Against dualism: Body and soul

In the discussions of the past weeks, a great many people made the argument that Terri Schiavo was “no longer there.” Some said that Terri’s soul “was already with God,” and that what remained was some mere shell.

This dualistic view, that the soul is independent from the body and can to some extent come and go at will, is not new. I spoke about it to some degree in my last post. Theologian David Hart presents a very brief but excellent discussion on the Christian view of the soul in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s how he starts off:

I heard three people on the radio last week speculating on the whereabouts of [Terri Schiavo’s] “soul.”

One opined that where consciousness has sunk below a certain minimally responsive level, the soul has already departed the body; the other two thought that the soul remains, but as a dormant prisoner of the ruined flesh, awaiting release. Their arguments, being intuitive, were of little interest. What caught my attention was the unreflective dualism to which all three clearly subscribed: The soul, they assumed, is a kind of magical essence haunting the body, a ghost in a machine.

This is in fact a peculiarly modern view of the matter, not much older than the 17th-century philosophy of Descartes. While it is now the model to which most of us habitually revert when talking about the soul—whether we believe in such things or not—it has scant basis in either Christian or Jewish tradition.

I’d encourage you to go read the rest of David Hart’s essay. Christians believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead, and in that belief are some important principles: the body is not corrupt or base, but part of our God-created identity; it is not a thing that will be cast off like a candy-bar wrapper, but will live on in a new form, and in that transformed body, with that transformed body, our soul will live on as well.

Thanks to Get Religion for bringing my attention to this post.

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  1. Good afternoon, Charlie,

    Read Hart’s column. I don’t have a problem with it.It was not established beyond a reasonable doubt that Terri was not a sentient being. If I am to believe that, I have to believe that Sun Hudson was also one, if not more so. I also have a serious problem with the inconsistency of some of your “colleagues”, those that threaten the lives of judges and believe in both warfare and the death penalty. Unfortunately, I believe these colleagues have not only taken over our country, but also convinced a majority of the population that their way is correct, which scares the !@#$ out of me.