likely be omnibenevolent as well, so we can ascribe to God the character of goodness, which would include things like always loving, always truthful, etc.
In God's goodness and love, he created a world and shared in that goodness and love with humanity. Humanity was created to image God and to be in relation with him forever. Like God, they were composed of spirit which was built and purposed to live forever, provided God's commands were kept. Existence and holiness were to be the pursuits of humanity as they created and bettered the world in love, like their creator, and as they walked with God and each other. Their eyes were always focused away from themselves and onto other so much that they were ignorant of even their own nakedness. With their eyes outward and God's preserving gaze on them, humanity acted in the world in perfect goodness.
For those familiar with the story, you of course know what happened next. Humanity took their purpose and morality, which to this point was grounded by their creator in their very essences, and made purpose and morality both arbitrary and self-centered. The very first thing to happen after humanity's sin wasn't lightning bolts. No, it was far worse. It was separation. For the very first time Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness, because for the very first time, they looked to themselves. No longer was the foundation for their belief and actions other oriented, but it was self-oriented. Eve, rather than being confident in the provision of a God and husband who loved her and looked out for her interests first - began to look to herself for preservation and to define that which was good. And of course, Adam did the same. This separation was not only evident in the realization of their nakedness and the blaming of other, but it was also made evident in the curses God recognized soon afterwards. Adam and Eve would no longer be in harmony with nature, they would no longer be in harmony with each other, and they would no longer be in harmony with God. In their attempt to define their own purpose and their own morality - a groundless, arbitrary, and selfish endeavor - they set their life's trajectory to be one of unfulfillment, and their eternal destiny as one of separation from the source of existence.
In the Climax, the New Adam...
The story of humanity became a tragedy at this point. Humanity was hopelessly separated from any chance at meaning, purpose, and morality since their self-centeredness kept them from residing in the being of God and his goodness, and their path, which led to eternal separation from the Existent One meant that their very existence - their very beings - were on a course set for impending destruction. They were separated not only from the tree of life, which preserved their bodies, but also from the very giver of life, which preserved their souls. Being (substance) and being (purpose/meaning) were out of reach. [For more on purpose and why self-purpose is a problem, see this article or podcast episode]
But God, being the omnibenevolent lover of souls that he is, was not content to leave humanity in hopeless despair. What kind of God would he be had he left them there? Certainly not the God of the ontological argument. God, from the very beginning of humanity's rebellion, and even from before all eternity, had been planning a way to restoration. The way of hope was to send a representative for humanity who could show them the path to living like a true human - living in perfect love and harmony with God and others, and fulfilling his purpose in obedience regardless of the consequences. Such a one would be willing to love, do good, and embody the very character of God in all circumstances, without compromise, even if such actions led to seemingly foolish and fruitless outcomes, like suffering and cross. This true human - this second Adam - would not only show humanity how to live with purpose and morality, but he would provide a way for humanity's relationship with God to be restored and reconnected. This second Adam would not only bring the words of life, but he would also pave the way to true life and true existence.
When Jesus, the son of God, incarnated himself on Earth, he lived a perfect life focused on God and others. He never compromised the essence of God or deviated from that which God required of him. He lived rightly all the way to his torturous end on a cross, maintaining a love for his enemies - even the very ones who nailed him to the cross. However, were Jesus to have died just as Adam did, there may have been an example for us to follow, but it would be example without hope. We may, by following the Christ's example to the best of our ability, have ended up connecting with God and his purposes from time to time, but there would be no promise of a restoration of our ultimate purpose - continued existence in relationship with God, imaging his character. Thus, the Christ rose from the dead through the power of the Spirit, which was not only a vindication of who he is and what his status is before God, but it is also a glimpse of the promise we have that, in the Christ, we too can one day be connected to God through the true human, the second Adam.
In the Eschaton, Theosis...
While the climax of this story is certainly the resurrection of the Christ, it only becomes the climax in light of the end of the story. For if you don't understand what resurrection really gets you, it may seem more anticlimactic than climactic. So what does the resurrection get us?
All orthodox Christians have a concept of what happens to humans after the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. Protestants tend to call this concept glorification, but I find that it's not something we Protestants talk about or elaborate on very much. Since the Eastern Orthodox church hashes this out much better, I want to use some of their ideology and terminology to explain what happens in the eschaton.
The Orthodox have a term they use other than "glorification." They call what happens to believers in the new heavens and earth "theosis," or "deification." As you can probably tell from the second term, they think that we become God, in a sense. I know many Protestants will balk at this, but didn't even Jesus and the Psalmist say, "you are gods?" Glorification, theosis, and deification all say essentially the same thing. The Orthodox recognize that it would be heretical to claim that we will become God in one sense, and this sense which is off limits to us they would deem his essence. We will never be like God in his essence. God, in essence, is omnibenevolent, always truthful, omnipotent, omniscient, self-existent, etc. We will not at all be, in our essences, omnipotent or any other such thing. Another way to put it is that "we become by grace what God is by nature."
