Theology

SPIRITS, SOULS, AND BODIES

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“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7)

According to this verse, man is a “trinity” consisting of a material body, the breath (or spirit) of God, and together these comprise a soul.

The word “spirit” is bound up with the word “respiration” and is nothing more than breath, which was a mystery to the authors of the Bible. They thought that that which causes breathing was given by God, and returned to God when a person died. They did not ascribe consciousness to this spirit or breath at first.

The Israelites of the Old Testament did not think much about the survival of the identity after death, saying the dead’s view of God is that “…for in death there is no remembrance of thee…” (Psalm 6:5) and having God return the favor, saying of the dead’s relationship to God, “…whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand…” (Psalm 88:5), a view that is affirmed by Solomon thus, (Ecclesiastes 9:5) “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”

And so things stood until the Levant was conquered by Alexander II and passed on to two of the three Diadochi who followed in his wake, and there was among the Jews a massive injection of Hellenistic ideas, especially Plato’s “ideal forms”. Just as an actual chair was held to be a poor copy of a perfect “ideal” chair which existed somewhere in a remote mathematical mindscape, so was the psyche held to be the ideal, “true” human being, temporarily imprisoned in a corruptible body. These ideas of a dichotomy between the mind and body were embraced by the Pharisees in the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE, even as the Sadducees retained the Hebrews’ original lack of belief in spirits and angels.

Whereas in the time of David “an evil spirit from the LORD” was considered to be, essentially, a bad mood, spirits after Hellenization came to be seen as disembodied beings of pure intelligence. The spirit hypothesis arose from the paradox of a thinking mind contemplating the end of its own life and trying to imagine not thinking. This impossibility leads directly to the belief that consciousness will somehow continue even after the very organ of consciousness, the brain, has turned into worm-ridden tapioca pudding.

Against this background, aided by a Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, Jesus Christ fashioned a proselytizing variety of Judaism, yet still he taught that God could destroy both body and soul in the grave and that any future dealings with God would occur after a bodily resurrection. His ideas where further spiced by the dualistic ideas of Saul/Paul of Tarsus, which he got, in part, from the Persians along with a refined doctrine of angels complete with principalities, powers, virtues, and the like.

All this in turn set the stage for further developments by the Catholic Church which firmly entrenched the idea of man’s soul as an immaterial entity, incapable of annihilation yet still subject to being bound in bodies or physical places like purgatory or hell. No one, however, has given much thought to the exact composition of a soul, the guage bosons that would be exchanged as force carriers of the soul, how the soul could be confined in a body or lake of fire, or any other such things. Perhaps everyone, all along, knew the soul hypothesis was only so much Bolshevik and didn’t bother with the details.

SATAN AND PARABLES

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Windows Guy: Linux Gal, to be clear, are you saying that Satan is not ontologically a
person?

Linux Gal: Yes, there is no actual person or angel named Satan. When Peter rebuked Jesus for saying openly that he must be crucified and rise the third day, Jesus said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” Does that mean Jesus thought Peter was Satan or that Peter was possessed by Satan? No, it means Peter was tempting Jesus to take the easy path, and go along to get along, and Jesus recognized that as Satanic. But the idea that Satan is a sort of mini-God with almost the same power, competing with God to flip souls to the white side or the black side like some giant game of Othello is a corruption of Christianity.

Windows Guy: But when Christ explains the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), he says that the one who sows the weeds (“the people of the evil one”) is the devil. Christ identifies of the other elements in the story as persons, so why would this one identification of the devil, the evil one, be different?

Linux Gal: Parables are wonderful ways to teach a religious truth, but they are very poor sources of information if they are taken literally. Some atheists like to play “Gotcha” with the parable of the mustard seed, where Jesus said, “When it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth, but when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs and becometh a tree”. They focus on that because the mustard seed is not really the smallest seed, and it does not really become a tree. Jesus was teaching about how his Church would have very inauspicious beginnings, but would someday fill the whole world. But Christians make this mistake also when they try to derive information about conditions in the afterlife from the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Jesus wasn’t teaching anything about hell, he was teaching about the need to repent before one’s life is over and it’s too late.