Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

The Not-So-Mysterious Self

Posted by Jerry on August 29, 2009

In the beginning, the Genesis story teaches that humans are made in the image of the divine. This godly image is the distinguishing feature of humankind compared to the rest of creation. Christianity generally teaches that humans were not only “special” to God, but were distinct from all other creatures because we had the freedom to choose and because we alone have souls that will live on forever.

Today, I would argue that those who believe in the human soul are mistaking their own limited self-consciousness for an extravagant wish to live forever. I’m still open to any scientific evidence that a spirit actually exists apart from the physical body (or, for that matter, that a “spiritual world” exists at all), but so far there is no evidence of these things. I would admit that there’s something attractive about the idea of living forever, preferably in a magical kingdom of unending happiness, but that idea alone doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with reality.

I think that one of Christianity’s failings as a religion is in teaching that humans are essentially different from the rest of creation — that humans have perpetual souls while all other living creatures simply die. Perhaps one of the most self-serving and anthropocentric sayings in the Bible is in the Genesis story when God gives humans “dominion” over the earth and its creatures. That dominion philosophy has been used to justify the plunder of the earth’s resources and the abuse of other species. As a nature and animal lover, I have often wondered why creation in Christian teaching is so subservient to humans. After all, we humans could hardly be more biologically intertwined with or dependent on the life around us. Perhaps it’s because humans, not God, wrote the biblical story. In fact, one could argue that we created God in our image and breathed into him the breath of life (i.e., we put our words into his mouth).

The fact of evolution also complicates this convenient distinction between soul-ful humans and soul-less creatures. When did humans begin to get their souls? At what stage in our evolution did this start to happen, seeing how these changes take something on the scale of hundreds of millions of years to resolve? Of course, many fundamentalists ignore the facts of evolution and insist on more abridged accounts of the earth’s history. But, if I have to choose between scientific accounts of the earth’s history and tales taught by my pre-scientific ancestors, the choice is simple. More to the point — even fundamentalists and evangelicals swear by the modern sciences (engineering, medicine, biotechnology, computing, biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) in almost every aspect of their lives except when science contradicts their ancestors’ tales.

Like most people, I would love to find the fountain of youth, or better yet, the eternal soul in me that would live on forever in some world of constant ecstasy. But I would need a very good reason to be convinced that such a state exists, and I would need some evidence to take even the first step toward believing in such things. Unbending faith in God may at first sound like an honorable human trait, but it may just as well represent nothing more than a completely closed mind.

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14 Responses to “The Not-So-Mysterious Self”

  1. Brandt said

    “In fact, one could argue that we created God in our image and breathed into him the breath of life (i.e., we put our words into his mouth).”

    Well said. That’s pretty much how I’ve come to see it myself.

  2. Jerry said

    Thanks, Brandt.

  3. Paulo said

    “Today, I would argue that those who believe in the human soul are mistaking their own limited self-consciousness for an extravagant wish to live forever. I’m still open to any scientific evidence that a spirit actually exists apart from the physical body (or, for that matter, that a “spiritual world” exists at all), but so far there is no evidence of these things.”

    This is one of the main reasons why I do not believe in an afterlife. There is absolutely no proof. It’s all a matter of faith. But for most people, it is an idea that strongly appeals to their emotions, and it doesn’t take much for them to believe it.

    • The Chaplain said

      I think it takes quite a bit to believe it: years of indoctrination, a culture drenched in religious metaphoric language and images, family and friends believing it and pushing you to believe it, or a loss of control in life that causes one to cling to what is reassuring, etc. If our culture wasn’t so thoroughly saturated by Christianity there would be massively fewer numbers of Christians. So, I think it takes quite a bit to make people believe something so preposterous as virgins getting pregnant and people walking on water, and demons and the whole mess of the silliness. People aren’t stupid–it takes constant repetition and indoctrination to make them believe stupid things. On the other hand, it is remarkably easy to get people to believe in the discoveries of science (unless they have already been polluted by religious falsehoods), since you have all of the evidence to point to. In the case of evolution, Christians deny it by keeping themselves ignorant of the evidence. If you dismiss something before you have engaged with it, well…that’s a poor heuristic for life.

      • Paulo said

        Interesting point, Chaplain. I suppose it does take a whole lot of convincing to make people believe in all the myths about virgin births, etc… What I’m specifically interested in, though, is the idea of an afterlife. It seems all throughout human history in almost every single culture people believe in a soul and an afterlife of some kind. Why do humans believe in an afterlife so much when there is no evidence for it? It must be something that people want to believe in for some reason…

      • The idea of an afterlife… Maybe it has something to do with a natural instinct people have for survival, and trying to reconcile it with their fear and knowledge that they will die. It takes courage to look death in the face, with full knowledge that this life is it. And to really find peace with knowledge. To actually get to a place where you really don’t want to believe it anymore. Where you don’t want to live forever (you let that belief go). Where you recognize emotion for what it is.

  4. Jerry said

    I agree that’s it may have a lot to do with the instinct to survive and fear of death. If this life is all there is, then it becomes so important to appreciate every minute of it and trying to experience it completely.

  5. JN said

    (Where’s the edit key. I meant “you’re”)

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