What Is the Soul? Part 4
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

What Is the Soul? Part 4

Dualities split things into contrasting parts, and we have found that using dualities essential for understanding and functioning in the world. What things are useful and what are useless? Which creatures are friendly and which creatures are dangerous? Which people can be trusted and who are untrustworthy? However, dualities also separate us from each other and, I think, from the notion of a universal Christ, often called the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ teachings often seemed to undermine dualities, such as the duality that separates each of us from each other. For example, Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4).
I think the “kingdom of God” or the “realm of God” attempts to describe what it means to live a godly life in a godly community. Interestingly, Jesus repeatedly said things like, “The kingdom of God is like…” and then told a parable. I think Jesus was showing that the kingdom of God cannot be described in dualistic terms, i.e., with dualistic language. Jesus was doing the best he could with language – giving examples that point toward the kingdom of God but not defining the kingdom of God precisely – because (as discussed previously) language is inherently dualistic and a nondual concept cannot be fully articulated with dualistic language.
Perhaps the soul can be better understood as nondual. Language forces us to think in dualities, and similarly the physical world favors dualistic thinking. But, as previously discussed, the soul as most people understand it seems to be metaphysical/nonphysical. Therefore, we can talk about the soul, but we can’t fully describe it with language. If the soul is nondual, it isn’t quite right to say either that it exists or that it doesn’t exist, or that I have a distinct soul or that I do not have a distinct soul. Perhaps the soul is a part of a larger consciousness that includes Christ, which would be consistent with the notion that Christ abides in us and we abide in Christ.
What happens to the soul when we die? Though many people seem confident that they know what will happen when they die, as best I can tell we have little if any data on existence after the body ceases all biological functions. I suggest that it is reasonable to believe that whatever created consciousness and the sense of identity won’t destroy it. I attribute consciousness to God, in part because I don’t think science has offered or will offer more a reasonable explanation. From this perspective, it is reasonable to believe that whatever gave nonhuman beings consciousness similarly will care for and protect their souls when their bodies die.

The alternative, that only humans have souls, utilizes dualities that, I have argued, are problematic. If the soul is nonmaterial, as I’ve suggested (and seems to be essential if we are to posit a soul that outlasts the body), then there is no good reason to believe that only humans possess it. Given the uncertainties about what the soul is, who (if anyone) has a soul, and what it means to “have” a soul, we should give nonhuman creatures the benefit of the doubt and treat them as if they had a soul. They certainly seem to experience life in a very similar manner as humans. Both desire to experience pleasures, seek to avoid pain, and want to live and thrive. It makes no sense to me that the source of the soul, which Christians generally attribute to God, would endow some human beings with a soul and deny it to countless other fundamentally similar nonhuman beings. If nonhuman beings do not have a soul, that would not be an excuse to harm them unnecessarily. If they do have a soul, then the “sin” of harming animals unnecessarily is all the greater. Next week, I will reflect on the question: Where do we draw the line?

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