However, all Christians know that we will be like God in at least one sense. We will become perfect - unable to sin again. Being unable to sin is certainly a characteristic of God's which is contained within his essence. So, in a sense, we will share in God's essence. But just as the Orthodox justify icons by distinguishing between worship and veneration - which the Protestants don't distinguish (unless they're fawning over a picture of C.S. Lewis or Charles Spurgeon after reading one of their works) - the Orthodox are also going to make a distinction with theosis. Christians aren't pantheists, so when we talk about becoming like God, the Orthodox distinguish between becoming like God in essence (which we don't do), and becoming like God in our energies (which is what happens to us). My understanding is that the Orthodox don't explain this in super great detail. They are more accepting of mystery than Protestants. The point is that they know we become like God, yet they know we can't become like him in essence, so they use a mysterious term, "energies," to explain this. In the eschaton, because of the resurrection, we will be connected to God and become like God by our "energies" being connected to him in relationship, through the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. While God remains necessarily existent and perfect in essence, we will become contingently perfect and perpetually existent by being connected to him in our energies.
WHY THEOSIS MATTERS
The resurrection gets us a continued existence into eternity, and it allows for us to be connected to God and become like him in our energies. But what does that really get us in regard to a better, more coherent moral philosophy? How does that help us to find and ground purpose and morality, and how does that prevent Christian purpose and morality from being self-centered?
Theosis Grounds Morality and Provides Obligation
Whatever humanity's purpose and morality is, that purpose and morality requires existence. In line with Descartes's "I think, therefore I am" idea, we can say that for morality or purpose to be pursued and achieved, one might argue that "I exist, therefore I act." One can't accomplish goals or fulfill purposes or do moral things unless they act, and actions cannot be made without existence. So at the root of morality and purpose must be existence, just as at the root of the God we Christians believe we image, is existence (and necessary self-existence at that) - the greatest level of existence there is.
Without the resurrection, humanity's existence would cease to be in one of two ways (or both).
1. Ontological Cessation: If the judgment apart from the Christ were annihilationism or conditional immortality, those not connected to the resurrection of the Christ would be annihilated from existence, and would cease to be in the most literal sense. Their beings would be expunged from existence.
2. Metaphysical Cessation: If the judgment apart from the Christ were eternal conscious torment, then those not connected to the resurrection of the Christ would cease to be connected to the giver and sustainer of life. They may continue to exist in an ontological sense, just as a brain dead human on life support continues to remain "alive" and exist, but without existing in any meaningful sense. There is existence without telos, which is in some ways, the absence of existence. One exists as the living dead.
The resurrection, then, allows for our continued existence, and therefore continued actions which could be aimed at the fulfillment of our purpose, and which could be morally good. However, as Adam and Eve showed us, one could also continue in a good world for a time only to make an immoral act contrary to one's designed purpose. And this is where the resurrection and theosis provide for us once more.
Beyond mere existence, morality and purpose also require particular aims. Christianity should argue that the aims of humanity are to live implementing means which are concomitant with the ends of God. While we humans (especially in a fallen state) may not know the deep, specific plans of God, we do know the character of God. Therefore, our purpose as image bearers of God is to live implementing means concomitant with the character of God. I may not know God's ultimate plan and whether or not he wants me to take a specific job, but I do know that God wants me to love, and he doesn't want me to lie. If I have a choice between two jobs in front of me - one of which requires me to objectify others and manipulate data, and the other which allows me to display love and honesty, though earns me much less money - then clearly the ends of God are not for me to take the evil job, since God's means are concomitant with his ends, as should mine be also.
Purpose and morality, then, are infused into our very beings. We were created in the image of God and are purposed to live in line with his character. This means that, contrary to the other moral theories we evaluated, Christian moral theory 1) houses value and purpose intrinsically in moral and valuable beings, and 2) the value and purpose intrinsic to beings is sourced from a self-existent, omnibenevolent, personal creator, which makes morality and goodness relational, and therefore provides obligation. So though, as in virtue ethics, there is some standard of value or some purposed goal which really exists outside a being, on a Morality of Being (MOB), as I’ll call this system, this value and purpose are infused or imparted to a being itself.
