Wednesday, July 12, 2006

We don't have souls?

This week I heard someone say that we humans don’t have souls. It’s the kind of statement that shocks you into paying attention to what this guy is getting at. It sounds weird – maybe even heretical – until you think about it and realize that he’s right.

We don’t have souls. We are souls.

We have bodies. To say that one has a soul infers that it is something you can discard. But you can’t get rid of your soul. You can’t leave it at the office and go back to pick it up later. If you go to sleep, or are knocked unconscious, your physical body is not able to respond to the physical world around you … but you continue to be you. When you wake up, you are still the same person you were before you went to sleep.

Your soul is what makes you who you are. It is what defines your personhood. It is what continues to make you, you – even as all the cells of your body die and are replaced every 7 years. Naturalistic scientists and philosophers have to explain how this can be. If your mind is just the physical gray matter that sits between your ears, and the cells that make up that gray matter (as well as the rest of your physical body) are constantly in flux, how is it that you continue to be the same person you were last week, last year, when you were a little kid, or when you were in the womb. Your soul is what makes you eternal.

This is not to say that the Christian view of the body demeans its importance. To the contrary, the body is the means by which we interact with God’s creation. In that way it is the physical expression of our character and therefore a reflection of our faith. It is the way the world knows whether, and what, we believe. It cannot subsist without the soul – it separates from the soul at our physical death – but somehow, in a way we cannot fully comprehend, orthodoxy tells us that it will be resurrected in some sort of glorified state in the new creation. The body is an incarnation, inextricably linked to the soul to form a human person made in the image of God.

We get ourselves in trouble when we exalt either aspect of our personhood to the detriment of the other. The Gnostics and Greek dualists of old, and their modern New Age descendants, deny the importance of the body. The naturalists deny the existence of the soul. Both diminish a complete view of our humanity.

The notion of authenticity of the soul is not just some fascinating concept to wrestle with. It is a claim of metaphysical reality. As such, it is a challenge to the naturalistic worldview that dominates the power structure of our culture. If the physical world is the only thing that is real, we have no basis for grounding our morality or ethics, and no hope for the future.

I don’t think we can live in the real world accepting that assumption to be true. It goes against what we intuitively know about how the world works. It goes against what we know in our soul to be true.

That soul that we don’t have …

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