Eternity again and again

I’ve posted before on eternity, but there is much to say on this endless subject.    The first thing to figure out is what eternity is.  There are two main contenders:

  • Eternity is time without beginning or an end, sometimes called sempiternity.
  • Eternity stands outside of time. It is a perspective on time, but not time itself.  Eternity is nunc stans, from the Latin meaning remaining now, unchanging.  Ordinary time is nunc fluens, time that flows or passes.

The second way of thinking about eternity is often attributed to Plato (Timaeus 37c-e), but it became theologically significant in the work of Augustine (Confessions, book 11).  God, and only God, is eternal.  Earthly time, temporal time, is so insubstantial and illusory as to border on non-being (Erie, p 62).  Just as humans can only find fulfillment in God, so they can only find fulfillment in eternity.  God and eternity are virtually the same thing.   

Now is a ceaselessly moving point between past and future.  It is ephemeral, and totally lacking in substance.  For this reason, time has no value.  I was going to write, “ordinary time just is,” but the thing about time is that its substance, moments, have no substance.  They are gone the instant they have begun. 

Eternity is the opposite.  It is always present and everywhere.  In eternity all time is now.  How to make sense of this?  I like the simple explanation of C. S. Lewis.  He is answering the question how could God hear every prayer uttered by all who are praying at the same time.

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David Hart’s defense of God turns religion into philosophy

David Hart’s defense of God turns religion into philosophy.

David Bentley Hart has written a book that proves that God exists.  However, by the time I finished reading it I no longer cared, for the God he writes about has nothing to do with any God I would bother  worshiping.  For Hart, God becomes a Platonic form (eidos, είδος).

Hart writes that “it is impossible to say how, in the terms naturalism allows, nature could exist at all.” (p 18)  By “naturalism” Hart means materialism, and the scientific method by which we study matter.  I think what he is trying to say is that science can’t answer a basic question that puzzles a lot of philosophers, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  The universe didn’t have to exist; why does it?  An answer like “the universe was brought into existence by the big bang” doesn’t answer the question, because the big bang is part of the story of existence.  One might as well ask “why did the big bang exist?”  I’m sure there are scientists puzzling over this question right now, but no answer they come up with could satisfy Hart.

It’s kind of like the question about “what does the earth rest on?”  The shoulders of Atlas, ancient Greeks replied.  And what does Atlas stand on, one might respond?  A giant turtle?  And what does the giant turtle rest on?  Another giant turtle.  And what does the second giant turtle rest on?  “Hey, man, it’s just turtles all the way down.”

To some people this answer, or rather its philosophical version, is deeply upsetting.  It is to Hart.

An honest and self-aware atheism, therefore, should proudly recognize itself as the quintessential expression of heroic irrationalism: a purely and ecstatically absurd venture of faith, a triumphant trust in the absurdity of all things.  But most of us already know this anyway. If there is no God, then of course the universe is ultimately absurd, in the very precise sense that it is irreducible to any more comprehensive “equation.” It is glorious, terrible, beautiful, horrifying — all of that — but in the end it is also quite, quite meaningless. (p 19)

            What’s so bad about that?  The universe is absurd, in the sense that it has no meaning other than that given to it by humans.  God didn’t write the Bible; humans did.  Even belief in God is absurd, in the sense that we give meaning to life by positing God.  (Which doesn’t say anything about whether God actually exists.  Perhaps God put this posit in us.)  Albert Camus, the foremost absurdist, has shown us how to live meaningfully in an absurd universe, one that does not respond to my demand for recognition.  Humans create a meaningful world by giving it meaning, beginning with human basics such as love and attachment, and then trying to overcome what we experience as the hostility of nature, “fighting against creation as he found it,” as Dr. Rieux says in Camus’ The Plague, a tale for our times.

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