At this juncture the reader may ask herself what the problem is that resurrection solves here. If humanity were created with value, purpose, and goodness intrinsically, then shouldn't they persist in these things, for intrinsic properties cannot be taken away? The problem is that it's untrue that the intrinsic cannot be taken away. A human has intrinsic value, so long as they remain a human. The intrinsic value is tied to an identity, not an instantiation. This is why tyrannical politicians (which I suppose is a tautology) so often fight over how to define "human." For a very basic example, we recognize that a dead human shell isn't human in the fullest sense, and we can therefore incinerate it into dust and eulogize its former occupant as a sign of respect, while incinerating a living human while speaking highly of him would show something quite different. We recognize that ontological death alters the identity of a human so that the intrinsic value we ascribe to them dissipates, at least from their localized bodies.The goal here isn’t to argue how we define human and what values we ought to ascribe, but rather that intrinsic properties are intrinsic to a being’s identity.
I believe the same thing can be true of metaphysical death. Though I disagree with Augustine on some very significant theological points, I think that his adherence to the privation theory of evil makes a lot of sense. The privation theory of evil essentially says that evil isn't a thing - it's not some addition to the system or some substance. Rather, evil is a subtraction, a detraction, or a lack of something. There are many rebuttals to this, along with counter-rebuttals, and one might turn also to Aquinas to hear arguments for the privation theory of evil. But all that is beyond the scope of this article. For the moment, simply recognize that the privation theory of evil is one of my big assumptions in arguing a case for a Morality of Being.
When God told Adam and Eve that they would die on the day in which they ate the forbidden fruit, I suppose that, in a sense, what God said was true ontologically, as Adam and Eve may have begun the entropic process of death that day. I don't know. But many theologians have recognized that this promise of death "on the day" is somewhat problematic if viewed as ontological death. That's why many theologians have posited that a spiritual death, or as I'll call it, metaphysical death, was what was primarily in view in God's warning. For on the day that Adam and Eve sinned against God and began to look to themselves as the source and definition of purpose and morality, they severed their metaphysical beings from the true source of goodness and purpose.
If one adheres to a privation theory of evil, then Adam and Eve died metaphysically at the very moment they looked to self and away from God. Adam and Eve had been embracing substance and fullness, then turned to embrace vacuity and void - nonexistence. God, in a moment, spoke the world into being ex nihilo - out of nothing. Adam and Eve, in a moment, took that vast, good universe and turned it into nothingness – for there is nothing smaller than the singularity of a human consciousness turned in on itself. This turning inward to nothingness is what sin is. It is an embracing of the vacuous - that which doesn't accomplish purpose, truly fulfill needs and desires, or recognize the substance and value of the created world. Sin and evil are an absence of being, not the accumulation of bad being on top of a good or neutral one.
In this sense, then, Adam and Eve lost their humanity, metaphysically speaking. Rather than embrace the substance of morality and purpose by embracing the source of this morality and purpose and the others infused with the same goodness - humanity embraced nothingness. One day every human would eventually experience ontological death. But on that day humanity began to experience metaphysical death. And this is exactly why the resurrection is so important to both morality and goodness. The resurrection doesn't merely promise to breathe life back into the shells of our bodies once they die - to reanimate our corpses - it also promises to reanimate our purpose and morality. The resurrection takes our eyes off ourselves and puts them onto the one who promises us both ontological life and metaphysical Life. As our eyes are turned to our savior and as our savior connects us to the divine, the singularity we have become explodes outward in a big bang, and we become complete substance and being again – a universe teeming with beauty and life.
While the resurrection does indeed give us continued existence which is necessary for purpose and morality - the way in which resurrection connects us to the divine in theosis is what ensures that this perpetual existence will never see corruption like God's original good world did. Whereas Adam and Even in the garden had a connection to God which was conditioned upon their persistence in good works, the life, death, resurrection, and intercession of the Son of God provides us with a perpetual, internal, spiritual communion with God at all times. When we are in the new heavens and the new earth, we will be in the presence of God at all times, as the Spirit of God will be forever living in us. This Spirit will not only be testifying to us about the living God, but it will also make us direct partakers of him at all times. [For a look at how I think humanity fell and how God's original good world could have sin while the new heavens and earth won't, see this article.]
It is in these two ways that the resurrection and theosis provide for purpose and morality. They perpetuate our existence and they ensure that our existence will be a full existence of substance, always accomplishing that for which our beings were purposed, and always doing that which is good and in line with God's character, while forever being in relationship and communion with the divine.
Rebuttal on Becoming Like God: Some will inevitably argue that the basis for purpose and morality, or the imaging of God, cannot be to mimic God's character. Sure, it makes sense that we ought to mimic God in his love and truthfulness, but how could we mimic him in his omnipotence and omniscience?
