Purgatory requires dualism

You can only believe in purgatory if you hold a substance dualist view of human beings.

Purgatory is a place that exists according Roman Catholic Theology, and a number of people who are not Roman Catholic believe in it, too. In Catholic theology, it is a place where you go after death if you are not yet ready for heaven, so that you can receive punishments for the venial sins (the less serious sins, as opposed to mortal sins) that have not yet been dealt with in this life. As Thomas Aquinas put it,

[I]f the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith.

Outside of this historical Catholic understanding of purgatory, others have suggested, not that people need to be punished, but rather that they simply need to be fully sanctified (made holy) before reaching their final state in heaven. Jerry Walls defends this view in his book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. In public conversations, Dr Walls has remarked that while no doubt the sinful human desire is to have total transformation all at once, the reality is that sanctification is a process that takes time, hence purgatory.

I do not believe in purgatory, but I will not here argue that purgatory does not exist. Instead, I will just make one observation: To believe in purgatory presupposes mind-body substance dualism.

I am taking it as given that Christians who believe in purgatory, as well as those who do not, regard the teaching of the New Testament as authoritative. When Christ returns and the dead are raised, according to St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, both those who were dead and the saints who are still alive will be transformed immediately.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body…
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

The transformation to glory, honour, power, imperishability etc that is envisioned here is said to happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” which I take to mean very quickly, more or less straight away. So a gradual process of transformation to glory seems out of the picture after the resurrection of the dead.

But this does not trouble traditional Catholic theology, since Purgatory is believed to be a place that exists now, and right now the souls of those who will eventually see glory are being purified. This is why Catholics are urged to pray for those in purgatory, and why masses have been said for them, so that their time in purgatory might be made shorter. Similarly, neo-purgatory (as I am wont to call Jerry Walls’ view) can accommodate a period to transformation as one approaches glory prior to the resurrection, when transformation to glory and power etc will occur “in a moment,” provided it locates such transformation in an intermediate state between death and resurrection, as does Roman Catholic theology.

What any such view presupposes, obviously, is that I can exist, I can think, I can be held responsible, I can be punished, I can undergo moral and spiritual improvement, etc, while my body is no more. That won’t come as a shock to people who believe in purgatory, because this is exactly what they believe about themselves. This view is mind-body substance dualism (since the “I,” the mind or soul, is a thing that can exist without any physical substance).

But anyone making a case for purgatory (and anyone considering that case) should consider this fact. In order to believe in purgatory without tension with your other beliefs, you must hold (or adopt, if you do not yet hold) mind-body substance dualism. To the extent that you have a reason to reject that view of human persons, you have a reason to not believe in purgatory.

Or so it currently seems to me.

An Ash Wednesday Reflection 2015

We just got back from taking our kids to their first Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a time where we examine ourselves with a repentant heart, confessing our sins and reminding ourselves of God’s mercy. Many people give something up for lent and the practice of fasting during Lent is common, so that people can take their focus off their needs and pleasures and focus on being made right with God.

During the Ash Wednesday service, participants are marked on the forehead with a cross. Tonight the prayer just before the marking with ash really stood out to me:

Loving God, you created us from the dust of the earth; may these ashes be for us a sign of our penitence and mortality, and a reminder that only by the cross do we receive eternal life.

What a simple reality. The prayer wasn’t burdened down with the language that we sometimes use to describe these truths, terminology like “physicalism,” “conditional immortality” or “annihilationism.” One of the frustrating things (but of course not the only frustrating thing) when Christians deny these biblical truths and talk about the immortality of the soul or about everybody living forever (it’s just a question of where they live) is that we have to come up with terminology to describe these positions.

This prayer, though, is a perfect example of how something like “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality” is ideally expressed, with the straightforward, unadorned claims of the Bible. We are mortal, made from the earth (or from stardust as some scientists like to say), we are dust and to dust we will return. We should have no default expectation of living forever, and it is only through Christ that we can have eternal life. Call that “conditional immortality” if you like, but it’s just the Christian Gospel.

Glenn Peoples

Dualism and Gender Identity

Might it be true that the gender of some people’s souls doesn’t match the sex of their bodies?

