Friday 10 October 2014

The immortality of the soul, the imprisoned soul, the reality of the soul

A belief in the soul (or spirit) seems to be innate and universal - found in children, and in all societies throughout the world and history - except Western secular modernity.

Belief in the reality of the soul goes with belief in its persistence after death - presumably because it feels distinct from the body and is not destructible in the same way.

(However, although almost everybody in history believed that the soul survived death, there was vast variety in what happened to it - hunter gatherers generally seem to believe in some kind of reincarnation/ recycling of souls, and so do Hindus, some Buddhists and many others - other times the fate of the soul was miserable, with some kind of shadowy and ghostly afterlife - or there was torment, or rarely a paradise.) 

This is no doubt closely related to the persistence of the normal situation in secular modernity whereby the soul is trapped and helpless, encased in the automatic responses of a fake personality which does our living for us - whether we like it or not.

In a world of the mass media, it is hard to avoid this situation; and hard for the soul to escape its jail once established - but the persistence and prevalence of hopeless and despairing souls is made possible by the fact that moderns don't believe they have souls.

For modern Men the soul is a misinterpretation, an artefact of conscious life, and its basis is certainly extinguished with death of the body.

So the imprisoned soul is in the position of a dissident arrested by the secret police and kept in solitary torment by the state - while the authorities deny all knowledge of the missing person.

In other words, the encaged and suffering soul looks out on a world that denies its very existence.

No wonder the modern soul loses hope, gives-up, and despairs.


Rich said...


I am still not sure how I ever denied having a soul or the afterlife (or the pre-mortal life!), but I did. It seems so foreign now.

I've just been notified that your new book is on its way. Very much looking forward to it. Thanks for putting it in to print.

Santoculto said...

Spirit would be a soul free and soul per si would be spirit prisoned in body.

Spirit or soul, whatever, look like a prisoned energy. Energy never die because own universal existence or all those living is own energy itself.

When we die, our energy be free.

Wm Jas said...

Immediately after reading this post, I skimmed the Wikipedia article on Edith Hamilton. (I've been reading her book The Greek Way and was curious about what sort of person she was). This jumped out at me: "'I came to the Greeks early,' Hamilton told an interviewer when she was 91, 'and I found answers in them. Greece's great men let all their acts turn on the immortality of the soul. We don't really act as if we believed in the soul's immortality and that's why we are where we are today.'"

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - These things have an effect.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - That wasn't clear... I meant that believing in the soul's immortality is not incidental to the achievement of the greatest ancient Greeks. Indeed, it may have been one of the differences between the Greeks and Romans and their achievement, that the Greeks were truly religious, whereas the Romans were intensely superstitious.