Heavenly Soul Bank & Right Belief

Soul_BankLots of religions believe that a person’s soul exists before that person is born (“the pre-existence of souls”). This Heavenly Soul Bank idea is held by many Jews, Muslims, Hindus and even Christians.

In the Soul Belief course I’m taking, the professor interviews the students and asks what they were taught as children about the soul. Many of the young students had naive, confused stories. Their confusion reminded me of what I have written many times: most lay folks have sloppy theology. Mind you, I don’t blame them — leave it to the religious professionals to argue theology.

But much of Christianity is founded on “right belief”.  So it seems odd to me that it is OK for a believer to have sloppy soul beliefs, but the believer has got to believe the right Jesus story or they burn in hell.

Even the Jesus story comes in many variants with lay believers often holding very weird mixes that their religious professionals would just shake their heads at.  But who cares if they get their soul theology wrong, their communion theology wrong, their end-times theology wrong, their trinity theology wrong, or even their resurrection theology wrong?  Do you really think their god cares?  If so, everyone in that class may very well burn in hell for eternity.

Questions to readers: Do you agree that my example of various soul beliefs, helps illustrate the bizarre nature of Christianity’s “right-belief-is-essential-for-salvation” concept.

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27 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

27 responses to “Heavenly Soul Bank & Right Belief

  1. Do you agree that my example of various soul beliefs, helps illustrate the bizarre nature of Christianity’s “right-belief-is-essential-for-salvation” concept.

    I think that depends on which Christians you are talking about.

    Many conservative Christians take belief to mean mental commitment to an abstract proposition. And I agree that is bizarre. However, liberal Christians are more likely to see belief as something reflected in behavior, and they go by the “sheep and goats” story of Matthew 25 as to what is the expected behavior.

  2. It’s all bizzare to me whether you’re a “soul banker” or not. Believers fall into two camps. There are the orthodox/fundamentalists who also tend to be literalists and the more ecumenical/inclusive ones who will accept some allegory as long as it continues to provide them emotional comfort. The bottom line is fear and ignorance. The more fearful they are, the more rigid the dogma and the stronger their response will be to perceived threats to their beliefs.

  3. rautakyy

    @ Sabio Lanz. Yes, I think your example works, but then again, since I never was a believer, I may not be able to evaluate it. To me the soul question opens up at the other end of what evidence there even could be, that a soul exists and what evidence we do have, that a soul is somewhat a logical conclusion within a culture, that is ignorant of neural synapses.

  4. @ Neil,
    Indeed you are right. I tried to capture your point with “much of Christianity”, which I think I could have written more accurately as “most of Christianity”. But that would only be the religious professionals. I think the non-systematic, non-dogmatic, sloppy lay believers (majority of Christians) even in the conservative sects of Christianity, don’t hold a strong version of believism but a very inconsistent mix. But for both them, and the religious conservative religious professionals, I think it is good to weaken their beliefism module when possible. I wager, albeit also in a weak, mixed-up manner, the beliefism module is working even in liberal Christians who would deny it, while they gladly ride on the coat-tails of Christian privilege (the majority).

    @ P Yew,
    Thanx for stopping in. As comfort, as solace and as relief at times of fear, I can see how these models help. I’ve nothing really against them when they aren’t tied to exclusivism or parochialism.

    @ rautakyy,
    Glad you think my example works. Right, you don’t have the intuitions of us former believers. But mind you, I am a mystical former believer so my intuitions are probably even more perverse than the faith-only ex-believers who make up the majority. :-)

  5. the reason right belief about Jesus is essential is because it is in him that salvation comes…but only the right “him”. If you are believing things about Jesus that aren’t actually correct, then you are trusting the wrong Jesus.

