Soul vs. Spirit . . .
Some Christians make a strong distinction between a person's soul and spirit. I personally don't see what all the fuss is about. I certainly agree that humans have some unique characteristics that animals don't have, for example; the sense of right and wrong, the obsession with the spiritual/religious/mystical, and the need for Jesus Christ the Savior to provide the sacrifice needed to cure our sin problem. I prefer to think of these as merely attributes of the human soul.
Different kinds of organisms have different attributes of their souls. For example, plants don't have consciousness but animals and humans do. Mosquitoes don't experience emotions but dogs do.
I wouldn't mind referring to the unique attributes of humans as the spirit of man but I'm afraid that in doing so I would be stepping on a theological landmine.
The human soul is tainted with original sin and concupiscence (desire to sin). Through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus we become children of God and the Holy Spirit indwells our souls. However, we can still choose to sin, and we must develop the habit of resisting temptations to sin and of living a virtuous life. The Holy Spirit gets blended-in with the other attributes of our souls but only we can choose to activate His supernatural power through choosing with our wills to emphasize our spiritual side.
Why would a good God, a God of love, create this world of suffering? The answer — we don't know why. The best we can do is describe the various sources of suffering and what our response should be.
Each soul has appetites (desire to live, to avoid pain, etc) and senses (that is how we feel pain, through the senses). There would be no suffering if there was no sensation of pain. There would be no suffering if there were no souls with the appetites of desiring to live, of experiencing comfort and pleasure, of avoiding pain. These desires are often thwarted and this causes discomfort, anxiety, dissatisfaction and even pain.
In creating conscious souls and putting them in this material universe God allowed there to be suffering — it is a natural consequence of having souls with appetites. How could a loving God create pain and suffering? By his creating us at all he has created the tension between the fulfillment of our appetites and the non-fulfillment of them, the ability to experience both pleasure as well as pain and loss. Creating us was an act of love but it has this side-effect which occurs because we are finite. The infinite soul (God) experiences no pain and suffering because His appetites are always instantly fulfilled. The appetites of finite souls collide with the appetites of other finite souls and with the natural laws of the universe (you want to fly but gravity prevents you). Unfulfilled appetites cause pain and suffering. In heaven our appetites are finally fulfilled. This is partially because we change our appetites into those appetites which God can and will fulfill — appetites to love, adore, worship God.
There is another source of pain and suffering — that which arises from the powers of evil. Just as God created each human soul with free will, he also created each spirit soul (angels) with free will. Apparently some of these chose to rebel against God and were cast out of the highest heaven. They now live in a spirit realm that is dark, sinister, and evil. During the fall of man, God allowed these spirits to invade the spirit realm inhabited by human souls. Thus our souls are bombarded by temptations, urges, and all kinds of wicked and depraved thoughts and ideas which we all too often act upon.
It is hard to understand why God would allow extreme forms of wickedness — you would think he would moderate it so that only mild wickedness would be possible. Yet we humans sometimes experience the most extreme examples of wickedness and cruelty. All too often there is war, genocide, depravity in many forms.
There is also suffering caused merely by the fact that we have bodies. A tree falls over and hurts someone. In giving us senses capable of feeling pain God allows us to suffer.
Part of the purpose of life is to learn to control the appetites as a spiritual discipline.
In heaven there will be a kind of pain and suffering also. Here's how it works. A desire to worship God will arise in our soul (placed there by God?). We will experience discomfort and anxiety for the brief moment in which we are trying to figure out how to put this desire into practice, but after we do there will be a sense of relief. This process will provide meaning to eternal life — how can I fulfill this urge to worship God? I will have a creative choice to make each time and the particular choice I make will delight God, just as in old days when someone built an altar to worship God and it delighted him.
Hell is the place where the appetites are never fulfilled, at least the higher appetites of desiring God — or maybe they are fulfilled, but they are fulfilled in a way that is painful because they are coerced (link to article on hell).
Buddha was right; our desires (appetites) are the source of all our suffering. But he was wrong in teaching that our souls merge into the universal soul, the one mind, and that we lose our identity as a distinct person. He seemed to believe that there is only one soul and that each of us is a vortex of turbulence within that one soul — thus we temporarily feel as if we have a distinct identity apart from this one soul. But in actuality, we each have a separate personhood, a separate focal point of consciousness which was created by God and which lives forever.
Young-earth creationists typically claim that there was no pain and suffering in the would until after the fall of man. This implies that trees did not fall on animals (because there were no storms), that mosquitos did not live by sucking blood, that there were no predators, and that animals did not eat one another. Then, after the fall, there was a rapid evolution in which all the animals became as they are today. This implies that the natural laws changed so that there were now storms, floods, lightning, and other natural events which could now hurt people.
Moral good and the moral law is distinct from the realm of pain and suffering (which is a-moral, outside of the moral realm). Pain and suffering was here from the beginning, as soon as souls were able to feel pain. Only animals with souls capable of the conscious experience of physical pain and emotional anguish can suffer — thus the higher animals suffer, but not plants or single-celled organisms.
Why did God create this world of pain and suffering, inhabited by souls who can experience pain and suffering? Many of these souls (for example, dogs) have no moral culpability — what possible benefit can there be in this? This is one reason some claim there is no God; if there were a loving God he would not have created such a world which allows for suffering. As I stated at the beginning, I don't know why God created the world like this.
When is the soul created? Some possibilities . . .
The Christian view is that the soul is created at conception. I suspect the soul develops as the body develops.
What about plants and single-celled organisms? I can imagine that somewhere in the process of cell division of a paramecium a new paramecium soul comes into being — perhaps when the chromosome divides. These questions are not particularly useful because these low-level souls have no experience of consciousness, no personhood.
This is much like the question during the Eucharist of when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. These questions can't be answered because the time domain of the spirit realm doesn't exactly equate with the time of this world.
Protestants typically reject these ideas . . .
We have certain powers in this world given to us by God — we can build bridges, we can kill one another, we can give food to the poor, we can say encouraging words to others. Certainly after death our soul would continue to have some certain powers from God.
What happens to the soul at death? When the souls thinks it is about to die? Christ experienced these two situations: in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross.
When the soul thinks death is imminent it becomes greatly distressed. Even Jesus experienced severe distress in this situation. The soul anticipates the impending separation from the body and this causes emotional turmoil — who wants to give up something so wonderful (so familiar) as this attachment to the body (NT story — even the spirits preferred living the bodies of pigs).
It is a traumatic experience for the soul when it becomes separated from the body — because it knows that this is an unnatural condition. But it is the attachment to this body of sin that is unnatural — once the soul is reunited with the resurrected, glorified body it will finally experience what was ultimately intended by God. If Adam and Eve had not fallen, perhaps their bodies would have been glorified without the need for death? Perhaps instead of creating more humans via procreation God would have created humans miraculously (from the rib of a progenitor?) and the human race would have thrived without the need to inhabit this world of sin, pain, and suffering?
After death the soul still has memories, it continues to interact with other spirit beings and with God, it can interact with the souls of people living on earth, and it can pray and bless others — it has the spiritual power (given by God) to declare and decree, and God will send blessing. Just as in this world we can bless with our words when we choose to speak words of encouragment, hope, love, etc., the soul retains this power even after death. We should strive to develop the habit of blessing others instead of cursing them.
The material universe was created out of nothing as if it were a thought of God's. He thought it and it came into being.
It seems that everything that is, is living. The Christian idea that Jesus brings us life refers to a certain kind of life, a certain quality of life, eternal life in heaven in the presence of God and in worship of God rather than an eternal life at enmity with God and confined to hell. It doesn't mean that this is the only life there is. Everything expresses the eternal life of God including the material world.
Souls of non-humans end up in the new heavens and new earth;this includes animals and even plants. Do they get resurrected bodies? Since mosquitoes don't need to eat in the new heavens and new earth, what would be the purpose of their blood-sucking organs? But then, what would be the purpose of human food-consumption and digestion organs? In the new heavens and new earth all souls are devoted to honoring and worshipping God. Eating is done to honor God — it should be this way while on earth.
For more read Heaven.
In order to receive the beatific vision we have to want it. The reason we are able to conquer our sin is because God gives us the beautific vision after which we are committed in a perpetual relationship with God. But those who have rejected God all along don't want the beatific vision so they don't receive it — that's what hell is. God isn't withholding it from them; they don't want it. For more read Hell.
Our contamination by original sin is a contamination in the soul; we are not consciously aware of it. It is passed-down from generation to generation because God allowed the dark spirit-beings to have access to the spirit realm of the human soul at the fall (just as he allowed the serpent to have access to Eve). These dark spirit beings plant thoughts, cravings, desires in our souls that may come to fruition — if we choose to obey their promptings instead of rejecting the promptings based on our commitment to and training in virtue.
God allowed the serpent to talk to Eve and to plant in her mind the desire to eat the forbidden fruit. The serpent convinced her that it was OK to disobey God and that it was desirable to do so. She acted on this thought.
In the same way, from the moment our souls are created, God allows these spirit-beings of the dark side to have access to our souls and as time goes on we begin to act on them. Each soul after Adam and Eve is created with original sin (because God allows each soul to be influenced by the dark spirits).
If Eve chose to ignore the prompting of the serpent, God would have declared that humans passed the test; it is really humanity's inherent weakness (not Eve's weakness) that is reflected in the fall — each of us would have acted as Eve (and Adam) did — it is not the case that she was weak but we are strong.
If Eve chose to ignore the prompting of the serpent, God would have not allowed the dark spirits to have access to human souls.
The effect of original sin on the soul is that it results in disordered appetites due to influence by the fallen spirits.
Animal souls cannot be corrupted by sin because their souls are not advanced enough to be accountable for their soul's activities. It is as if animal souls remain "children" below the age of accountability. Non-human lifeforms (for example, seagulls) have appetites of the soul and do things which seem hideous (like harm people by pecking at them), but this is not due to original sin. Original sin is really a moral issue and only humans have this attribute of their souls.
It is the human soul (spirit?) that is corrupted by sin, not the body.
Modern Catholic doctrine relies on the philosophy of Aquinas and Aristotle. For example, the doctrine of transubstantiation (that during communion the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ) is expressed in philosophical terms (form, accidents, etc.)
This philosophical system seems to me to be too contrived, too arbitrary; it doesn't seem to match reality very well. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox churches reject it; and I reject it. I seems to be overly analytical; too certain of its correctness. It is similar in this regard to psychological theory (each theory claims to be true, but each is clearly flawed). My view is that this philosophical system is not absolute dogmatic truth but merely one of many ways of reflecting on reality, on the soul.
The consecrated host is Christ. By partaking we consume Christ's body and blood, and are spiritually nourished by Him (just as we are physically nourished in a meal).
The ingredients necessary for a valid Eucharist . . .
The Eucharist is the miraculous manifestation of these symbols . . .
Just as when Jesus blessed people by healing them, there is a miraculous encounter of Christ in the Eucharist.
A person who has no faith in the Eucharist receives no blessing from the Eucharist. They may in fact receive a curse from it if they mock it or treat it with disrespect (as an expression of their hatred of God).
If the consecrated host falls into the sewer it doesn't harm Jesus in the slightest. He is only present in the context of eating; he will no longer be present in the context of disrespect. There is the story of the desecration of the Eucharist by throwing the consecrated hosts on the floor. A young girl sneaks into the church every day and in faith consumes one host by licking it from the floor — the Eucharist was valid in this case even though the hosts were desecrated by those who hated the church and even though they were lying on a dirty floor gathering dust and who knows what else for week after week.
A person can express their contempt for God and for Jesus by dishonoring the Eucharist.
Jesus remains present in the consecrated bread and wine so that we can worship and adore Him. This is similar to the praying over and blessing of physical objects — the blessing remains attached to the object.
If someone who doesn't believe in the Eucharist consumes a consecrated host it does not contain the presence of Christ — it is merely bread and wine. It is the faith of the recipient which activates the miraculous transformation of the elements. For one person looking at a particular piece of consecrated bread, Christ is present, for another he is not.
Faith and a holy, virtuous life are necessary to receive the Eucharist. We must desire to be blessed by God to receive the blessing.