My answer to this is helped out once again by the Orthodox notion of theosis. The first thing one must recognize is that there are certain properties which are degreed. Power, knowledge, and presence are three examples of degreed properties. I can have some power without having all power, some knowledge without all knowledge, and have a localized presence while not having a presence everywhere. On the other hand, some properties are all or nothing sorts of properties. truth is one example of this. If an object is red yet I tell you it's not, am I telling a lesser lie if I say the object is orange versus if I tell you it's black? While orange may be conceptually closer to red, epistemologically the gap spans the same infinite between truth and untruth.
The incarnation of Jesus also seems to help us see that there are certain properties of the divine which must always be held without compromise (like love), while there are other properties of the divine which are not required for image bearers of God (e.g. omniscience and omnipresence). Jesus never hated, yet he often had limited knowledge and presence. I contend, then, that the grounding of purpose and morality is in the character of God and in imaging him. We ought to perfectly represent him in his character though we may not attain all of his characteristics - particularly his degreed ones.
Rebuttal Against the Privation Theory of Evil: There is certainly too much material to discuss the problems and benefits of the privation theory of evil. However, I wanted to address what is probably the first and major issue many take with it.
Many will immediately think about certain sins which exist, and which they would like to see obliterated. Who doesn’t want to see rape or murder go away? The thought then is that if we can desire something to disappear or go away, it means that it is here and it exists to wish away. If sins and evils like rape and murder can be wished away, then sin is something rather than nothing.
I want to point out, however, that the wishing away any Christian should always, or almost always be the wishing away of a function or action, not the wishing away of any creation. For example, when someone does me harm, my role as a Christian is to learn to wish away the evil act of violence while not wishing away the perpetrator of it. I am to love my enemy with the same intensity I am to detest the evil they do. Actors and actions are very different. Actions are to be wished away while actors are not. The only example I can think of for an exception to this is the wishing away of Satan and the demons. We could have a long discussion on this, but I think the rule generally holds that creation isn’t wished away, but some of its functions and acts are.
This makes sense if God created a good world, and if sin and evil are privations or lacks within that good world. The goal would be to get creation to not lack anymore, not to dissolve creation. The goal would be to correct the misfiring and improper function, not to destroy that which God declared good. If we go back to our idea of “I exist, therefore I act,” and morality and purpose being housed within action, then it makes sense that wishing away an act isn’t at all wishing away the existence of anything of substance. Actors are those things which exist, and from actors flow forth actions. A privation theory of evil recognizes that in desiring the dissolution of certain actions we are in not trying to redeem creation through abandoning and destroying it, but rather through purifying and pruning it of that which ought not to be. All creation ought to be, since a good God created it all and declared it good.
I like the privation theory of evil, then, for several reasons. First, it upholds God’s creation as good, just as he said it was. Second, it maintains a distinction between actors and actions, which is vital to loving and valuing all things, especially enemies. Finally, a privation theory prevents there being some substance which is in competition with God, which is truly a strange and problematic thought for Christian theology.
Theosis Makes Egoism Absurd and Altruism Intelligible
At this point there should be one major question which looms large. It may make sense on a Morality of Being that it would be good for us to exist and it would be good for us to image our creator. But the pursuit of these goals still seems rather selfish. Seeking the continuation of my existence and my fulfillment seems to be a fairly self-interested endeavor. Mimicking God because that's what I'm obligated to do and I don't want to get judged for it is pretty self-interested, as is desiring to live forever. So even if theosis gives us an intelligible grounding for purpose and morality (which I think is already better than the arbitrariness other moral systems give us), it still has the trap of egoism to escape in order to be complete.
You may recall that one of my objections to virtue ethics is that a part of its self-centeredness was the requirement that there be other beings who are evil, and therefore not fully virtuous. For if everyone were virtuous, how could my virtues grow in that I could never learn to love an enemy were there no unvirtuous people worth hating. Virtue ethics, therefore, requires that someone else lose out so I can better myself. This problem lies, I think, in that virtue theory seems to take a more additive theory of good. It believes that I can grow my patience or my love towards some pinnacle. Yet we see clearly through the second Adam, Jesus, that there was not some goodness he attained or added to his character throughout his life. That would imply supererogation - that the perfect human who was also divine added to his goodness over time. Rather, we see that Jesus was always perfect, and that perfection arose not in adding goodness or virtue, but in always foregoing evil and actions not in accord with his purpose and nature - refusing to embrace non-being.
On a Morality of Being (MOB), however, there are some similarities with virtue ethics, but with strikingly significant differences. On a MOB, as with virtue ethics, other beings are required. How could I show love if there was nobody to show love to? Relationships are required for a morality and purpose grounded in the character of God. But whereas virtue ethics focuses on looking to the good and grasping at it, causing it to grow, a MOB sees things a little differently. Since evil isn't something, but rather nothing, it isn't in competition with good. It is the absence of good. Whereas on virtue ethics someone may be an evil being or a good being, on a MOB someone is either being or not being (metaphysically speaking). On a MOB, when I choose to do evil I'm not forgoing some good thing to choose some evil thing in its place. No, I'm rather choosing non-being and nothingness over being.