    However, what you believe about the soul isnt a belief that is tied to salvation. Neither is the day of week one worships. The bible does teach that among the non-essential doctrines, disagreement isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  6. I would like to quote here on “soul” from Mirza Ghulam Ahmad 1835-1908, The Promised Messiah/Imam Mahdi:

    “It is absolutely true that the soul is a fine light developed inside the body and which is nurtured in the womb. To begin with it is hidden and imperceptible and later it is made manifest. From the very beginning its essence is present in the sperm. It is related to the sperm in a mysterious manner by the design and command and will of God. It is a bright and illumined quality of the sperm. It cannot be said that it is a part of the sperm as matter is part of matter, nor can it be said that it comes from outside or falls upon the earth and gets mixed with the matter of the sperm. It is latent in the sperm as fire is latent in the flint.”
    “The truth is that the soul is developed in the body and this also proves that it is created and is not self-existent.”
    “Philosophy of Teaching of Islam” pages 14, 15

    http://www.alislam.org/library/books/Philosophy-of-Teachings-of-Islam.pdf

    Does it help?

  7. Note to readers: John Barron is conservative Christian with a popular blog. He is intelligent and a fine writer.

    @ John Barron,
    Yeah, I think I remember that stuff about not sweating the small stuff. But knowing what a soul is, or isn’t seems pretty big since that is what you are trying to save. And getting it wrong about Jesus’ spirit caused many heretical Christians to be burned at the stake.

    For instance, if I believed that souls die with the body, then I wouldn’t be your sort of Christian, would I? Some Christians believe that, but then they are liberal Christians who you’d say aren’t real Christians.

    But for sake of argument, let me grant that getting belief about the soul right does not matter in your believism faith. And instead, as you say, you have to believe in the “right Jesus”. So if I imagine him black, or missing a leg, or actually born in Samaria, I’d imagine that even if that ain’t him, you wouldn’t want to say that false belief would doom me to hell.

    What if I believed he didn’t do any miracles but died for my sins? Is that enough? How much do I got to get right?

    This could lead to a whole other post. But I’d appreciate your thoughts here so far, and spontaneously.

    Thanx John.

  8. @ parrasurrey,
    This statement by the founder of your Ahmadiyya sect of Islam was made in the 1800s when they knew what a sperm was. I could imagine a fun illustrations with a shining light inside a sperm.

    On this Suni Muslim site I found that the soul is blown into the 120 day-old fetus.(from the Hadith). At death it leaves the body and goes to heaven (but not the body). Does this differ from the opinion of your Messiah?

    See you if you can answer my “Question to Readers” — does your sect think belief matters?

  9. Marc

    Human beings are tripartite, composed of spirit, soul, and body (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23) The pagan concepts of natural immortality of the soul has led to the corrupt concepts of eternal conscience torment taught by all too many of the heretics who claim to be Christians. Only God is immortal, and only He can give the gift of immortality to His creatures or destroy them (see Matthew 10:28).

  10. @ Marc,
    Be careful to read the post and listen to the question to readers part instead of ranting on your religious theology. Very few of my readers here look at the letters or stories in your favorite old documents (“the Bible”) as having any authority at all. So quoting them only shows us your weak epistemology.

  11. @John Barron 01/26/2014 at 2:35 pm

    “The bible does teach that among the non-essential doctrines, disagreement isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

    Please quote from the Bible.
    Is Trinity a non-essential doctrine? Please

  12. @Sabio Lantz 01/26/2014 at 4:38 pm

    I don’t get you exactly; please elaborate your question for me?
    Thanks

  13. Sorry, paarsurrey, I won't be elaborating further. You are very difficult for me to have a productive, interesting conversation with. Nothing personal, but just too little time in the day.

  14. @paar

    The trinity is an essential doctrine as it relates to the nature of God.

    @sabio

    When I speak of the right Jesus its not about what he looked like, whether he’s black or missing a leg. Its about the nature of who he is: the son of God, God incarnate, the messiah, the only savior.

    Its about whether he died and physically rose. Whether you believe he performed other miracles isnt described as essential to affirm.

  15. @Sabio Lantz 01/27/2014 at 1:30 pm

    I am not in a hurry; please elaborate when you find a little time for me.

    Thanks

  16. @ John Barron 01/27/2014 at 4:23 pm

    If Trinity was/is an essential doctrine of Christianity as it relates to the nature of God, as you say; then why did Jesus not believe it?