In respect for God we should deal with the crumbs and drops in a respectful manner. We express our love for Christ in our love for the consecrated host.
The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is overstated.
My complaint against the Catholic doctrine of sacraments is one of emphasis. The church seems to think that as long as they provide weekly Eucharist they have done their job. Meanwhile, Catholics are languishing spiritually.
Purgatory is the training of the soul to desire God over all the other desires it has accumulated.
Once the soul is disembodied after death there is no need anymore for nourishment or physical security but souls that have been involved with these things too strongly over their lives will still have these attachments. They will have to spend time getting rid of them (I'm referring to souls that end up in purgatory rather than hell).
Just as we need to turn our memories (good and bad) over to God, the disembodied soul must do the same (in purgatory).
Purgatory: Two kinds of desires:
Desires other than God-ordained desires are harmful to us. We must give these up (in purgatory) before entering heaven. Bodily desires which harm us: gluttony, selfishness, non-love, anti-virtue (we are to live the virtues).
When we die our souls will still have the material, bodily cravings but it will no longer be able to act those out (because we don't have a body, but we will still have those cravings). Purgatory entails going through a process of removing these inappropriate cravings and desires. We can do this while still on earth. I should note that some eastern religions say the same thing — that we are to get rid of our attachment to desires before we die (or else we will reincarnate — a false doctrine — but they are correct that we should get rid of these desires before we die). Our soul must be fit (made perfect: Matthew 19:21, Hebrews 12:23) to enter heaven. A fit soul will practice the virtues perfectly.
An earthly analogy concerning food and the desire to eat: Sometimes we eat when we don't need the nourishment. Of course, we can't always trust the body to properly inform us via hunger — our habits interfere (original sin is the habit of doing the wrong thing). Correct eating is when we eat only when truly in need of nourishment; or a meal with people; or a meal of celebration. Incorrect eating is when pleasure is the motivation, not the honoring of God. When we choose to give in to this urge we are not living the highest as God intended; it forms bad habits; it causes other problems (side-effects such as obesity, poor health — sin has it own bad consequences). We must live and make moral choices according to God's plan/will. When we eat we should be giving God glory. We experience suffering when we say no to these cravings (these promptings of original sin) — but if we don't suffer now in rejecting inappropriate (and sinful) actions, we will suffer in purgatory when we must finally address them in order to enter heaven. Rejecting sin is painful because the soul is influenced by the dark side to desire sin as one of its appetites.
The spiritual realm contains spirit beings and the spiritual "stuff" that they interact with (memories, emotions, motives, symbols/archetypes, etc.)
There are various levels of existence in the spiritual world. Examples from Christianity: heaven, hades, hell (gehenna), purgatory, Abraham's bosom, where the good angels live (perhaps the same thing as heaven), the abyss(where Satan is imprisoned at the moment, where the demons ascend from), the spirit world of the earth (where the fallen angels live and vex humankind).
The spiritual realm is vastly larger than the material realm and there are all kinds of spiritual things in existence which have never existed and will never manifest in the material world.
Even when embodied, the soul communicates with other spiritual beings (angels, disembodied Saints, etc.). The soul is still able to communicate with these even after death.
Much of what happens here on earth and much of what happens in the spirit realm (angels, disembodied humans) is a result of God's creating things out of nothing.
We express our worship of God via arbitrary acts, rituals, rites. Each Christian community has their own ways of worshipping God.
The difference between souls that end up in purgatory and those that end up in hell is that the souls in hell never learn anything because they have committed themselves in a permanent way to a certain belief. I can't imagine why their decisions would have to be permanent. It's as if there is a threshold you cross and you can't go back, some kind of commitment you make that can't be reversed. I don't understand why God would impose such a threshold on us. There must be something innate in the soul that requires this, some capability of us having free will and able to make commitments and decisions. I have noticed that when I decide something there is an aspect to it which is permanent. For example, I decided to break with the Protestant teaching for I didn't know what and I can never go back to the way it was. That was true of Adam and Eve — their decision was permanent and final. Once they said "yes, we will allow the tempter to tempt us" at that point their souls had invited in the dark spirits to be an influence on their souls and contaminated them. That is now the human condition (original sin). Mankind allows the dark spirits to influence them without even knowing it is occurring. Various temptations to sin arise deep in our minds from we know not where and we have to deal with each one. One purpose of life is to deal with these thoughts and impulses properly. It takes a superhuman commitment and determination (from the Holy Spirit) to reverse this tendency. The Buddha was right that we need to live RIGHT. Perhaps hell is the natural consequence of those who have habitually allowed the dark forces to influence them. We have to choose between the dark side or God's truth and light — that is the human condition.
Darwin seemed to think that the procreation of life was a power in its own right. Perhaps he was right about this, that creatures desire to continue the existence of their kind of life through future generations. Plants don't have a consciousness about any of their appetites but the plant soul influences the plant to act in certain ways and to not act in other ways. God experiences the appetites of all kinds of souls — perhaps he shares in the experiences of every soul (even those without the attribute of consciousness) by merging his mind with the mind of each soul (as in Buddhism). Perhaps this is why God creates souls — so that he can experience these experiences with the soul.
Man has a super-soul (called spirit, in the image of God).
The soul is love — these words are synonyms for the same thing.
Love has conscious awareness, it has appetites, it has the ability to be virtuous — this virtuous aspect of love is its highest expression. Jesus took on human nature. Certainly if God were to create souls such as humans in his image than he would redeem it, God would have to pull that kind of soulishness back into his nature. Once he releases his image into the universe he has to claim it again, he can't let it go.
One aspect of love is that it procreates. That's why God continues to create new souls and that is why married couples create new souls as an expression of their love.
Everything we do should be for the purpose of honoring and worshipping God (just as it will be in heaven). We should eat, work, play to honor and worship God. There is a Hindu idea "work is worship" which is true. We should express our love of God with all the various appetites.
How do particular appetites arise? For example, I don't like fish, the smell repulses me. I don't know of any early childhood experiences that trained me to dislike fish (perhaps my Dad commented on the smell, he was vocal and sounded critical to me, but I don't even like the taste of fish and my Dad ate fish and liked fish). Perhaps God creates each soul with particular details pre-wired. But why would God implant in me a dislike for fish and the smell of cooking fish? Certainly there is an environmental aspect to all this as well but I am proposing that some of these details are innate in our souls when created by God — that God created me to dislike fish (for example). If I was raised in a different culture perhaps the training would have overridden the innate configuration.
I believe that all souls live forever, that all life forms will exist in the eternal state (heaven or hell). Certainly many Christians offer biblical support for the idea that animal souls are annihilated upon their death; I am not convinced by their biblical arguments.
Regarding the blessing of objects. A spiritual blessing can attach itself to a material object. The Indian tradition of Mantras, that words themselves have power, is an example of this. The word/faith movement teaching that words (whether spoken in faith or without faith) have power is an example of this.
People learn to enjoy various vices even though God creates all souls to be repulsed by sin. (the first time someone willfully commits a particular sin there is the feeling of guilt — after repeated instances, the guilt is suppressed). This is probably the source of Catholic guilt, because many Catholics don't actually attempt to live virtuously.
Many people who believe in praying blessings on other people (and even animals and houses) don't believe in blessing objects. Catholics have the concept of blessing objects (such as water, crucifixes, and Rosary beads) and that this blessing lingers and remains associated with the object.
I believe that the practice of blessing objects is valid and that these blessings remain associated with the objects. Here's how it works:
Critics of this practice are correct — blessings do not attach to objects. The association consists of memory; God remembers that there was once a blessing given over an object and he applies that blessing whenever he chooses, when the conditions are right. These blessings must be received in faith.
Thus, when I dip the tip of my finger in water that has been blessed by a priest (holy water) and make the sign of the cross on myself, God remembers the day when the priest asked God to bless that water. God remembers the blessing given by the priest and notices my faith and desire to receive blessings from God. Responding to my faith, God applies the blessing to me.
This kind of blessing is no different that a parent who pronounces a blessing over his child — God hears the words and notices the faith and he applies the blessing.