Survival of the species

by Andrea Elizabeth

A few discussions of atheism have come into the radar lately, which has got me to thinking. For the survival of the species to be the main motivation for the continuance and development of life, it would have to someone else’s goal, because I think most people are too selfish to be mainly motivated by what’s good for future generations over what feels good now. This flaw was the essence of the fall – I want it for me now, not for others later. True, a mother’s instincts drive her to protect her child over herself – when obvious danger presents itself, wont get into how a mother can also be selfish amidst more subtle dangers – but this instinct isn’t really her idea, generally. Someone must have put it in her, and I don’t know how atheists explain that.

Another related observation is that babies of all species seem surprised to discover their appendages. Whoa, is this hand really mine? I’m noticing that when I do this, it does that. It seems a gift. Not only is the baby uninvolved, but parents don’t choose their baby’s equipment either, so who does? Random chance of atomic attraction (why are atoms attracted to each other anyway?) doesn’t do it for me.

This gets into where does desire come from. If survival of the species is the motivation, and if desire is only to that end, then more efficient desire would be less selfish than people are. Unselfish desire for future generations would be mainly cerebral, but humans are basically less cerebrally motivated, despite our other advances. As an aside, to me a person should develop from being feelings oriented, to being more rational, then hopefully, back to purified, unselfish feelings – the mind in the heart, if you will. Hardly anyone achieves this. Less and less in each generation, according to the Church. It seems that atheists believe that the species is, or was, too stupid to be concerned for future generations so desire for pleasure had to take over to get people to procreate. Actually, I’ve heard some Christians (Protestant if I recall) say that too. God gave us desire to propagate the species. That seems sort of demeaning. The command be fruitful and multiply wasn’t enough for us dummies, so He had to entice and seduce us into it? Same goes for eating. Is food good because otherwise I’d be too stupid to eat it and die before I could have any kids? Surely desire has a higher function than that. The Calvinists say that we are put here to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. They may be onto something (cringe). All our desire should be aimed toward enjoying Him, though that is too selfish a word. Theosis is enjoyment better understood. From OrthodoxWiki,

Theosis (“deification,” “divinization”) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (“missing the mark”), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection. For Orthodox Christians, Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation. Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-Holy Trinity. Therefore, an infant or an adult worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness (hamartía — which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”) for participation in the Life (zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity — which is everlasting.

This is not to be confused with the heretical (apothéōsis) – “Deification in God’s Essence“, which is imparticipable.

Alternative spellings: Theiosis, Theopoiesis

Orthodox theology

The statement by St. Athanasius of Alexandria, “The Son of God became man, that we might become god”, [the second g is always lowercase since man can never become a God] indicates the concept beautifully. II Peter 1:4 says that we have become ” . . . partakers of divine nature.” Athanasius amplifies the meaning of this verse when he says theosis is “becoming by grace what God is by nature” (De Incarnatione, I). What would otherwise seem absurd, that fallen, sinful man may become holy as God is holy, has been made possible through Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. Naturally, the crucial Christian assertion, that God is One, sets an absolute limit on the meaning of theosis – it is not possible for any created being to become, ontologically, God or even another god.

Through theoria, the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, human beings come to know and experience what it means to be fully human (the created image of God); through their communion with Jesus Christ God shares Himself with the human race, in order to conform them to all that God is in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Theosis also asserts the complete restoration of all people (and of the entire creation), in principle. This is built upon the understanding of the atonement put forward by Irenaeus of Lyons, called “recapitulation.”

For many fathers, theosis goes beyond simply restoring people to their state before the Fall of Adam and Eve, teaching that because Christ united the human and divine natures in his person, it is now possible for someone to experience closer fellowship with God than Adam and Eve initially experienced in the Garden of Eden, and that people can become more like God than Adam and Eve were at that time. Some Orthodox theologians go so far as to say that Jesus would have become incarnate for this reason alone, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned.

All of humanity is fully restored to the full potential of humanity because the Son of God took to Himself a human nature to be born of a woman, and takes to Himself also the sufferings due to sin (yet is not Himself a sinful man, and is God unchanged in His being). In Christ, the two natures of God and human are not two persons but one; thus, a union is effected in Christ, between all of humanity and God. So, the holy God and sinful humanity are reconciled in principle, in the one sinless man, Jesus Christ. (See Jesus’s prayer as recorded in John17.)

This reconciliation is made actual through the struggle (podvig in Russian) to conform to the image of Christ. Without the struggle, the praxis, there is no real faith; faith leads to action, without which it is dead. One must unite will, thought and action to God’s will, His thoughts and His actions. A person must fashion his life to be a mirror, a true likeness of God. More than that, since God and humanity are more than a similarity in Christ but rather a true union, Christians’ lives are more than mere imitation and are rather a union with the life of God Himself: so that, the one who is working out salvation, is united with God working within the penitent both to will and to do that which pleases God. Gregory Palamas affirmed the possibility of humanity’s union with God in His energies, while also affirming that because of God’s transcendence and utter otherness, it is impossible for any person or other creature to know or to be united with God’s essence. Yet through faith we can attain phronema, an understanding of the faith of the Church.

The journey towards theosis includes many forms of praxis. Living in the community of the church and partaking regularly of the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, is taken for granted. Also important is cultivating “prayer of the heart”, and prayer that never ceases, as Paul exhorts the Thessalonians (1 and 2). This unceasing prayer of the heart is a dominant theme in the writings of the Fathers, especially in those collected in the Philokalia.
       See also: Desert Fathers, Hesychasm, Maximus the Confessor, Monasticism