    Was Jesus not a Christian himself? Please

    I think trinity is a non-essential doctrine; Jesus did not know of it; he remained focused on the teachings set forth below:

    Matthew 22:36-40

    36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    http://www.biblegateway.com/pa&#8230

  17. @ John Barron,
    So I’ve not only got to believe that he rose and died from the dead, and was the son of Yahweh, but I’ve got to understand the fine details of the trinity — all three? Isn’t two enough. Sounds like a pretty complex belief-mine-field for a god to set up when he supposedly wants to be known and worshipped.

  18. @Sabio
    No. I dont think extensive knowledge of the trinity is necessary. But if one is presented with the trinity, denying it is skating on thin ice. Fully understanding it and denying is a different story.

    I dont think that if one read through the bible and didnt pick up on the trinity that it would have any negative repercussion.

  19. @ John,
    Wow, that is so telling. In a court of law, by my intuitions, that would close the case in my favor. But what it shows is how totally different your and my intuitions are. But we have already discussed how very different our temperaments are.

    So, instead of arguing theology and such, I will again point out that I think most folks are blind to how their temperaments form their beliefs. So, if I am right, the question is, will my temperament thus doom me to hell?
    BTW, John, that was a joke.

  20. Marc

    @Sabio,
    I did not mean to rant, but rather offer alternate concepts about the soul that might not be familiar to your readers.

    As to the question about having the right belief being essential for salvation, I believe it can only be so if everyone is illumined as to what is right and true. This illumination must come in the spiritual realm, because it is not fully available in the physical realm.

  21. @ Marc,
    What sect of Christianity to you identify with — there are so many, all all quote Christian scripture. I think you’d be surprised by the background of my readers — they know a lot. Many are ex-Christians and many are Christian

  22. Marc

    @Sabio,
    I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian. My forty plus year adult spiritual journey began as an agnostic, then Protestant Christian, Deist for a while, and finally Orthodox Christian. The Orthodox teaching about the Harrowing of Hades had a lot to do with my decision to become Orthodox about fourteen years ago. This teaching affirms that all people will be illumined with the truth, and most if not all, will embrace it.

  23. @ Marc,
    I am admittedly not too familiar with Eastern Orthodox Christianity’s (EOC) Christology, Soteriology and such. But the notion of tripartite soul (modeling Trinity) is common even in Evangelical Christian circles. So common fodder for me.
    So where do souls come from in EOC theology? When do they start accruing sin? Where do they go when a person dies?

  24. Marc

    @Sabio,
    EOC Christology is well defined by the seven Ecumenical Council of the first eight Centuries following Pentecost in AD. 33. Our soteriology is more medical than juridical. We see judgment more as a diagnosis, and punishment as more of a therapy.

    We understand the soul as the life force that is found in human beings as well as other creatures. Human being are unique in that we have a spirit. The human soul and spirit are unique creations like the human body. The spirit keeps the soul alive in the spiritual realm after the body dies.

    Sin means to miss the mark, or fail to live up to our potential. As EOC we strive to live up to our potential through the teachings and therapies provided by the Church. Illumination, purification, and deification can begin to take place in this life in the Church, but for most folks the process begins upon entry into the spiritual realm.

    Btw, I really do appreciate your work on this blog site Sabio. Please forgive my emotional display when I first visited this site last year. I am a work in progress like all of humanity, and appreciate your patience. If I offended you in any way, please forgive me.

  25. Thanx for sharing, Marc. Yeah, you were pretty out-of-control wacko when you first started on this blog. But people change (or get on meds), and that is cool. :-)

  26. Marc

    Our mutual friend Nate Owens helped me to understand more about the perspective that you and he share. I have learned a lot by reading about yours and Nate’s experiences regarding religion. I relate to much of what you both experienced in your individual journeys.

  27. @ Sabio Lantz: 01/26/2014 at 4:13 pm

    “Note to readers: John Barron is conservative Christian with a popular blog. He is intelligent and a fine writer.”

    We are thankful to you for introducing a conservative Christian popular blog. Can you introduce some other popular and intelligent blogs of Atheists or Theists.

    Thanks and regards

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