Saturday, September 29, 2007

Souls, Spirits-What's the Difference?

I used to think there was no reasonable distinction between the words "soul" and "spirit." I'm still unclear on how the two connect, but in the course of trying to read a newage version [bleh!] of St. Theresa's writings, I finally saw the issue involved.

One thing a soul is not... is our ticket to a cushy place in the Afterlife (Let's see, in which pocket did I leave that pesky thing?!) It is, as a matter of fact, directly connected to both afterlife & currentlife–Because it is, as a matter of fact, eternal. But it is, merely, "you". It is not a function of any of your personal talents, learned skills, ideas or qualities–But when you glare into your monitor and growl, "I don't know what in hell you're talking about!" that's exactly the person I'm talking about!

A "spirit" is something else, something less literally "in our face" while at the same time, much more easily pointed-to. A spirit does have personality, character traits, emotions, habits, appetites & intentions.

A "god" is a spirit. Early Christians called the Greek/Roman gods "demons" because that was the Greek term for "spirit," not necessarily the Wrong Sort of spirit but any type. Like other Jews, they considered that any spirit soliciting worship must be an evil spirit, because human beings should worship only God. And so "demonic" came to be a pejorative word.

You would be as incomplete without your spirit as if something drastic happened to your body. But it isn't you; it's the "psychological" form you take. As your body is the physical form you take.

Imagine some future technology comes along, able to grow a perfect working model of you in a vat. When he/she awakens, someone might mistake her body for yours–And her spirit too would resemble yours, as anyone could confirm by talking with you both. You, however, would be looking at this person from the outside. I see no reason to expect her to lack a soul, but that soul would not be your soul. She would look out at you, recognize you, no doubt feel a remarkable kinship–and know herself as "this" person, here, rather than "that" person, there.

Does "soul," then, mean merely "location"? Well, no, the two of you could certainly trade places without affecting the matter. "Location in space/time"? Well, no–and it's not even our feeling of "identity", or our feeling that we have a location at all. I get to move "these" hands, look out from "these" eyes, but all that's just a matter of the form I take. Looking, thinking, feeling... I do such things, via my body, mind, spirit–and my location here by my computer helps us keep track of which human of many this is–but my "soul" is the person doing these things.

Do I mean "a collection made up of my body-events, mind-events, emotional-events"? Well, no, I mean me. You can't see me. You can get evidence about my body, mind, and feelings. But only I–& God–get to see evidence of my soul. (And for us, that evidence is quite conclusive. People can disagree–& certainly I can be confused–about the relation between my soul & God. But I can't doubt that it's me!)

Those Powers & Principalities that "Paul" wrote about–and several theologians since, notably William Stringfellow and Walter Wink–would be examples of spirits, not souls. So when Wink talks about the word "Power" as referring to "the inwardness of an institution," he's talking about the inwardness of something that doesn't have one. An "inwardness," of you, me, or anyone–would be a soul.