Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Salvation II

In the previous post I gave a description of salvation in psychological and moral terms. According to it, salvation is an achievement of deep and genuine patience accomplished through a calming of the mind and a contemplation of the fact that the frustration, resentment, and anger with which it frequently reacts to the course of mundane events are: (a.) inappropriate, given the fact that on the whole life and the world are very good and (b.) unnecessary, given the fact that the mind can replace resentment and the others with patience. The multiplicity of short- and medium-term goals and low- and mid-priority values that give order to our lives consume so much of our time and demand so much careful attention that, since coming anywhere near fulfilling all of them completely is impossible, we must handle frequent failure. Without having a proper perspective on these failures, frustration, resentment, and anger arise and even snowball themselves into fully-fledged unhappiness. Salvation replaces the discontent with patience and contentedness even amidst the daily failures that will continue to batter the mind.

This description of salvation being purely psychological and moral, what we have here is salvation naturalized. The claim is that salvation can be fully described in non-religious and non-theistic terms: terms that are all descriptions of the profane and devoid of the slightest allusion to the sacred. This is not a definitional naturalism. I don't say that religious definitions of salvation are by definition incorrect. Rather, I mean that either they are not obviously superior to the naturalistic definition of salvation or, at worst, they may be eliminated from our description of salvation as unnecessary.

Religious definitions of salvation will have a fourth component that the naturalistic definition (#1-3) lacks:

4. The events of #1-3 are caused by the sacred or God. Deep and genuine patience is the presence of this sacred being in one's mind, heart or soul. His power or care enables one to handle mundane disappointments with calmness. Salvation is an awakening of faith in a certain supernatural being.

The naturalistic view of salvation simply leaves out #4. It says that #4 may perhaps be true, but there is no reason to think so on the evidence we have at the moment. As a description of salvation, the naturalistic one is not obviously or even probably incomplete on the facts as we know them. Cases of genuine salvation may be frequently described in supernatural terms, but it is not obvious that they are supernatural events. The theist ( who accepts #1-4 as a description of salvation) and the naturalistic atheist who subscribes to the description of salvation I've given in #1-3 have different senses of the term, but they apply it to the same event.

There are both atheists and theists who have experienced salvation. They have different metaphysical claims about what happened to them. The theist will say, "God saved us both," and the atheist will reply, "No deity was involved." So, whether I've succeeded in naturalizing salvation stands as an open question here. (On the other hand, if the theist admits that #1-3 are a complete definition of "salvation," while #4 is merely an additional description of salvation that is not by definition correct, then we could say that the salvation naturalized presented here is definitional.)

Salvation III will discuss the salvation and perdition of Edith Wharton's characters Ellen Olenska and Newland Archer, respectively. The Age of Innocence shows up early in John Kekes's The Art of Life, so the novel will serve as a segue from this series on philosophy of religion to our series on Kekes's book. (By the way, Scorsese's movie is no substitute for the book in this connection. The fine movie leaves out certain glimpses of Olenska's salvation and Archer's perdition.)