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Wednesday, April 07, 2010  

Heart and Soul

Following up on the post below, it's a constant task to point out that the idea of the soul is one of the more unfortunate and barbarous holdovers of Christianity's embrace of pagan philosophy. "Soul" is a word, not a thing, and it's at best a vague and crude translation of the Bible's language for selfhood and consciousness. The Old Testament typically speaks of breath or life and the New Testament adds the term psyche, denoting mind or self. The human faculties of perception, judgment, and consciousness are identified with the eyes or the heart. What we adopted from pagan philosophy is the idea that what we call "soul" is not a dimension or a quality of embodied life but a separate thing altogether, perhaps something that pre-existed in a divine sphere and that fell into the prison of our bodies. On this slender and superstitious reed many Christians have placed the burden of transcendent knowledge.

So I agree with Ross Douthat on the curious claim that belief in immortal souls or reincarnation somehow represents a more rational or plausible alternative to the idea of resurrection from the dead. If anything, Douthat clings too much to this residue of paganized Christianity. But he speaks rightly when he says that belief in the resurrection of a transformed body is "arguably closer to human existence as we experience it now — and thus arguably much less supernatural — than the idea of a heaven permanently filled with floating spirits, or the notion that human beings are actually incorporeal creatures who transmigrate from one mortal body the next as the ages roll along." If I were forced to find the prospect of life everlasting in my own composition, I would have little choice but to despair of it altogether. But the idea of resurrection rests on the power of God to create, renew, and re-create as God sees fit. This latter option is a wager, and a massive one, but it is not just fanciful wish-fulfillment.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 8:19 PM
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