(I return to the dialogue on the soul with my philosopher friend from the post two weeks ago...)
Me: Wow, it seems like this conversation has gone on for awhile, but we're still strolling around Oxford! And since we're now in the library at Magdalen College looking at the "New Building," let me pause for a moment. I'll lay out four steps on how the concept of the soul developed in Christian thought, especially as we think about this in light of contemporary science, which has a great deal of trouble with a disembodied soul.
Philosopher: That sounds good. At least I'll be clear on what I'm disagreeing with!
Me: First of all, the Hebrew Bible (for example, Genesis 1-2) presents the human being as a unity of body-soul Generally, this is referred to as a “psychosomatic unity.” The natural state of human beings is thus to be in this unity. (By the way, some see a tripartite breakdown of body-soul-spirit, but I think they're mistaken, and the difference isn't essential to our conversation. It's the unity that's critical.)
Philosopher: I already see some issues, but I'll let you keep going and simply pose questions from time to time...
Me: Second, As the Jewish people became more interested in eschatology and thus resurrection, the teaching of the resurrection of the body became increasingly important. This is a bit more complicated because it implies a correlate A. Jewish psychosomatic unity needs to be distinguished from the immortality of the soul of some Hellenistic thought, most notably in Plato (but not restricted to him), where the soul fits more or less uncomfortably in the body, and the point is to release the soul from its prison. Nonetheless, I do admit Plato's dualism--and the many other similar forms-- is the perspective taken by many Christians today.
Philosopher: This is a dumpster fire--not just your ideas, but a real dumpster fire right
there. At any rate, I think you're blaming a lot on Plato. Isn't he just a representative of that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all?
Me: There you go, you sly, sagacious, philosophical dog, throwing in an allusion to Vincent of Lerins! At any rate, I'll give a direct answer to your question: No. And this brings me to correlate B: There is no widespread unity of perspectives on soul in religions and philosophies throughout history. Something close to substance dualism—where there are two entities, “body” and “soul” that together make the human being, but that are, in principle separable—may be the majority opinion, but I’m not sure how one could know, and it is by no means universal. For example, Hindu substance dualism holds that the soul transmigrates through different lives into the different bodies (not all of which are human). In contrast, Siddartha Gautama (aka the Buddha) and many Buddhists do not hold this view.
Philosopher: Before we go any further, I have to ask you for a definition. We philosophers don't travel very far without defining terms.
A form of dualism in the philosophy of mind that states two types of substances exist: the mental and the physical. It is a fundamentally ontological position: it states that the mental and the physical are separate substances with independent existence. (adapted from http://www.philosophy-index.com).
How does that work? I'm taking this to represent a commonly held view. In it, I want to emphasize the independence and separability of these two substances. This is inconsistent with biblical teaching and most Christian theology throughout history, despite whatever else you philosophers might conjure up. (Did I really just say that?)
Philosopher: That's a great idea--the pint that is--but I'm not sure why substance dualism is incompatible with Christianity.
Me: I arrive then at my third step: As the Christian church developed its ideas of the resurrection of the body after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It distinguished itself in some ways from a Jewish conception in which once the Messiah arrived the general resurrection would occur tout de suite. Christians realized that there was some intermediate state in between our death and the general resurrection, but that this was unnatural for human beings. This would be an unclothed soul (2 Corinthians 5). The texts are notably sketchy on what this is and point toward the mystery of what is to be revealed (1 Corinthians 15). Jesus’s resurrected body, however, allowed him to eat (Luke 24), which contradicts an assertion that he was pure spirit after the Resurrection.
Philosopher: Hmm... I can see we need to take some time to work out these ideas. But we've got time and wow, we've also got a really nice view! It's almost like we were transported from the Handle Bar, which has no view, to a rooftop bar on High Street.
Me: You're right--it's almost like a foretaste of God will bring, in the twinkling of an eye, something unexpected, a whole new, higher view. At any rate, let me close with this, step four: Our ultimate hope is to be fully restored and unified human beings that are a unity of both bodies and souls. In the new heavens and the new earth described in Revelation 21, there are many activities that imply and require a body. That's what we long for: a new body-soul for the new creation.
Philosopher: I definitely see that there are several distinctions left to be drawn and a number of points of disagreement. No worries. I hope this is some ways a literal foretaste of our future hope and that our resurrected bodies will allow us to share a pint together in the life to come.
Me: We can definitely toast to that!