Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition defines soul as “the spiritual principle embodied in human beings; the quality that arouses emotion and sentiment; spiritual or moral force.” Further, Webster defines spirit as “an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms.” Finally, Webster defines death as “the permanent cessation of all vital functions.”
This is a topic that has been the subject of debate for as long as man has been able to recognize both qualities. So since this work takes the form of an essay, please endure another perspective.
Everything on this planet has life, even a mountain or an atom. To have life simply means to exist. Some atoms may have the lifespan of a nanosecond while a mountain range may have the lifespan of tens of thousands of years. But each, nevertheless, has a life—its period of existence. In the case of higher forms of life there are similarities. A chimpanzee and a man both possess the spirit of life but both are not equal. A chimp has locomotion, gathers food, responds to its environment, has the drive to survive, communicates and reproduces. So does man. It can, under certain circumstances, fashion tools from its environment to obtain food. Yet it lacks a conscience or will to do right. To say that one has a conscience may suggest that there rests in the actor’s mind an alternative result to the act at hand, especially if the act has a moral tint to it, a gauge, a rightness or wrongness to its consequence.
It is my opinion that both the spirit of life and the soul are mutually compatible. However, there can be the existence of one without the other—but one must always be. The soul rides on the back of the (physical) spirit of life. It guides (or should guide) the motions of the living thing by making (proper) choices. It has a conscience, has the potential for selfless acts, and embraces morals (high or low). The common notion of existence is that there is life and then there is death. Each inclusive and dependent on the other. That is it.
That is all. This is probably one of the few times that I would whole-heartedly disagree with a Websterian definition (death). The reason for the disagreement is that, as I have been taught, matter and energy are interchangeable and according to the First Law of Thermodynamics (is that) no energy is ever “lost” or destroyed. It only assumes another form. Our conscious existence did not begin with the physical union of the egg and sperm. It merely continued a previously initiated journey. If such is the case with physical energy in that it cannot be destroyed, how much more so a spiritual entity such as the soul, whose existence is not limited by time, space, or any of the other delineators of the physical state. Certainly, the spiritual energy that in the human being is the source of sight and hearing, emotion and intellect, will and consciousness does not cease to exist merely because the physical body has ceased to function. Rather, it passes from one form of existence (physical life as expressed and acted via the body) to a higher, exclusively spiritual form of existence. With this in mind, that force which we bring into the world also leaves with us. As a result, if the soul force, which guides us, still exists, only in a different nonphysical realm, then death can only be the permanent cessation of all vital physical functions. It is not the cessation of existence. Therefore, death cannot be the final arbiter.
Next. What if the soul exists in a perfect, purely spiritual state before it descends into this world? And in its pre-physical existence, the soul is fortified with the Divine wisdom, knowledge, and vision that will empower it in its struggles to exist in the physical reality to come? It is here that we are given the gift of choice. What if it is there that we are also taught the essence of right and wrong? And herein lies the entire contradiction in terms of knowledge and choice: we can’t see the truth, we can’t even manifestly know it, but at the same time we do know it, deep inside us. Deep enough that we can choose to ignore it, but also deep enough that wherever we are and whatever we become, we can always choose to unearth it. This, in the final analysis, is choice: our choice to pursue the knowledge implanted in our souls, or to block it out. And yet, deep down we know right from wrong.
Somehow we know that life is meaningful, that we are here to fulfill a Divine Purpose. Somehow, when confronted with a choice between a righteous action and an unrighteous one, we know the difference. The knowledge is faint—a dim, subconscious memory from a prior, spiritual state. We can silence it, or amplify it. The choice is ours.
Finally, what happens to the soul once we have engaged it and set it along our individually designated physical course? When we have made our daily choices in this physical realm of existence and the time has come to take stock of the finality of our actions what is next?
What then about this realm called Heaven or that called Hell? (Find out next week.)