This may seem like a trivial distinction, but I assure you, it's not. Virtue ethics has as its goal adding to or growing in goodness. Virtue ethics seeks to add to our being. A MOB has as its goal the embracing of true or full being by the avoidance of embracing nonexistence. A MOB seeks to embrace true being. To put it in other words, virtue ethics seeks to add to being while being ethics seeks to uncover and uphold being. Virtue ethics seeks to attain something which is not yet, while a MOB seeks to recover something which once was. Virtue ethics seeks to do more through self, while a MOB seeks to plug up the holes and not lose self. Virtue ethics seeks attainment while a MOB seeks restoration.
So how does this tie into the avoidance of self-centeredness on a MOB? Both virtue ethics and a MOB require that there be other beings, but virtue ethics requires that there be some beings which don't achieve their goal of virtuosity. Morality is essentially a closed system because for my attainment of love I need your unlovability. You can't pump more morality into the system than can be offset by immorality. What virtue ethics seeks is a perpetual motion morality machine which can forever grow in goodness without evil. The problem is that a virtue ethic's position requires moral entropy (i.e. evil) and friction in order to run.
A MOB also proposes a closed system and seeks to build a perpetual motion machine, but it's a system which recognizes a different problem. Rather than needing the infusing of more good for moral motion while failing to fix the loss from the system, a MOB recognizes that Genesis is right about the world God created. It already was good. What needs to happen, then, is not that more good gets infused into the system, but that the leak be plugged. The moral friction must be stopped. Because we're dealing with a privation theory of evil, the problem isn't that we need more good infused into the world to combat evil, as evil isn't a thing. The issue is that we must stop embracing nothingness - stop losing morality and purpose to the void. Our closed system has a leak which must be plugged rather than seeking to dump more fluid into the system while allowing the leak to continue. Of course a refusal to embrace evil/nothingness will appear as good, but the emphasis is quite different from that of virtue ethics. We are seeking to live as the ontological and metaphysical beings we were created to be rather than trying to become better beings. The end goal isn't the attainment of complete virtue or supererogation, but the status quo of normalcy - being who we ought to be.
If what we are seeking to do is stop the leaks, then unlike on virtue ethics, on a MOB there isn't a competition for resources. I don't need someone to hate in order to grow my love, though perhaps having enemies would allow me to put on display how deep my love truly is. But I don't need that. A perfect world isn't one in which I attain my virtues and I "make it." A perfect world is one in which all creation is restored to its being. All moral leaks are plugged. The void is once again filled by the Word of God, just as it was at creation.
A MOB seeks the good, and that good is only accomplished when nothingness is eradicated and the good of all abounds. A MOB is communal. It is others-focused. This fits much better than virtue ethics if one values a strong trinitarian emphasis. It also helps explain why community, discipleship, and example are at the forefront of the Christian life, and why asceticism goes wrong. Yes, we can uncover some virtues through hardship, but we primarily uncover our being through community. Whereas virtue ethics may require actual enemies to grow my love, a MOB doesn't. There will be many in the new heavens and earth who never knew moral enemies, yet have a love that would sacrifice self for even the greatest scoundrel. How is this so? It's because the example of the true human and complete being empowers their love, not because some circumstance or experience had to add it to their being.
So yes, I do want to plug the moral leaks in my life so I can live less in the nothingness and more in the being I was created to be. In that sense, sure, there is self-interest. But I don't find true being in self, but rather in community - I find it outside myself. And if I live more as the being I was created to be, then I will look more and more like a naked Adam and Eve in the Garden who knew not their nakedness. To truly Be, and to truly be moral, it means that I will look outward to God, others, and nature. These are the two (and perhaps three) greatest commandments. This is to directly fight the curses that we observe in Genesis 3.
As the Spirit of God removes more and more nothingness from my life and I live as I was intended to live, I will look more outside of myself. When I can look far enough outside of myself, I may be able to give away my money and clothes because I see not my own nakedness, yet am broken by the nakedness of others. And in Being - truly Being - the depiction of the reign of the Son of God in my life invites and draws others in to do the same. A MOB, rather than necessitate the exclusion of at least some from a realized eschaton, invites and desires all to come in. All of creation groans and awaits restoration, and as we become more the beings we were intended to be, we groan more and more with it and look less to ourselves.
I don't want to end this section by picking only on virtue ethics, especially because I think it's the second best moral system out there. So I want to quickly look at how the resurrection helps us in another way related to selflessness. On a consequentialist moral ethic others are left out of the good dream. Doing what's best for the majority means that there is a minority for whom good is not done. On a planet with a population as large as ours, that minority could be close to four billion people. Consequentialism has the potential to leave out quite a lot of individuals from its system, though it does seek to maximize the experience of the good. Yet in the name of "good" all manner of evil can be excused on consequentialism. One's most general and intuitive moral standards can be discarded on consequentialism if the end goal can be achieved by the discarding of these morals. As with many other ideas here, I don't have time to back all of this up, as it is not within the scope of this article. [I do have a season on consequentialism if you'd like to hear more.]
The resurrection of the Christ helps us to avoid this pitfall of sacrificing close to four billion people for our contrived ends. In fact, it helps us to not even sacrifice one person regardless of how noble we may believe the ends to be. On consequentialism, the identified goal is what must be preserved. Perhaps that's happiness for the greatest amount of people or survival of the human race. Whatever it may be, the goal is ultimate. But on a MOB, being is the goal. This being is both ontological (instantiated existence) and metaphysical (existence in line with one's purpose, or truly being). That means that I must pursue both the lives of all beings and the realization of true being for all beings. Beings cannot be sacrificed for any other goal. That means I can't mar myself (i.e. metaphysical being) and sacrifice my family's lives (ontological beings) by pocketing my money and refusing to feed them. But it also means that I can't mar myself (i.e. metaphysical being) by ending my enemy's life (i.e. ontological being) in order to protect my family's lives (ontological beings). I may accomplish more "good" by saving more beings ontologically if I kill a lone intruder, but being unloving still mars me and ends the existence of another being. Rather than plugging up the leak of evil, the embracing of a lesser evil approach accepts moral friction as a necessary part of the system. And rather than trusting God in his foolish means and becoming an example of unswerving obedience and fullness of being, the embracing of lesser evil depicts to the world our belief that non-being and the antithesis of God can be redefined as good. Like Adam and Eve, we eat from the forbidden tree. In attempting to uphold God’s good world through adhering to a foolish “veto” (as Chesterton calls it), we become wise in our own eyes and rend the cosmos asunder.
One might think that the MOB faces a problem which is indistinguishable from the consequentialist one, as the goal on a MOB is merely shifted to being rather than to happiness or something else of that sort. If an aggressor comes to harm my family, in failing to prevent him from killing my family, am I not actually worse off on my system? Even if my killing of an intruder mars my metaphysical being, isn't me killing one person less marring than allowing the intruder to kill five persons, and isn't the total loss of life also less if I kill one compared to the aggressor's five?
This is precisely where the resurrection shines most beautifully and powerfully. The resurrection of the Christ does a number of things for me in the above situation. First, it clearly shows me not only enemy love morality, but a morality which refuses compromise even in the face of seemingly foolish defeat. If the Christ did it and God vindicated him, then I should seek to do it too. But while powerful, a vindicated example is the least of what resurrection gets me, for it also gives me the promise of ontological resurrection, or the preservation of ontological being. As the very first Westminster Catechism question asks, "What is your only comfort in life and death?" And the response?
"...He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him."
Because God preserves our souls we know that we can continue choosing the good even in the face of threats and death. Resurrection ensures that I am not permanently sacrificing ontological being, for God preserves that ontological being, as made evident through the resurrection of the Son of God.
The third benefit we get from the resurrection of the Christ is the securing of and sending of his Spirit. Through the sending of the Christ's Spirit we are empowered to embrace a metaphysical being we otherwise would not be able to embrace. We have begun to be empowered to choose the good and refrain from self-determining morality and the embracing of nonexistence. And in our experience of the Spirit, when faced with an aggressor, I can have the hope that the work which Christ's Spirit has done in me can also, one day, even through my example of truly being in self-sacrifice, work in the aggressor's life to experience true metaphysical being himself. Other moral ethics ground their ends in our finite lives, whether that is in the growth of virtues now, or the preservation of the lives of the most innocents we can. A MOB, however, holds to a vision which spans much farther, and which looks into the potential the future holds - knowing who holds the future. We can embrace seeming foolishness now because we know how powerfully God is able to use foolishness to change the world.