In the ever-driven politics of the language of gender, the word “cisgender” has been forged. Without harping on too much about it, it’s a word that, in my view, has been created in part to destabilise the notion of “normal” as far as gender goes, so that what most of us took to be normal until now can be spoken about as simply one condition among the others. To be “cisgender” is to have physical makeup – including chromosomes but especially including sex organs – so that by examining your physical structure, a person can tell whether or not your gender is male or female. Continue reading “Dualism and Gender Identity”

Book announcement: Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology

I’m delighted to announce that in December 2014 the Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology will be published, featuring a chapter from me called “The Mortal God.” The chapter is about how a doctrine of the incarnation might look coupled with a materialist view of human beings. Theological anthropology is about coming up with a view of human persons from a decidedly theological point of view, although there is a natural overlap with philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, theology and biblical studies. Questions about bodies, minds, souls, spirits, life, death, eternity and more are tackled in this sizeable piece of scholarship.

Here’s the synopsis: Continue reading “Book announcement: Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology”

Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2

Does the Bible actually teach that souls live on when the body dies? Short story: no.

In part 1 of this series I looked at what the Bible does say about the mind-body question. You should read that before you read this post. In short, in Scripture there’s a fairly clear portrait of human beings as physical and mortal, returning to the earth when we die, and depending on the resurrection of the dead for any future life beyond the grave. The familiar view of human beings as immaterial souls that inhabit physical bodies and live on when the body dies is not one supported in the Bible.

But is it really that simple? The evidence we saw last time was surprisingly clear, but still, some Christian readers of Scripture are resistant to this message. There are some passages in the Bible – although not many – that seem to some Christians to suppose that actually human beings do not die when their bodies die, but they actually live on in non-material form. Their souls don’t die. Some passages of the Bible, some people think, teach dualism because they teach that the soul outlives the body.

Continue reading “Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2”

Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1

This might surprise some people, but embracing a biblical worldview gives us reasons to be mind-body materialists rather than dualists.

I first rejected mind-body dualism not because of any sort of scientific scepticism but because of what I started to see in the Bible when I started looking.1 For what it’s worth, I think other Christians should do the same. Continue reading “Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1”

  1. Specifically, I mean substance dualism, a view most clearly represented by the French philosopher René Descartes, or in classical thought by Plato. Materialism as a view of human beings is compatible with property dualism, with emergentism or with hylemorphism (in which a human being, like any other creature, is a compound of matter and form), in spite of the fact that the word dualism is used to describe each. The key is that these are views where the only substance involved is a physical substance. []

Divine Timelessness and the Death of Jesus

If the doctrine of divine timelessness is true, then it turns out – perhaps surprisingly to some people – that materialist Christology – and in particular what it has to say about the death of Jesus – is given a helping hand.

Continue reading “Divine Timelessness and the Death of Jesus”

Poisoning the well, dualist style

Is Christian physicalism really the child of naturalism that gives essentialism the heave-ho?

I really wish that evangelical institutions would pick the right fights to get into. A couple of days ago I got an email advertisement from that great bastion of substance dualism (or more importantly, that good and faithful opponent of Christian physicalism) in the modern Evangelical world, Biola University. The advertisement reads as follows:

Continue reading “Poisoning the well, dualist style”

Brian Leftow on “One Person Christology”

How can a Chalcedonian Christology avoid ending up with Christ being two people? If the divine logos (the second person of the Trinity) combined with a fully functioning human body and soul (which some people take to be the ingredients of a human being), that is surely two people and not one, right?

Continue reading “Brian Leftow on “One Person Christology””

Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep

He’s right about a lot of things, but soul sleep isn’t one of them.

Tom Wright’s scholarly writing on the biblical teaching on the resurrection of the dead is praiseworthy for a number of reasons. He has alerted the evangelical community to the unfortunate way in which popular theologies of “going to heaven” are eclipsing the biblical hope of the resurrection to eternal life. But he does have one major weak spot, in my view, and that is the rather poor treatment of the doctrine of “soul sleep.” Soul sleep is the view that people do not experience any conscious intermediate state of waiting between death and resurrection. They are wholly dead until God steps in and raises them back to life. Continue reading “Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep”