This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Nature of Soul and Spirit (Geocities Rescue)

If you depend strictly on scientific verification, you almost have to believe that there is no such thing as a soul. Sociology and psychology explain how morality develops out of group dynamics, that groups define themselves by a shared belief in what is good and what is evil, and whether conformity within the group is enforced, as in hierarchies, or dissenters are expelled, as in egalitarian groups. Free Will is explained away by Chaos Theory. Using the fractal geometry, scientists map patterns of thought in the brain, as long as they know which brain cell is linked to which thought, the human will is highly predictable. We only appear to be free because the random cycling of our brain waves gives us that illusion. In time, most of what we think is understood. Psychology and genetics further explain most human action. It is perfectly rational to contend that man is not free at all. If this is position is accepted, the whole proof of God musing, and indeed the whole site, is just so much wasted bandwidth. You might as well stop reading now and surf porn instead.

Of course, if you are still with me then you must be interested in the counter-argument. First, let us further define what it is to be human. Decartes launched the enlightenment with the words: Cogito ergo sum - I think therefore I am. This is a modern claim that we exist, that we are beings rather than animals, and that we are free. Of course, some people are freer than others. People with lesser language skills have limited options and limited freedom. Others, because they mold their language as much as they are molded by it, are freer, having original insights outside of current usage. Back in college, in an intro to philosophy class, I learned that the human mind is spiritual because thinking is self-reflective act, we think about ourselves thinking. Physical things are not self reflective, as you do not see yourself seeing or hear yourself hearing. Thinking about thinking is beyond the physical world and is a projection into the spiritual, whatever that is.

In the Hebrew creation story, God breathed a soul into Adam. I believe this story, not as a historical fact, but as a way of stating that God breathes a soul into each of us. (The discussion of when this happens has to wait until the discussions on birth control and stem cell research). As such, the soul is a reflection of God. Again, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the soul contains the Will - the desire for the Good, which leads man to seek God, perfection and goodness, and the intellect, which informs the will. Through the intellect comes inspiration. Every inspiration is a sharing in the world created by God, and in God's knowledge of His own creation. This is why people feel joy when inspired - and why education is called a drawing out of knowledge you already have breathed into your soul by God. There is nothing new in truth, as all truth is a part of God, and to know it is to know God.

I believe that the intellect has two parts, the spiritual intellect and the biological brain, which is the link between soul and body. Both are interwoven to form the whole person. The third part of the soul is the Id, which is purely physical, the Freudian sum of the drives and longings. Without the brain and the Id we are angels. Without the Will and the inspirational intellect we are animals. Of course, we are both. We are free because of the spiritual side of the soul. Therefore, thought is more than just random chaos. The more the Id is integrated into the whole personality and under the control of the spirit the freer the person is. Those whose Ids run unchecked are controlled by their passions. They are not free. The integrated person choses Good and experiences higher and higher levels of truth as it is instilled in the soul.

This view of the soul also explains why we have evil in the world, because people are free to choose it, not because God created it. The existence of evil in the world does not disprove the existence of God, it proves the freedom of man. Here is how freedom works. The Intellect can only inform the God-seeking Will with what it knows. Since God in its pure and unmasked form is not present inside its own creation, the Will settles for lesser goods. Thus, the Will is free unless it is exposed to its ultimate desire, God, or unless it has no freedom because it is under the control of either the Id or some disease or defect, such as mental illness or addiction

With evil, comes blame. Again, from the creation myth, Adam and Eve brought blame into the world when they ate the apple. In the story, Adam and Eve consumed the forbidden fruit because they blamed God for not making them perfect. This sin is reflected in their explanations to God, Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent, who tempted them with the thought that God made them inferior. Acting on that blame, they sinned. Blame is evident in the self-justification and self-loathing that go hand in hand with sin. The only way out of the blame trap is forgiveness. Jesus taught that to be forgiven and escape blame, one must forgive others. It is interesting how much this is ignored in social policy by the religious right, which seems to push punishment in the criminal justice system rather than treatment and forgiveness. Of course, there I go again, casting blame on the religious right.

I feel that we are basically good, though we spend too much time blaming others (and ourselves) for afflictions and insults. We dwell on the evil in the world. However, because neither the world nor people are perfect, evil has to exist. If the world and man were perfect it would be unchanging - we would be dead, or alive in the next world. As it is we are alive and in this world, in a state of change. However, with change comes pain, which is thought of as evil. In the next world there is no pain and no change, as we will encounter the essence of God, the next subject in this discussion.

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