Some of the human family currently thrive with a belief in both a heavenly higher power AND an ethereal inner power. Some current earth dwellers have rejected the notion of an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent being – but still posit that the power of life comes from the energy or soul that animates living bodies. Since “the death of god” there has been a rush of art, music, words, and cultisms to fill the void. It appears as if people are interested in rejecting the holy spirit, but hesitant to reject the holy self. Newer philosophies focus on auras, souls, energy, chi, and life force – names for a power that is within us, but is not of us. It animates our corporeal forms; it makes up the 110% of what we are. There is an assumption that our human existence cannot and must not be limited to our physical structure. We must be more than the 100% of our atoms.
I propose that life is much less spectacular than most people are led to believe by religion, politics, and other world views. I think there is a possibility for wonderful experiences in life; but I do not think that wonderful experiences can be unbound from the banal and the truly awful. Life is spectacular – not in and of itself – but as part of a much bigger and more banal process. I think there is foolishness in focusing only on joy and positive energy on earth. I also think there is danger in seeing the world as merely a grim surface full of suffering. There is especially danger for human life in elevating the importance human life over other life forms.
I do not think the world is the result of conscious efforts towards Good or Evil played out by humans, a deity, and a devil. I think the world can be seen as a system of processes that can be arranged on a spectrum from living to non-living. In these processes, conscious beings may experience feelings on a spectrum from elation to sorrow. There are many wonderful things in life that are conscious efforts towards joy – but there are also conscious efforts towards sorrow. There are also many unconscious processes in the universe that are important, banal, and could be classified as either awful or awe-inspiring, depending on the viewpoint.
The biggest question for humans, as I see it, is do lifeforms have souls? The soul is the key element in religion and storytelling that provides a clear reward or punishment for the morals we feel. This is important and motivational. It is worth valuing and investigating. The saying goes “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” However, a soul can also be used to give false promises to a worker, a slave, or a victim. A person can be extorted, abused, or controlled in life – with the promise that it will all be worth it in the afterlife. I think the possibly of using the soul to harm people or mistreat other lifeforms is a major reason to question its very existence. Is the soul real or is it a tool created for the manipulation of human populations by other humans? Should it be questioned as a basis on which we prop ourselves up above other species and lifeforms?
I propose that humans do not have souls. But how can this be? It feels like we do.
Lifeforms at large – and the special subset of humans – have personalities and patterns of behavior. I think consciousness is so powerful at creating compelling behaviors in ourselves and so good at recognizing patterns in others, that human behaviors and some animal behaviors feel like unique, almost-magical abilities that fill our bodies. Our minds and behaviors feel larger than life itself. Our actions usually do not feel like simple animal instinct, nor mere results of biological processes. It feels like something bigger than us has imbued our bodies with these amazing abilities of action and consciousness. We see the human soul shine through music, art, poetry, and laughter. We emphasize these parts of life in a spotlight. But what does that spotlight leave out?
We focus on what makes it feel like our souls are shining, but we ignore or disdain things that show the fragility of our spirits. We ignore things that show the 1 to 1 connection of our body and our mind. We reject the fragility, the mutability, and the ending of the spark that feels like a soul.
We do not think of the soul showing when we suffer, when we change personalities, when we experience a life altering injury, nor when we see a dead body. I think that is because there is not a real soul that uses our body as a vehicle. There is only our body and what it can produce. And that is amazing -not because there is an ethereal thing animating the body – but because bodies are amazing as they are. Our bodies are wondrous and terrible. Our mind is a part of our body. Our mind and personality change as a part of the whole system of physical existence. These changes are most evident when disease, addiction, injury, or aging seem to end a person we knew – and possibly result in an experience that is totally different.
We often celebrate people who survive an injury and keep the same personality – it looks like proof of a soul. It looks like the soul is separate from the body and unaltered by injury to the body. I think it is more realistic that what we think of as a “soul” is just the function of our body. It can be changed by psychological and physical events. We do not celebrate those moments when a person’s essence is snuffed out or altered by an injury or experience. My answer to the ultimate question is: I do not think what we call the “soul” continues after the body is dead. It might not even continue from second to second under certain conditions.
I think it is likely (or at least worth examining) the possibility that this life is all we have. Monera, Protista, Plantae, Fungi, and Animalia are physical structures of varying complexity – no more, no less.
Why would I say all of this? If there is something I am comfortable calling a soul, then how can I say it does not exist?
I do think it is important to our current society to see people as unique individuals. I think people are so unique that I am comfortable calling their essence a soul. However, I do not think that that essence has an ethereal nature separate from the body. I do not think it gets reincarnated, nor gets rewarded with heaven, nor damned to hell. I do not think the concept of a soul should be used to manipulate people’s behavior with religions, cults, or stories. I think a banal scientific view of the body and soul, might be more useful than the myriad views offered by the major religions.
I think the Christian view is especially dangerous. The damage Christianity has done to many individual’s self-worth, to populations of mistreated people, to victims of actual genocide, and to victims of cultural genocide – in the pursuit of saving souls – is so dire, so vile, and so unnecessary that it is worth questioning the foundational concepts of the worldview. Even the concept of the soul – which is still clung to by people who have given up on Christianity and other religions.
I am intrigued by possibilities for views of the world, views of the self, and views of the collective – that do not include a soul. Do you have any ideas?