Missing Axioms XII – Eternal Judgement
Bouguereau’s Pieta1 completely arrests the viewer with directed anger. Mary’s tear-flooded eyes tell of an emotion not present in the common impeccable depictions of the virgin: indignation. Indignation at the will of God, or in other words: the will of existence itself. God judged that it was her who had to humbly offer her only son. The indignant Mary flips the universe on its head, she judges God with anger regarding his will with no recourse to change the martyrdom of her son.
Judgement grounds ethics, for something to have ethical meaning it has to be valued positively or negatively. Ethics jettisons itself into the unending scepticism of meta-ethical relativism when it loses any mechanism by which to judge2. ‘Ought’ is and will always be a matter of belief. ‘Secular’ minds seek to pluck their ethics out of thin-air and are always surprised when they end up with mere sociology.
For coherent ethical statements some mechanism of judgement must be believed in. It is in this sense that I see a belief in the Christian idea of a final judgement performing the necessary metaphysical role for ethical grounding to exist. The same role could be played by another such mechanism, for example Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence:
“This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence […]”3
Here we are posed with a mechanism of judgement not from scepticism, but from a first principle of Metaphysical eternity: “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?”4. Interestingly enough this is also the impetus to follow God’s law in Christian ethical judgement. Follow the word of God and live a ‘good’ Christian life in the here and now and you will be rewarded in metaphysical eternity, the alternative being eternal punishment. Both the Christian and Nietzschean mechanism appeal to an “ultimate eternal confirmation”5.
Revealed to us is the reason why the biblical Mary didn’t react indignantly. Her belief grounded in a metaphysical universe instantiated through a faith in God, despite her earthly pain, steeled her ability to stand by the will of God despite its apparent injustices. Which are, from her perspective, the injustices inherent in existence. To avoid ethics withering away with temporal human constructs it appears we need faith in some eternal mechanism of judgement:
“And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on the thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.”6
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.”7
One can endlessly apply moral scepticism but then one loses any sense of judgement. In a world devoid of ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’ it seems that, as fallible beings able to rationalise any sort of behaviour in post hoc psychological construction, we are destined to wither away. The sceptical human animal digs it’s nails into the apparent zero-sum nature of a relative universe, racing to the bottom of our biological finitude. This is the alternative unless we can appeal to the eternity found only in mechanisms of judgement.
“And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.”8
- See Moral Error Theory, I think this is the eventual logical terminus of sceptical ethics.
- Nietzsche, F.W. 1974. The Gay Science. Translated by W. Kaufmann 341, pp.273
- Nietzsche, F.W. 1974. The Gay Science. Translated by W. Kaufmann 341, pp.274
- Matthew 21:19, King James Version
- Matthew 21:21
- Revelation 6:13