Matthew 16:26, Do We Have a Soul?

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

//Help! Science has stolen my soul, and I can’t get it back!

For at least a couple hundred years before Christ, many Jews believed in an afterlife. They understood there would be a physical resurrection, and they would live again in the flesh, on the earth. It may have been around the time of Christ that the Greek concept of a soul made inroads into branches of Judaism, and lodged firmly in the branch we know today as Christianity.

But if I have a soul, can it really be me? My feelings, my mental skills, my memories reside within a piece of meat housed in my skull. Likewise, so is everything I’ve learned to say and do and enjoy, everything that makes me “me.” My love for music, my competitive spirit, my unappreciated wry sense of humor, my weakness for cute noses. That’s what’s me.

So maybe I do have a soul, a living parasite housed somewhere within my body. Maybe this soul has some sort of otherworldly link to God, perhaps God pulls the strings on this parasite, and perhaps it can even somehow stir the electrical impulses that fire between the neurons of my brain to make me think and act differently. Maybe it lives on after I die, and maybe it then goes to heaven or hell. The question I struggle with is, Why do I care about it? Or, more to the point, why would I care any differently about my parasite than yours? I hope they all go to heaven, and I hope they dance happily there while the personalities they leave behind fade into oblivion.

Comments welcome.


  1. I’ve heard meditation teachers describe two selves that become apparent after deep, practiced meditation. The first self is the ‘regular self’ that we’re used to: the one with thoughts, feelings, desires, and a fondness for cute noses.

    But when we manage to medidate deeply enough, another self becomes apparent: an observer that, though it may at first feel more distant, eventually feels more objective and real, and is capable of observing and understanding the more immediate, primitive(?), subjective self, as well as the cosmos it’s a part of.

    I can’t say I’ve ever experienced this myself, but I don’t doubt that it’s real. Though similar questions come to me as do to you: if this more objective, grounded, and fundamental self of ours is so hard to actually connect with, then why bother? Maybe we should just be satisfied with being the subjective, ungrounded, somewhat superficial creatures that we are obviously wired to be, and leave it at that.

    I guess Christianity would respond that the connection with this deeper self is what was lost during the Fall, and that Jesus came to show us how to ignore that subjective self that we may again have eternal life, by connecting with our deeper, more eternal selves.

    And I guess Buddhism would respond that this outer, more subjective self is actually the root of all suffering, and that learning to transcend it is the only path to true peace and happiness.

    I guess that, as with many things, only the people who have experienced both things can have an educated opinion about the matter. If I say “bah, my regular self is all I need to be happy, and my thoughts and feelings and beliefs are who I really am – all that that objective ‘soul’ stuff is pointless”, it’s a bit like like a blind patriot claiming that his country is the best in the world, even though he’s never once left its borders.

    From what I know, most people who have fully experienced both selves tend to think more highly and fondly of the deeper one.

    Still, the work that is required to get to that point seems massive: years of disciplined meditation, years of training yourself to deny your desires, baser instincts and attachments, etc.

    I’m sure that people who have climbed Everest know a certain level of exhilaration that most of us will never know. Yet that doesn’t mean that we all should, or indeed could, climb Mt Everest.

  2. Well, this isn’t entirely an Eastern thing, since Freud taught us there’s a lot more going on below the surface. It’s just that our Western outlook on deep consciousness is sterile when compared to actively seeking out that “soul.”

    I’ve never really discussed my belief about the afterlife on this forum … it’s a bit too religious a topic for a religion blog, ha. And, of course, I suck at believing stuff, so I’d have to admit right away that I don’t really believe, I just adapt to a meaningful wish. But any concept I’m able to form of a soul or a deeper self will surely lose all or most of self and instead go swimming in a universal conciousness. I tend to think of meditation as letting go of self to tap into the universal, rather than uncovering a deeper self. I can accept your wording: a “primitive, subconscious self, and the cosmos it’s a part of.”

    This was a fascinating little book:

  3. Yes, your ‘swimming in a universal consciousness’ is probably better wording. An experience where “me” dies and “we” takes its place.

    Again, pretty consistent with many of Jesus’s teachings, such as those about the death of self. (and some of Buddha’s teachings – I didn’t mean to suggest that it was an Eastern idea, but rather a universal one that is found in both Christianity and Buddhism).

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