Just outside Emporia, KS, right off I-35, on the east side of town, there’s a smallish road-sign that says “Repent Now! Or regret it forever…“*
Extortion, according to Wikipedia, is a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property, belief, votes or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called salvation protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized religious crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence or a lawsuit which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future eternal torture in hell violence or lawsuit is sufficient to commit the offense.
Anyway, while it’s very tempting to delve into the finer points of extortion with respect to this sort of “your money or your life” choice, that’s not what I intend to discuss. Instead, what really interests me about that threat (which is exactly what it is) is the sense of urgency it demands: “repent now“, or else…
But why is it so important to repent now? The obvious rationale is because if you don’t repent – now – and you die… [insert all manner of ominous implications here]
Well, you’ll go to hell! You know, “Abandon all hope…“, and that sort of thing.
Not so fast. Let’s break this down. Assuming the claims of Christianity are true for a second, we can conclude that:
(1) The soul exists, and has free will
The soul may be defined as the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, and will, and by which our bodies are animated. The term “mind” usually denotes this principle as the subject of our conscious states, while “soul” denotes the source of our vegetative activities as well. That our vital activities proceed from a principle capable of subsisting in itself, is the thesis of the substantiality of the soul: that this principle is not itself composite, extended, corporeal, or essentially and intrinsically dependent on the body, is the doctrine of spirituality. If there be a life after death, clearly the agent or subject of our vital activities must be capable of an existence separate from the body.
(2) The soul is eternal
…St. Justin, supposing that the doctrine of natural immortality logically implies eternal existence, rejects it, making this attribute (like Plato in the “Timaeus”) dependent on the free will of God ; at the same time he plainly asserts the de facto immortality of every human soul.
(3) And that this free-will, in combination with infinite time with which to “be free”, is not any more immune from mistakes (e.g. “sin”) than it was when confined to a temporal, corporeal existence. Again, if Christianity is true, then one need not look any further than the fall of Lucifer to deduce that this a self-evident fact.
In other words, even if you make it to heaven, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to stay there. After all, you’re only human!
By the way, I mentioned “sin” previously, and I think that it’s worth commenting on that just a bit more. Burton Mack, in his (incredibly thorough) book, “Who Wrote the New Testament: The Making of the Christian Myth“, has this to say about sin:
The word sin occurs frequently in early Jewish texts in reference to behavior that did not accord with Torah, a concept encompassing ethical instruction, rules for ritual observance, and scriptural legislation for the sacrificial system of the second temple society. Torah referred to the Jewish way of life, and sin referred to disregard of its laws, rules, or codes of etiquette. It did not refer to an individual’s religious experience or sense of wrongdoing, though psychological considerations could be used to distinguish between intentional and unintentional failures to keep the conventions or laws, and violations could be ranked to indicated more serious and less serious infractions. Nevertheless, both sin, or the failure to keep the law, and piety, or the faithful keeping of the law, were objective matters, and the term sinners could therefore be used to classify people whose deeds or patterns of behavior were known not to correspond to Torah.
The first conceptual advance was developed in the first three chapters (of Romans) where Paul rephrased the human problem to which the gospel provided an answer. The problem was no longer stated in terms of gentile ethnicity or Jewish failure to keep the law. The problem, Paul said, was the power of sin. This was a brand new concept, a concept that Paul developed in order to include both Jew and gentile, or all of humankind, within the horizon and in need of the Christian gospel. Instead of referring to sins in the plural, a notion that would have recalled the Jewish concept of transgressions of sins that were committed specifically in relation to particular commandments, Paul used the singular and thus turned the concept of sin into a universal feature of human existence. More than that, he personified sin into an objective power or field of force that determined the whole of human existence “before” the coming of Christ.
“…Paul presupposed the solution when he conjured up the problem. Some would say that was cheating. And yet, to this day, Christian theologians have used his concept of sin as a neutral and apt category to describe what they call “the human problem”
Getting back on topic, the main point I’m attempting to make is that if the soul is the source of free will (which I’ve already shown is a page right out of “Christianity 101″), and that the soul is eternal (refer to previously mentioned page), then it follows that there’s no reason the soul must choose to repent before the body dies; death being all but irrelevant as far as the soul is concerned. That is, there’s no reason, as the sign outside Emporia emplores, to repent now; if it turns out I need to do that, I can just as easily do it after “I” (meaning my body, not my “soul”) die. In any case, I reckon I have plenty of time!
Still, for some reason, I just can’t get this song out of my head…
* Edit: Here’s a picture of the road-sign. I didn’t get the exact wording correct, but the meaning (the threat) is the same. (3/12/2010)