John Baillie (1886-1960): I am Immortal

One philosopher who argues from a Judeo-Christian standpoint that we are immortal is John Baillie, who was born in Scotland in 1886 and who died in 1960 after a long career in philosophy and theology. During his long career, he was even appointed Chaplain to the Queen of Scotland. In his 1934 book And the Life Everlasting, he argues that we are immortal. His writing is very clear.

Baillie’s argument for immortality is given in what he calls a “syllogism of hope.” A syllogism is an argument that consists of two premises and a conclusion. That he uses this form is an advantage to the reader because it clearly identifies his premises and his conclusion; thus, the reader is aided in determining whether the premises are true and whether they provide adequate support for the conclusion.

The first premise of the syllogism of hope is “God is Omnipotent Love.” Baillie starts with belief in God; he assumes the existence of God — an omnipotent, omnibenevolent Being Who is the object of worship in Judeo-Christian religions. For Baillie, two characteristics of God are that He is all-powerful and all-loving.

One must ask whether this premise is true. When Baillie evaluates the truth of this premise, he writes,

“The question I find myself asking is not whether God is omnipotent, but whether Omnipotence is God; not whether the Eternal Lover of our souls is truly in control of the universe, but whether that which is in control of the universe is truly such as to be a Lover of our souls. My own temptation, accordingly, has never been to doubt the power of a God unmistakably revealed as love, but rather to doubt the love of a God unmistakably revealed as power. The almightiness of reality is only too plain; it is the love that so often seems hidden.”

However, Baillie believes that the first premise is true.

The second premise of the syllogism of hope is this: “Therefore, God will preserve the persons He loves and values.” One thing that has been suggested as human beings’ intrinsic value is that through using their free will they are able to choose to bring good into the universe. (Of course, through their free will they are also able to choose to bring evil into the universe.)

One thing that Baillie believes is “The Omnipotence behind the universe is our Father and our Friend.” Therefore, he asks, if these two premises should be allowed, would not this conclusion follow: “Therefore, God will preserve the persons He loves and values.” Indeed, Baillie asks, “Is it possible to believe that the Eternal Father, if He veritably is, should consent to the annihilation of the souls He loves?”

Here is the completed syllogism of hope:

P1: God is Omnipotent Love.

P2: Something of intrinsic value resides in human individuality.

C: Therefore, God will preserve the persons He loves and values.

Baillie finds the syllogism of hope convincing; he adds that if we do not, we ought to ask ourselves which of the two premises we doubt. (Baillie believes that the two premises provide adequate support for the conclusion; therefore, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is also true.)

According to Baillie,

“If the truth […] of [the syllogism of] hope’s [premises] be granted, then its conclusion cannot possibly be resisted. Hence it is of the utmost importance that those who doubt or deny this conclusion should make it clear to others which of the two premises they are doubting. It seems to me that there is no small degree of equivocation in contemporary literature on this vital point. Every one who denies the doctrine of personal immortality is denying either the ultimate conservation by the universe of the values that emerge during its process or the intrinsic nature of the value that resides in personality. Either he is doubting the reality of God the Father Almighty or he is holding possible that God should will the annihilation of the souls He loves — or at the very least the dissipation of their individualities […].”

In conclusion, Baillie offers a way for people to become more assured of their immortality. It is a very simple way, based on Scripture:

“The way to attain to a surer hope is thus not to so much to attend to the sharpening of our wits, though that too may have its measure of importance, as to deepen our human experience of fellowship with God and, as a fruit, increase our sense of the preciousness of human souls. Here as everywhere the two great commandments are to love God with all of our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.”

Copyrighted by Bruce D. Bruce

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