Saturday, November 14, 2009

“I’m a war of head verses heart, it’s always this way
My head is weak, my heart always speaks before I know what it will say”
- Crooked Teeth, Death Cab for Cutie

Talking about the distinction between soul and body is dangerous. It’s facetious. There is NO clear line between soul and body, mind and matter, reason and emotion. They are heuristic categories. We human beings love to multiply distinctions. We do it because it makes the world simpler, easier to understand, and more manageable. We love to categorize, to dissect, and to label. And it’s not wrong. We can’t have it any other way. But to do so is to risk losing sight of the fact that we are WHOLE. There is a human being. There is no digestive system, circulatory system. There isn’t a sex drive and an appetite. There is a human being. You were wrong, Clive Staples Lewis, when you said “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body”. What we are is a human being. What you are doing is creating all sort of religious, philosophical, and ethical problems by multiplying distinctions where they ought not to be.

Why do we do this? First of all, because it’s easy. It’s easy to decide on a macro level where the eyeball ends and the skull begins, where the small intestine ends and the large intestine begins, where the tendon ends and the bone begins. But on a molecular level, no such distinction exists. On a macro level, we know when we are being driven by emotion and when we are being driven by reason. But if we subject our inner thoughts to deep introspection, we’ll realize that trying to distinguish the two is foolish; it is a result of an inadequate understanding of our cognition. It’s a result of oversimplifying our brain processes. The Vulcan race from the Star Trek franchise is an interesting philosophical thought experiment, but it would not be possible, nor would the existence of such a race be logically tenable. You might as well try to invent a race of beings that could only conceptualize numbers but not words.

If we were really honest with ourselves, we’d realize that all our emotions are a logical result of complex inner thought and logic. All of them are explainable, they all have an origin somewhere, no matter how confusing they seem to us. If we were really honest with ourselves, we’d realize that no one reason’s logically in an objective vacuum. Reason isn’t an impartial tool that we use to arrive upon an objective answer. If it were so, then why would we disagree? On anything? The two are inextricably connected. We can’t separate it.

Then WHY? Why do our feelings and thoughts always seem to be so opposed? Why do we speak in these terms? Why do we say things like, “Listen to your heart” as if our brains were out to steer us wrong? Why did Obi-freakin’-Wan tell Luke to “trust your feelings” instead of that expensive, high-tech targeting system in his X-wing fighter? Why does it seem like our hearts desires and our brains “oughts and shouldn’ts” are always in conflict?

I don’t know. I have a few insufficient answers. It could be the result of sin fracturing a being that God regarded as “good” and “whole” and “complete” into incomplete parts that are always in conflict with one another. It could be that after three thousand years of Western, Greek-influenced philosophy, we as a culture are ingrained in our understanding of what makes an individual that it’s impossible for us to imagine it any other way.

I think it’s our burden to unseat this misconception. It’s a great distinction for non-meaningful circumstances, such as when I say, “I hate working out, but I know it’s good for me, so my reason overrides my emotions”. But when it comes to the important issues, it’s dangerous. Because what does God save? Our souls? So our bodies are meaningless? We can treat it like trash and do whatever we want to it? That’s exactly the kind of reasoning that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to combat.

Anyway, I don’t think anyone really goes to that extreme. I think this mis-led thinking is more insidious than that. Nobody says, “Well my soul is saved, so I might as well trash my body now”. But a lot of us are led to think that perhaps reasoning is more important than feeling and that we must subject our passions to our logic. Or some of us might go the other way and think that there are some questions in which “a logical answer isn’t possible” and that you had to trust your intuition. Both beliefs are wrong-headed. The first one is held under the mistaken assumption that you can actually reason objectively without letting your personal biases factor in, biases that are intrinsic to your very being, biases that all humans have because if you don’t have it then you wouldn’t have an identity. The second one is held under the mistaken assumption that intuition precludes logic. Your feelings tell a thousand tales of your reason; just in a language that you don’t understand.

Where am I going with all this? I’m re-reading some of my notes about Kierkegaard. Part of his life’s work is to remind Christians that choosing Christ is neither emotionally nor logically tenable. It’s a choice that’s doesn’t just go against your feelings, it goes against your reason. It is ultimately an “absurd leap of faith”. You didn’t choose Christ by reason; you didn’t do it because it was the most logical decision. You didn’t choose Christ because he fulfilled all your emotional needs. Yes, maybe that was the case on the surface. But ultimately, if you truly understood your faith, you’d realize that throwing all of yourself passionately onto this man-God is a choice that is made in absurdity.

1 comment:

  1. dan, this was beautiful. it was nice to talk to you the other day on the telephone, too.