I think that the last remnant of mysticism left behind by my atheism was the notion of a ‘soul’. I touched on this in my last post, but the question as to why there is a need for people to believe in a soul needs to be further unpacked.
A quick google search, and Encyclopedia Brittanica confirms to us that the soul in both religion and philosophy is the immaterial aspect or essence of a human being. It is what gives you your uniqueness and humanity. It is often synonymous with one’s mind, and in theology, the soul is the part of you which has the connection with the divine. This is the part of you which enjoys an afterlife.
A deeper search (and a small reflection on that which I studied as an Anthropology student many years ago) reveals that pretty much every culture analysed, has some variation of the notion of a soul. It is not within the scope of this post to consider all of these manifestations of the soul, so please allow me to discuss the concept of the soul from within my own judeo-christian upbringing.
If you were to ask a person of religion if they believed that they had a soul, you would almost certainly receive a shocked expression and perhaps even an offer for them to pray for you. Indeed, when I have casually mentioned to other people on Twitter that I don’t have a soul and neither do they, they usually get very upset, pray that my soul doesn’t end up in hell, and promptly block after having the last word.
But why is the idea of a soul necessary ? I admit that even I squirmed uncomfortably for a few days once I realised that my soul was a construct of my judeo-christian upbringing. I’d already accepted that there was no one watching me from the stars, and that some guy was not going to come back down and march us all up to the pearly gates for eternity. But the soul…that was a difficult thing to surrender.
Why? Maybe it’s because a tiny part of me still hoped for all that was offered by my church, and that I might be able to sneak through the gates with a sheepish grin, muttering ‘sorry about my 20’s, my bad, won’t happen again’. Perhaps it was the multitude of movies depicting tortured souls and saviour priests, or the fact that we say things like ‘my heart hurts’ and ‘my job is soul destroying’.
On further reflection however, I think that it is because I tied my ‘soul’ to my identity, my sense of self, and most importantly to my sense of justice and fairness toward others. For a few days at least, I lost the ‘me’ part of me.
We all want to be seen as unique, as special. In my particular cult of christianity I was told that I was those things. That god had a plan for me and that it was big. My cult told me that in my lifetime (probably), jesus would pop down and sort out the chaff from the wheat and that my soul, my beautifully designed soul with my love of god at the centre of it, would accompany him back ‘up’ to heaven.
Of course, if I didn’t accept jesus christ as my lord and saviour and submit my soul to god, they would have no choice but to deliver me to evil. Meaning of course, that my soul would spend eternity in whatever hell and damnation my minister could drum up for me at the time. (Thankfully for my young absorbent brain, he wasn’t very imaginative and could only come up with, ‘Hell is wherever jesus isn’t)
‘What does your soul look like?’ was a common enough question on bible study nights. ‘It doesn’t look like anything. It’s invisible and only god will know it’ was a standard response.
Well, that’s weird. If it’s invisible and isn’t physical in any way…why is hell located in the centre of the earth? Why does a non physical thing (which couldn’t feel anything on account of it well, not being physical!) need a physical and definitively located place? Moreover, why is heaven in the sky? At least that makes slightly more sense…you don’t need an actual floor to stand on if you’re not physically there.
Put simply, this notion of a soul reinforced the fear of the afterlife and where you were going. Your soul simply lived on forever and you got what you were given because of the choice you made in the tiniest eyeblink of your first part of life.
What a foolish and dangerous thing to tell a person.
Nowadays however, I find that I have a curious affection for my lack of soul. I am gorgeously unattached to this idea that, unless I live by the moral code of a vengeful god and his long suffering son, I will be punished – even though they love me very much. I am awkwardly proud of my ability to show morality and respect for others in my everyday life, to stand up and know that my one, short life is filled with people, experience, hope and love. No soul required, I am the complete package.
No Soul required.
So until my next post I truly hope that you live a soulless life. You deserve it!