Qaz' official review of Our Stories


#1

I am a Christian who has suffered apeirophobia (fear of immortality/heaven) since childhood. With great enthusiasm I read John Martin Fischer’s “Our Stories: Essays on Life, Death, and Free Will” (especially the essay “Why Immortality Is Not so Bad”. “Our Stories” is the only book I’m aware of that directly addresses the fears that have haunted me for so long and offers alternative ways to think about the subject of eternal life. For this I am extremely grateful for Fischer’s book.

Fischer’s main goal is to show that death is bad. To do this, Fischer argues (against the epicureans) that death is a deprivation of the good. The epicureans argued that death cannot be bad for a person who dies because the dead person has no unpleasant experience. They held that it’s irrational to fear death since people do not typically fear their prenatal nonexistence. But through thought experiments, Fischer argues that asymmetric attitudes towards prenatal and postmortem nonexistence are in line with the human tendency to prefer good experiences be in the future than in the past.

Just because Fischer has made a decent case for death’s badness, however, doesn’t mean the alternative (immortality) is necessarily desirable. Perhaps reality is absurdly tragic, and the only two possible options are both bad. That’s been my painful dilemma, simultaneously fearing the possibilities of annihilation and living forever. It’s a paradox. Maybe even a contradiction.

So Fischer doesn’t settle with merely showing why death is bad. He attempts to show how immortality could be desirable.
His theory that with a rotation of repeatable pleasures – sex, delectable food, beautiful scenery, our favorite music – spaced far enough apart, one could be happy forever, is quite ingenious. For the first time in my life I’m not sure immortality would necessarily be bad. However, there is still a problem that was not addressed in “Our Stories”. I call it the telos problem. On earth we are primarily driven by our need to eat, drink, and have shelter. But in heaven, presumably, we don’t have to worry about procuring those things. What will drive us to do anything? As of now, here on earth, I (like most if not all people) have a cycle: Leave home for work, come home for dinner and rest, repeat, with trips outside the home for leisure activities dispersed throughout the work/rest cycle. But in heaven, presumably there is no work. Think of the economy. So many people are employed in healthcare, law enforcement, military, advertising… But in heaven there would be no need for these occupations. So what do people do, leisure all the time? As crazy as this may sound, that sounds scary to me. I think the pursuit of things that we need to do to survive underlies our happiness. I wonder if Fischer shares my intuition that a telos is essential to human happiness, and I wonder how he thinks humans could be driven to do things in a world where they don’t need to do anything to survive.

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of literature responding to Bernard Williams’ persuasive essay that immortality would be bad. It’s my hope that other philosophers pick up where Fischer has started. There’s nothing in Our Stories that will cause a gestalt shift in how an apeirophobe views unending life, but there is plenty of food for thought that can at least reduce those fears.


#2

We can trust it will be better than we can even imagine:

1 Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV)

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

I think with the end of all death, and the coming of new quality heavens and earth, there will endless, joyful adventures for us, in an endless universe:

Isaiah 9:7a

Of the increase of His government [YLT “princely power”] and peace
There will be no end.


#3

On the topic of pleasure being spaced out, this is exactly how it is here on Earth. Take sex, for example. The only reason we enjoy it or even want it because our DNA code is designed that way. If you remove that drive, the desire for sex goes away. Being that, asside from drugs, we can’t turn this off, the desire remains and provided at some level the desire is met, satisfaction results.

This is also similar with eating. Ever heard the phrase “hunger is the best sauce”? Anyone who practices self discipline with their eating habits will confirm this truth. But if we saturate our taste buds with more (and thus, bring diminishing returns) and more flavor attempting to chase pleasure, we find that normal foods are not desirable at all.

Without our human drives, we would pursue nothing. Many of these drives, perhaps not all, are merely the result of our DNA.


#4

It’s frustrating for me how so many Christians take it as a given that immortality would be good, and thus do not attempt to explain how. I would love for a brilliant philosopher like Talbott to write a book like Our Stories.


#5

Seems an odd belief to hold given the whole ECT / universalism debate within Christianity.


#6

Davo, obviously immortality could take various forms, some less pleasant than others. Given the two choices of unending physical suffering and no physical suffering, of course I would prefer people experience the latter. But just because people aren’t physically tormented doesn’t mean they can’t experience psychological pain, which could come simply from being immortal. IMO this topic is long overdue for serious attention from Christian philosophers.


#7

Qaz
obviously immortality could take various forms, some less pleasant than others. Given the two choices of unending physical suffering and no physical suffering, of course I would prefer people experience the latter. But just because people aren’t physically tormented doesn’t mean they can’t experience psychological pain, which could come simply from being immortal. IMO this topic is long overdue for serious attention from Christian philosophers.

Dear Qaz, I think I understand, but I’m not sure. I have been suffering deep grief after Alida died last December. I look forward to seeing her again and being with her along with all those the Saviour of the World will welcome into heaven. I really doubt that there will be any experience of pain, be it physical or psychological.

Revelation 21:4 King James Version (KJV)

4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

I realise all this is easy to say. Believing it is harder, for me as well as you.


#8

Thanks Norm. Tom Talbott was the one who said love is the only thing that would make living forever worthwhile. Maybe if I’m fortunate enough to fall in love like you and Alida I won’t fear immortality.


#9