Friday, September 18, 2009
An article from the Science section of The New York Times started me thinking about the soul in general and my soul in particular. The article by Cornelia Dean was titled, “Science of the Soul? ‘I Think, Therefore I Am’ Is Losing Force.”
Dean details the challenge that evolutionary scientists are bringing to the religious concept of humans having a soul. Some scientists point to evidence that moral reasoning (one of the soul’s central attributes) is a result of physical traits that have evolved over time. In other words, what we call a soul is really combination of brain synapses firing. As the brain evolves, so does the soul.
My question to this scientific challenge of the soul’s existence is, “What do you mean by ‘soul’?”
You can’t find much about the soul in the Old or New Testaments. In Hebrew thought, there was no concept of a soul separate from the body. In the New Testament, there’s a lot of talk about spirit, but almost nothing about soul.
The truth is that Greek philosophy introduced the concept of an immortal soul as separate from the body. Platonism regarded the soul as divine and indestructible. In this view, salvation is the soul’s liberation from the body, the source of evil.
Christianity, however, affirmed the goodness of the body. While Platonists hoped for immortality, Christians looked for the resurrection of the dead. As Christianity evolved, some theologians combined these two concepts and advocated a “resurrection of the soul.”
My own understanding of the soul is that it is our deep and abiding identity. “Soul” is the name we give to the center of our reasoning, will and emotions. I would consider “self” and “personality” as pretty good synonyms for soul.
I agree with C.S Lewis who said, "We don't have a soul; we are souls." Humans are an essential unity of body, mind and spirit/soul. These different terms are simply ways to talk about different aspects of the whole person.
The issue is not whether we have souls—for everyone is a self, a person—but how we are tending to the spiritual dimension of our selves. Our souls are fed by our relationship with the One who created us, a relationship characterized by grace and love. As humans created in God’s image, the soul is the name we give to our receptivity to what is Divine and Holy in life.
Want to find your soul? Just look in a mirror. The person you see there is you—a body, mind and soul—created and loved by God. So let us take good care of our soul because it is a gift from God.