Toward a Post-Cartesian Theology, Part 6: Salvation as Divine Volitional Unanimity

Again, I'm jumping right in hoping you've read Parts 1-5 of this series.

As I said in the last post, grand theological systems, like political systems, need to specify the nature and capacities of human beings. And one capacity that needs to be specified is volitional scope. I've been arguing that in the post-Cartersian situation (i.e., the demise of body/soul dualism) weak volitional models will become ascendant. In these models, although scope for the will is allowed, the will is also seen as highly situational and contingent.

The biggest soteriological implication falling out from weak volitional models is the marginalizaton of concepts such as moral blame and praise. Moral praise and blame rely on strong volitional models. They presuppose a "free will capacitiy." That is, the moral agent's will, and only their will, is the cause of any action/decision. Thus, the agent's will is the sole target--100% responsible--for praise/blame.

But weak volitional models give us ideas such as Frankfurt, where freedom is not defined as the ability to transcend the causal order but rather as volitional unanimity.

But as we noted in our posts on Frankfurt, our volition comes to us with investments, carings, and loves. These things we do not choose, or, if we do, we find that acquiring or modifying these investments takes time and effort. Ever try to change a habit? Love an enemy? Lose 20 pounds? Be a better person? Then you know how hard it is to change our volitional structure.

What all this implies, from a soteriological standpoint, is that salvation should not rely on notions of choice. Why? Because choice is built atop volitional necessities. Thus, some people just don't careabout God or goodness. And this lack of care is how they find themselves. It is who they are. And those investments are difficult to change. We understand this.

What I'm saying is that salvation should shift from choice to volitional investments. From decisions to issues of caring. And this focus means that salvation is more effortful and slow. In a strong volitional world, "salvation" can happen quickly, on a moment's notice. We, in a moment, "accept Jesus as our Savior." But from Frankfurt's perspective that choice is really the manifestation of prior and deeper volitional investments. So, to get someone to a "moment of choice" a longer journey is a prerequisite, a journey to change what the person fundamentally cares about.

My thought is that salvation in the post-Cartesian world should have as its goal the production of divine volitional unanimity. We want the things that God wants. This is the target of salvation. With this as the target, strong volitional soteriological notions get systematically reworked:

1, Being a slave to sin means that volitional unanimity is disturbed by inner impulses/desires that the agent seeks to reject. Thus, being freed from sin is slowly achieving volitional unanimity, where the impulses/desires of the "flesh" are slowly mastered. This is a Frankfurtian reworking of traditional notions of sanctification. Salvation as divine volitional unanimity.

2. Salvation is often viewed as a purification/cleansing. Traditionally, what makes us "dirty" are "sins." But if blameworthiness erodes in the post-Cartesian situation, this traditional model needs to get modified. Purification, thus, will be less involved in issues of blame (or shifting blame onto Christ on our behalf), but with volitional unanimity. Sören Kierkegaard famously said that "purity of heart is to will one thing." If we take his lead then purity is the achievement of divine volitional unanimity, where we will what God wills. Purity is thus about focusing the will on the investments of God.

3. Finally, to focus our volitional investments is just another way, according to Frankfurt, to say that we love certain things. So, another way to say we have divine volitional unanimity is to simply say that we love the things God loves.

To summarize, my sketch of weak volitional salvation involves the following:

Salvation is...
Divine volitional unanimity

Which implies...
Freedom from sin: We want the things that God do the things we want.
Purity of heart: To will the Will of God ("purity of heart is to will one thing").
Love: Loving God and the things God loves.

Notice that as we converge on divine volitional unanimity all these things happen simultaneously: freedom from sin, purity of heart, and the love of God. It is a very parsimonious model, where freedom/purity/love are all intimately connected. They all tell the same story.

So, if salvation is the attainment of freedom/purity/love (i.e., divine volitional unanimity), how do we get people into this position? As I said, this process will be more effortful and slow than simply "accepting Jesus as my Savior." This effort and time causes us to take up issues of eschatology and theodicy in the coming posts.

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3 thoughts on “Toward a Post-Cartesian Theology, Part 6: Salvation as Divine Volitional Unanimity”

  1. "So, if salvation is the attainment of freedom/purity/love (i.e., divine volitional unanimity), how do we get people into this position?"

    This is the part of the plan that I'm most confused about, so I'm glad to hear that you're going to give the definitive answers to all my questions. =)

    Specifically: if people only act on their carings, and have no real power to change their carings, how can we expect Christians (or counselors, for that matter) to help people change? And even worse, what if Christians start out in the position of not caring to help people change?

    If our definitions describe the situation with near-mathematical accuracy, I'm pretty darn sure I could write an inductive proof that shows that no one can ever improve beyond their current set of carings.

  2. Is this transformation to "divine volitional unanimity" an act of God or man? i.e. Who is doing the saving here? If it is a long, slow, hard process, that would imply it is man or mostly man. Putting this responsibility squarely on the shoulders of man seems at odds with the "weak volitional" model.

    Also, by putting the emphasis on divine volitional unanimity, it seems to me you are stressing the heart/belief part of Christianity. i.e. by loving what God loves (having our beliefs/heart in the right place) then doing God's will will follow. This seems at odds with much of what you were posting on the blog earlier, with regards to orthopraxy vs orthodoxy.

  3. Matthew and Pecs,
    Your comments point out why this perspective is going to have to lean heavily on eschatology and theodicy. That is, both Time and God's Activity are going to be needed to save humanity. We cannot, easily, save ourselves. Basically, I'm going to let sanctification trump justification and make the universalist move I typically make.

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