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Existing as aspects of the divine mind

26 September 2007

John Saxbee reads a speculative foray into what the afterlife might consist of

Immortality Defended
John Leslie

Blackwell Publishing £9.99 (978-1-4051-6204-3)
Church Times Bookshop £9

THIS LITTLE book is about big ideas. It is not for the philosophically challenged, but the argument can be followed quite comfortably by those willing to read some sentences at least twice to get their meaning.

If the cosmos exists for a reason, it is unreasonable to believe that it, or we as part of it, are destined for annihilation. John Leslie develops a creation story told by Plato to establish a reason why there is actually anything in existence. It is because something existing is better than nothing existing. The existence of the cosmos is required by The Good — it is an ethical requirement.

Furthermore, if it is an ethical requirement, then it must necessarily exist.

But why should things exist independently of a divine mind simply contemplating them? Here Leslie invokes Pantheism to suggest that there is indeed nothing apart from infinite divine awareness of everything. As he puts it, following Spinoza: “The world’s patterns are nothing but divine thought-patterns.” So when we speak of “God”, we are referring to a divine mind in which our universe is contained.

Now we come to the main subject, which is immortality. Having used Pantheism to locate the cosmos in a divine mind, and Plato to explain why the cosmos must exist, Leslie proposes three types of immortality that he considers plausible. One or more of these should be adopted if we are going to counter an unreasonable belief in annihilation.

The first is Einsteinian, as it entails humans’ continuing to exist in a fourth dimension.

The second type offers the possibility of an afterlife in continuity with our earlier three-dimensional experience by means of our passing into the divine mind and sharing its life.

The third type does not neces-sarily entail the continued existence of our life-patterns, but the divine thought-patterns that contain them will continue, and that is a kind of immortality.

Leslie is both a philosopher of religion and a cosmologist, and it is that combination that gives this speculative essay its originality and appeal. Nevertheless, it is not convincing. Plato can be read in other ways; and what is appealed to as Pantheism feels more like Panentheism — a rather different kettle of philosophical fish.

The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee is the Bishop of Lincoln.

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