If anything could prove the existence of a soul, it is the utter emptiness of a corpse.
— Mary Doria Russell, Children of God
When I was little, I asked my father where our souls were in our bodies. He made a gesture in the general area of his liver while trying to explain that souls animate our entire bodies. For quite awhile afterward, I was convinced that the soul was an organ beside the liver.
One evening I was walking through a park with an atheist friend, who is a strong determinist—he doesn’t believe that we have free will, but that all our decisions are formed solely by our genes or environment. He asked, “Wouldn’t you make the same decision again with the same information at hand?”
He is also a complete materialist (in the metaphysical sense). I asked, “What’s the difference between a living person and a corpse?”
He responded: “It’s all neurons. I’m basically a robot.”
At that juncture, I was strongly tempted to hit him over the head or grab him by the shoulders to shake some sense into him.1
Scientists have found that there is actually increased brain activity after death.2 Numerous near-death and out-of-body experiences have been recorded, suggesting that a human maintains consciousness though he may be clinically dead.3
Here’s a fascinating story in the secular press: “The top doctor who swears he saw a glimpse of hell: No-nonsense anaesthetist dismissed patients who said they’d had out-of-body experiences until HE went under the knife.”
Many years ago, my maternal grandmother Maria died from an accidental poisoning, and my grandfather left her body lying on their bed for a few days because he was in too much grief to prepare it for burial.
After those days, she awoke, saying that she had found herself in a place of profound peace and overwhelming joy, which she never wanted to leave. But a bearded man approached and told her she had to return to earth, because she had children to look after.
I am rather glad she did come back to this life, because my mother wasn’t born yet!
These words by a scientist who converted from materialistic atheism have stayed with me:
“Lewontin and most scientists are true believers in materialism, possessing an absolute faith that matter and its workings will eventually explain everything in the universe. But such a faith has already failed at the most basic level; brain function alone cannot account for the simple experience of seeing, hearing, tasting, or smelling. All human beings, scientists and laypersons, live in the nonmaterial world of the smell of lavender, the deep resonance of a cello, the beauty of a sunset over an ocean, the wonder evoked by the night sky, the elegance of Euclid’s demonstration of the infinitude of prime numbers, the very world that materialism cannot explain. If only matter existed, then we would have no interior life; we would be mindless things like rocks and volcanoes.”4
The soul is the form of the body, as Aristotle teaches.5 “The body cannot be the principle that accounts for life, since a body, when deprived of life, is still a body, but not alive.”6 Just as a house becomes a house when materials are constructed according to a certain plan, so does a living thing come into existence when it is ensouled.7 Without the soul, the body crumbles away into dust.
Let us treasure our souls, and take good care of them, just as we care for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Our souls are made in the image and likeness of God, that is, in the image and likeness of Love.
Remember, Christian soul, that thou has this day a duty:
God to Glorify, Eternity to Prepare for,
Jesus to Imitate, The Angels and Saints to invoke;
Your Soul to Save, Your Body to Mortify,
Sins to Expiate, Virtues to Acquire,
Hell to avoid, Heaven to Gain,
Time to Profit by, Your neighbors to Edify,
The World to Despise, Devils to Combat,
Passions to Subdue, Death Perhaps to Encounter,
and Judgment to Undergo.8
“…there is a case against cannibalism; the aversion from the idea of my eating my next-door neighbour is not a prejudice. … It rests on a sacramental sentiment about the human body, by which the soul soaks the body like a strong savour, and does not merely inhabit it like a hat in a hat-box.”
— G. K. Chesterton, “The Moral Collapse of Modern Germany” (February 17, 1917)
“You do not possess the Sacred Humanity as you do when you receive Communion; but the Divinity, that essence the Blessed adore in Heaven, is in your soul; there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again!”
— Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, around May 27, 1906 (After assuring her mother that her doctrine on the presence of God within us is not something she came up with, but rather what Scripture tells us.)9
“I have found heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul. My mission in heaven will be to draw souls, helping them to go out of themselves to cling to God, with a spontaneous, love-filled action, and to keep them in that great interior silence which enables God to make His mark on them, to transform them into Himself.”
— Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity (Letter 122)10
1 Actually, I wanted to kiss him (can robots feel longing for, or aversion to, a kiss?), and I wrote a poem about that, but that’s another story.
2 Ed Yong, “In Dying Brains, Signs of Heightened Consciousness”, National Geographic.
3 Sarah Knapton, “First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study”, The Telegraph.
9 Kathleen Hattrup, “If you haven’t met Elizabeth of the Trinity yet, here’s why you should”, Aleteia.