Friday, April 01, 2005

The Living Soul

David Hart offers yet another rebuke to the cleverly constructed ignorance of Andrew Sullivan, Gregg Easterbrook, and others:
This is not to say that, for Christian tradition, the soul transcends and survives the earthly life of the body. It is only to say that the soul, rather than being a kind of "guest" within the self, is instead the underlying mystery of a life in its fullness. In it the multiplicity of experience is knit into a single continuous and developing identity. It encompasses all the dimensions of human existence: animal functions and abstract intellect, sensation and reason, emotion and reflection, flesh and spirit, natural aptitude and supernatural longing. As such, it grants us an openness to the world of which no other creature is capable, allowing us to take in reality through feeling and thought, recognition and surprise, will and desire, memory and anticipation, imagination and curiosity, delight and sorrow, invention and art. . . .

Granted, it is easiest to sense this mystery when gazing at the Sistine Chapel's ceiling or listening to Bach. But it should be evident--for Christians at least--even when everything glorious and prodigious in our nature has been stripped away and all that remains is frailty, brokenness and dependency, or when a person we love has been largely lost to us in the labyrinth of a damaged brain. Even among such ravages--for those with the eyes to see it--a terrible dignity still shines out.

I do not understand exactly why those who wanted Terri Schiavo to die had become so resolute in their purposes by the end. If she was as "vegetative" as they believed, what harm would it have done, I wonder, to surrender her to the charity (however fruitless) of her parents? Of this I am certain, though: Christians who understand their faith are obliged to believe that she was, to the last, a living soul. It is true that, in some real sense, it was her soul that those who loved her could no longer reach, but it was also her soul that they touched with their hands and spoke to and grieved over and adored. And this also means that it was a living soul that we as a society chose to abandon to starvation and thirst--which should, at the very least, give us cause to consider what else we may have abandoned along the way.


Anonymous said...

You know the last few days with all of the assisted suicide and right to die stuff going on in light of Schiavo’s death, the phrase that popped up in my mind this morning is that line by kierkigard quoted in the epigraph of The Moviegoer by Walker Percy : “The nature of despair is this: it does not know it is despair.” That’s how I feel about all of these people talking about death as if it is no different than any other choices we make. They mistake their faithlessness, the cold answers that logic gives them for pragmatism; they cannot see what afflicts them, or that they are afflicted. It also makes me think of Faulkner’s noble speech when he laments those artists concerned “not with the heart but with the glands”. I’ve come to realize that my basic, often inarticulable problem with so much of what I disagree with in these debates is that the hopelessness and the bare, naked nihilism of so much of what is advanced as realism or rationality is at its base, just so confoundingly pitiable. When the dust settles on one of these disagreements, I just feel sorry for how hopeless it must feel to be so unbelieving in anything transcendant or to not recognize the miracle that (even ultimately fruitless) hope is? Who would have thought that the recognition of one’s despair could be so radically different from being unaware . . . and that, as the quote suggests, recognition is also itself the liberation from it. The strange truth about our souls, indeed . . .

Jay D. Homnick said...

Absolutely correct. The loss is incalculable.

1) A person who is the object of love and compassion increases the presence of those elements in the world.

2) A person who suffers, in addition to purifying their own soul, brings forgiveness to humanity (according to both Judaism and Christianity).

3) In Jewish theology, the world is measured every day and God's treatment of it is based on a mathematical/metaphysical calculus that is determined by the NUMBER of good people and the NUMBER of bad people at any given time. One good person can bring much blessing to the world merely by BEING.