Humans are wired to think in two’s. Our world is conveniently divided into good and evil, right and left, male and female, light and dark, and even more sinister, us and them. The “them” can be Gentiles, “whitey”, or atheists. Why do we think this way? More learned scientists than I can offer their findings and views. There is no dearth of theories on this issue.
But there is one dichotomy that I feel particularly well equipped to dismantle. And that is the one chiefly presented by religion: it is that we are born with a physical body and a spiritual soul. Orthodox Jews pray daily – if they have slept for part of the night - thanking God for returning their refreshed souls. The prayer imagines the soul returning to its Maker for a required tune-up while its earthly owner snores. Those who sincerely recite say this prayer are grateful for the celestial garage returning the correct soul to its proper recipient or at least for a daily “soul” colonic.
First, there is no scientific evidence to support this contention. When we die, we are dead. When we are asleep, no part of us disappears. When our brain ceases to be, we don’t continue to live, existing in another form. We degenerate into rotting flesh, which soon only benefits a few scavenging creatures. Our souls do not linger, neither hovering in this world or in some other.
Our souls do not migrate to another place. There is no undisputed proof for such a purported journey, though religious literature (and art) is fraught with puerile notions presented as certainties. Moreover, not only is this distinction man-made, but we (those brought up in the three Western monotheistic traditions) don’t ascribe this feature to any creature other than humans. We don’t believe that the fly we swatted continues to live beyond the fly-swatter in another dimension. We don’t believe that there is a monkey or elephant heaven. Only in cartoons does a dog-heaven, catering to the whims of man’s best friend, happen.
This mind-body dualism conforms to the other dichotomies listed at the beginning of this blog, but additionally, it is bad for human development. Several negative impacts that directly derive from this division come to mind:
· There is less of a need to help others materially.
If you believe that a person soul’s can be nourished independently of their physical needs, you might be able to be stingy, less willing to share your wealth. When the indigent person appears to be happy, have a “well-balanced “soul, you can be less inclined to help. They are happy the way they are, so why interfere with that success? More money, may bring more misery. You have money, and yet you don’t seem to as happy as those who are less fortunate. Why add them to the “unfortunate” population; keep the loose change in your pocket.
· The duality promotes an appeal to asceticism.
If the body can be separated from the spirit, there is no need to feed the spiritual parts of our dual composition. Why reflect on the beauty of nature, or art or smell the coffee, if all it does is nurture the part of you that is divinely separated from your earthly existence? Get on with your mundane, bland life, making sure to preserve and return your soul in the identical pristine fashion you received it. If anything, you should have improved on its features, rewarding its benefactor.
· Such thinking leads to abstract questions and false theologies.
Separating the two components raises obvious questions: Where does our soul reside when we are alive? Is it with us when we sleep? Even more troublesome are questions that requires answers for what happens to our souls after we die. Christians have developed a nasty place for those whose souls were tainted in this corrupt world, as well as a Paradise for those whose souls were preserved in in harmony with the wishes of a (non-existent) god.
It is hard to bury that part of you that permits – even encourages - you think that a soul separates you not only from inanimate things but many animate things. But humans are living organisms, and when you die you die. Period.
The only things that remain are your genes which you have passed on to your offspring. Your reputation – dependent on your good deeds as well as your bad – live on for a few more generations. But you don’t have to be religious to have such a continuity. One can be good without god, and one can be bad with a belief in god.