What is beautiful about action on a MOB is that it provides us utter freedom. We are free to choose that which is in line with our being, our creator, and the grain of the universe he created. We don’t have to compromise our being or God’s standards to accomplish something. We can always be who we were truly meant to be. Circumstances don’t dictate our morality. Of course some would argue that this is esoteric thinking. It’s almost gnostic. Isn’t it downplaying the material world to point to the preservation of my soul in the future as a justification for not lessening the amount of evil done now? But that’s exactly where systems like consequentialism go wrong. They are terribly presumptuous. The system simultaneously assumes that embracing a little evil to prevent a greater evil is an isolated choice which has no negative ramifications down the road, and at the same time it denies that a MOB’s embrace of a seeming foolish defeat now has any positive influence in the future. It assumes that if evil isn’t stopped now it will be harder for God to stop it later. What they fail to understand is that the seeds of evil’s destruction are planted in our encounter with it, and the means (seeds) are the ends (fruit) in the process of becoming. When we embrace evil to fight evil, we plant seeds of evil which will bloom later. When we fight evil with good, we plant seeds which may be seemingly killed, but whose death bears good fruit through the power of God in the future. For “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
So on a MOB, I can truly Be and choose the good - even my own enemy's good - because the resurrection of the Christ and a foretaste of his power gives me confidence in my calling and his power to work good through all things, even if I can’t conceive how this is possible. But then again, I can conceive of it because I have been shown the resurrection - the vindication of the Christ who showed me such things are true.
The final benefit is of course theosis. The resurrection ensures that we will one day be perfectly and fully in communion with God. While consequentialism errs in many different ways, perhaps one of the biggest reasons it errs is because its methodology is steeped in arrogance. Consequentialists attempt to take upon themselves the divine attributes of omnipotence and omniscience. The course of history is in their hands, and they know exactly how to direct it. They know that their compromises and sacrifices of others are worth it because they know that they will achieve that which they determine in any given action. Their goal is right and they know who and what to sacrifice to achieve it.
On a MOB, the promise of theosis obtained for us through the resurrection prevents us from feeling the need (though we may feel the desire) to control the outcomes as we see fit. I can sacrifice myself or I can choose to abstain from consequentialist analyses and justifications of any given situation because I can abdicate from the throne of self-determination and self-proclaimed divinity. God has made my being and has both told me and shown me the means whereby I ought to live. He has shown me that he is the true king, and the true human. And with his resurrection and subsequent reign, I have a promise of ultimate good being obtained one day in the future. That knowledge, that promise, and that hope allow me to always be ready to sacrifice self, and never willing to sacrifice other.
To wrap this section up I want to come back to an idea we've mentioned already, and an idea which is very important in the nonviolent community. This idea is that the means are concomitant with their ends. Another way to put it would be that the ends are the means in the process of becoming. When you look at all the moral theories out there, the vast majority of them have tinges of self-centeredness, if not a core of it. If an ethical system requires that another be immoral for my advancement, or if moral actions can entail the sacrificing of other (which must be distinguished from the sacrificing of self), then what sorts of ends can these systems lead to? Incomplete ones at best, and heinous ones at worst. But a MOB is different. The means are always to seek the good of other and to always look outside of self. That may sound suicidal and masochistic, and like something which fails to uphold one's own ontological being. But in a world of eight billion people, would it be better if I alone looked out for myself, as everyone looked out for themselves, or would my being be better preserved if I knew that I, and everyone else, had 7,999,999,999 others looking out for each of us? The means of being ethics lead to ends which are concomitant with them, and these ends are beautiful. When the means are always others focused, the ends one gets are conducive to the preservation of others. And in a community, every individual is an other to everyone else.
I have remained a Christian for many reasons, one of which is because of the moral argument. I see no naturalistic moral alternative to Christianity which isn't steeped in arbitrariness or egoism. That doesn't mean those moral systems are wrong, it just means that if we all get to make up systems arbitrarily which suit ourselves the best, the Christian one does that for me. Believing that morality is arbitrary and egoistic would be, for me, like believing that love, personhood, or the will were all the results of mechanistic processes. It may be true, but I'd go on living in the fantasy that they weren't. And that's exactly what I see most moral philosophies doing. They use words like "altruism" as if they are beautiful, other-centered actions. Yet on their system, those "altruistic" actions are steeped in egoistic intent. For the sake of humanity's mental health, and therefore survival, thank the God who doesn't exist that the vast majority of humanity has embraced illusion and ignorance rather than logical moral consistency.
I, however, think that there is a truth which is more compelling, fulfilling, and beautiful than this. There is a creator, God, who splits the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma and is himself the source of meaning, purpose, and goodness. Out of himself he created beings infused with purpose and goodness, and who lived in relation to God. But these humans withdrew from God to embrace the nothingness which once existed, and lost their purpose and goodness, being separated from God. Yet God in his infinite love and goodness, restored humanity by showing them what a true human was like, and by providing a way for humanity to reconnect with their source of life, purpose, and goodness. It is in this that our morality is grounded, and in this that we are able to make sense of words like "altruism." God is an eternally triune, relational God - a God of other. And we are made in his image.
IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTIAN ANARCHISM
Having already spent a great deal of space discussing my argument, I don't want to take up much more space in this discussion. Nevertheless, this whole thought process arose in the context of a discussion on Christian Anarchism, so I want to at least begin to tie it in here, even if it isn't expounded on until later. What has the resurrection and Christianity to do with anarchism, and can't we just expand ecumenicism to universalism in the anarchist community? Wouldn't that be more inclusive?
On its face, I think it makes sense that Christianity's fine line of distinction between those inside the fold and those outside the fold can be an "othering" event. The Crusades, Inquisition, and numerous persecutions throughout the ages show us that "Christians" can very easily use religion to other those outside the individuals deemed to be in the fold of God. But I would argue that, if true Christian morality were advocated, it would be more inclusive than being a unitarian – a group which is perhaps viewed as being the most seemingly inclusivist group to exist.
A unitarian can embrace any of the moral theories we mentioned in this article, whether that's virtue ethics, consequentialism, or some deontological system. Those systems are certainly systems which are othering systems, with some othering more than others other. So a unitarian system which embraces othering systems seems exclusivist already. A unitarian system would also deny the necessity of the resurrection, but as we've seen, the resurrection and theosis gets us so much and grounds our ability to uncompromisingly look beyond ourselves to focus on other. So while a unitarian ideology might have the appearance of broader borders since it acts as though it’s not exclusive, it includes othering ideologies and excludes most/any exclusivist truth claims. Unitarianism ends up being a very othering religion in that sense, where there really isn't a purpose other than to avoid thinking one has a corner on the market of purpose and morality.
But a Christianity which embraces a MOB is different. While the margins of the immediate Christian community might be exclusivist and small during the community meeting, the focus is on other and the desire is to include other. It's exactly why you get that famous quote by the Emperor Julian which says, "It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.” Christianity is an exclusive community not in the sense that it excludes others from it, but in the sense that it requires one to exclude self (die to self) for entry. It requires a life where there is a daily dying to self. Entry into the specific Christian body should exclude those who exclude others so that those within the church can go outside of their walls to love and win those people over to the promise of true being (ontological and metaphysical). Just as we saw at the beginning with our example of Data from Star Trek, a desire for others to become like us is a good thing, provided we know the telos of the beings we are or seek to become. We don't want to include those in our church who have not yet seen the need to die to self, for then they would eat from the tree of life and go on thinking they were alive, when they were in reality, the living dead. Our Christian community doesn't want to sear the consciences and give false hope to those who think they have heard the words of life when they are still adulterers whose mistress is the pride of life. It is only by excluding others from our immediate community that we can have the hope of one day including them as a result of our being a living sacrifice poured out for them. [For a great example of this, look at I Cor. 5 where Paul shows that separation from community is a loving thing to do in order to show one their selfishness and in hopes of drawing them back into true life.]
A great example of this exclusivist inclusion may be the medical community. To be a doctor is an exclusive position which requires qualifications and vetting. But unlike the KKK, nations, or other groups which exclude based on arbitrary values and self-focus, the exclusivism of the medical community is done not to keep others on the outside, but so that those on the outside may be best helped rather than harmed in the administration of treatment. Doctors are the health of the world in a similar way that the author of the Letter to Diognetus declares Christians to be the soul of the world. The Christian community ought to be salt and light - not mere preservatives and guides, but elements which also add flavor and beauty to the world. We’ve tried inclusivity, which is called sacralism. Sacralism has spent the last 1500 years of church history polluting the soul, dimming the light, and diminishing the saltiness of Christianity. In this way, we can see that when the church becomes fully inclusive without discretion, it actually becomes harmful rather than beneficial. Just as we don’t want the medical community to be all inclusive, neither do we want Christianity to be all inclusive. It’s only be excluding some in the liturgy and community that Christianity can move out to love and seek the benefit of those who refuse to submit to self-sacrifice.
Now, whether Christianity in name has done this well or not is beside the point. The point is that true Christianity looks like this and ought to pursue such a morality. The same should be true of anarchists who consider themselves Christians. Christian Anarchist morality is beautiful in its tendency to emphasize self-sacrifice and other. It's beautiful in its willingness to take on consequences for a refusal to compromise with evil. Yet without the resurrection and without a Christian perspective, there is little to no moral foundation or meaning in doing such things. That means that as a Christian Anarchist, I want to stick to my guns (or peace signs) and belabor the resurrection and the Christian perspective, not because I want to exclude others, but because its the only way to include everyone, it's the only way to provide hope, it's the only way to ground unswerving morality, and because it's true. I will continue to love all people, yet it's because I love them that I won't swerve from the truth. By being exclusive to that which is true, I'm seeking the good of others and the inclusiveness of all.