I am taking a very interesting graduate class at UNCG called Passion of the Western Mind. It is a philosophy class, and we have to write papers before doing the reading or attending the lectures. He wants us to write on very interesting topics using only what we already know and not referencing any other work. It is harder than it seems!

Here is my first paper: What is your idea of the soul?

Assignment: 3 pages. Discuss your idea of the soul. Is there such a thing? What happens to it?

I think the soul is the quality of a person that makes them who they are. We hear people say “She has such a beautiful soul” or “He has an evil soul”. I understand this type of thinking because I have encountered people in my life that are simply “beautiful” or “evil” souls. The soul is that part of ourselves that is true – what makes us who we are. I see the soul as that inner voice that speaks to us in our dreams; it is the essence of what comprises our inner thoughts and desires. Artists are born with the soul of an artist; physicians and teachers are born with the soul of a healer or educator. I think of Ghandi and Mother Theresa as good souls and Hitler and Mugabi as evil souls. While circumstances help to shape us into who we are and can determine whether our lives are lived with value or disgrace, the soul that we start with is always there guiding us. Some people, I believe, are just born with a soul that leans them one way or the other.

I, of course, I have to examine both sides of what a soul can be though. If a “good” soul goes to Heaven, then where does the “evil” soul journey to? Hell? I don’t know that I believe in Hell as an actual place either. Perhaps the “evil” soul also returns to God for another chance to become “good” or perhaps that type of soul simply ceases to exist when death occurs. But that leads me to ponder where did the soul that is evil originate in the first place? Is the evil soul a damaged good soul? And what made it damaged in the first place? What reason would God have for sending a damaged soul into the world? Perhaps to provide a balance of good and evil – as in the Garden of Eden? Can we know what good is without also knowing evil?

I also think of Ralph Waldo Emerson when I think about the soul. He talked about what he called the “oversoul”. Emerson saw the oversoul as the one universal truth that governs all things; the commonality of the eternal. This is what I call God, and I believe that God, the oversoul, is that universal truth of all things and that our souls are a part of this oversoul. Like puzzle pieces, each one of our souls is connected to the oversoul. I identified with Emerson because I have beliefs along the same lines as he. I once wrote a poem called The Undersong Singing. It is about that part of us that we listen to when we do not even realize that we are listening. We sit at a stoplight waiting for the light to change from red to green, and we hear whispers somewhere deep inside that say, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” or “I love working with children; why am I not in that line of work?” I call this the “undersong”, the soul speaking. The soul is the whispers inside of us that are our essence.

Our bodies are made up of energy, and I believe that when we die, that energy is redistributed back into the universe. But is that energy our soul? Where does the soul then go if the energy that makes up our physical form transforms into the energy of the universe? As a Christian, I believe that the soul – that true part of us – returns to where it came from in the first place. We call that place Heaven, but I don’t believe Heaven is a particular place in the sky. I think that our souls – who we are – returns to be with God in a peaceful space. I think the soul lives on after death. Perhaps that is just hopeful thinking, or perhaps we can call it faith, but I do not want to think that we simply die and our essence is gone forever. I am drawn to Christianity because of the deep faith that the soul continues to whatever is the originator of this physical form. If there is no such thing as a soul, then that would mean that we are nothing at all but disposable matter, and then what would be the purpose of our even being here? There is no way to logically and tangibly prove that the soul exists. All we have to go on are our feelings and observations. The logical side of me wants to argue that we cannot believe in something that does not provide tangible proof, but perhaps we just have not yet discovered the means to provide that proof.

The more I ponder this first question you have asked of us, the more questions that arise in my mind. I thought this would be so easy to do – define the soul. But it is incredibly difficult to pin down a definitive answer to a question that only leads to more commentary and more questions. I find that the problem of defining just what the soul is and just where the soul goes when the body dies leads me into territory that I have shied away from for most of my life. I do not believe that this is a question that can be answered; it is one of those aspects of life that we must take on faith.

NEXT WEEK: Write 100 words on the history of the world. Yikes!