The body is in the soul

What sense does it make for me to say that I have a soul? For isn’t soul the most undefinable thing? To say that I have a soul makes it sound as if I have some organ in my body that is called a soul. Nor is the problem helped by describing the soul as spiritual and hence invisible- the problem of possession still stands. If what we mean by soul is the invisible, spiritual, emotional side of ourselves (psyche), then it still doesn’t make sense to say that I have or possess a soul.

It would make more sense to say that a thing possesses me; that is, I am carried about in ways I do not totally understand or comprehend by a force, and this force sets the bounds for what I can think, feel, etc. This force seems to be within me, for I feel it; this force also seems to be outside of me for it seems that others feel it. What’s more, it seems that we feel each other- like we all live within the force field.

What if there is one soul and we all partake of it? What if we are possessed by a soul rather than possessing one? Could this be what we stupidly (i.e., lacking sufficient knowledge) call “God”? In this way God is not an object in a set (you-me-God) in which every object in the set possesses a soul. Rather, God is the set and we all live within it [God (You-me-us) God].

To use some of Heidegger’s terminology, God is not ontic (material, discrete, particular) but ontological (the horizon of being, the bounds of the set). God is ontology itself. Understood this way, it is unwise to treat God as if he is a person in the same sense as you and I. By naming the field (God) and by referring to the field as a person (him, her) we automatically create these associations in our head. But God is not an object in our world just like soul is not an object in our body. Both concepts, God and soul, refer (again) more to a force than to a discrete object.

On this understanding, we can simultaneously see God everywhere and nowhere (some have referred to this as the “now(here)” of God), just like we can see the soul everywhere and nowhere. We can only see the material manifestation of objects within the set, but we cannot see the whole set as a totality because in order to do so we would have to step outside of the set.

We cannot see the whole forest because we are all trees.

Truths conceal . . . Errors reveal

To move beyond the sterile categories of truth and non-truth we must pass through the dialectical tension of truth and error and move into the soft ground of error, with its supplement of truth.

Truth and error are not dualisms that must be chosen through an act of the will. Rather, error is the nature of the world we live in and this brings about its own set of truths. Theories of ontology (what IS) often present themselves as an attempt of “truth-telling” about the world; they attempt to put forward what is “really” going on around us. But what if the “truth” that is out there cannot be put forward, cannot be adequately represented? The “truth” of our reality is already present and assembled, without instructions, formal laws, or structures of any sort. It merely is, for whatever IS, is. But the is as brought forward by human beings has taken on an overshadowing of what IS. Any representation is a function of the is, and representations distort reality in order to present it intelligible or digestible to the is.

When Martin Heidegger talks about the distinction between sein (being)and da-sein (being-there) he is discussing the distinction between the “truth of the real” of being and the “lie of truth” of the “being-who-is-there.” Human beings, in their status as beings who are “thrown” into the world as it is, have no basis for representing the world; it is already present. Error, understood in this sense, is a description of the world that has positive content; it describes a world that is itself “thrown.”

In the traditional Christian narrative of error, the first man committed the first error when he broke God’s law, thus introducing “throwness” into the structure of the world. The “fall” of man can be read in two ways: (1) the fall was evil because it enslaved man to sin; (2) the fall was good because it set men free from God’s law. St. Paul says that the one who has died has been set free from the law. In his letters this appears as a liberating force via the Spirit, the connected community of early Christianity, the force that produced the virtues that are sprinkled about Paul’s letters. In contrast to St. Paul, the original fall narrative, the fall “into Adam” rather than “into Christ,” was traumatic because it shattered the illusion of perfection by introducing error. The command (“thou shalt not eat…”), acting as an absolute truth, immediately opens up the actuality of error, or acting contrary to the absolute. This introduces a gap between the “is” and the “ought,” between moral imperatives and the ability of people to perfectly align the two.

By combining both readings we can see “the fall” as both bad and good, calling into question the usefulness of the categories themselves. Rather than pitting the readings against each other, we should try taking on board the full weight of both.

There is a sense in which St. Paul indirectly does this. Paul sets “Being-in-the-Spirit” in opposition to “Being-in-Adam.” He makes several statements that indicate how radical the opposition is, but the most explosive is the one mentioned above about dying. In the same way that Jesus said that a seed must fall to the ground and die before it can be born again into a tree, so Paul says that the man who would be in the Spirit must die in Christ. The emphasis in Paul is on dying and rising in Christ, a way of being that incorporates both elements.

According to Paul, Christ repeats the Adam story, inverting the roles. Adam dies in error and raises up a slave to it (Romans 7:7-25 is illuminating when read as the existential cry of every man “in Adam.”) Adam became doomed to endlessly repeat error in all that he did, and it was linked to the moment when man assumed himself to stand in the place of the Law of God. The Christ event asymmetrically repeats the Adam event through the Law of God assuming itself into a man. When Christ dies he breaks down the wall of perfection that constantly disrupts human activity by holding up a standard that it cannot attain to.

Christ’s death is best interpreted by his life; in his practice he also disrupts the normative claim of law by removing condemnation from the picture. There is a story in the gospels of a woman caught in adultery who is brought before Christ. The woman’s accusers were hoping to use the woman as a testing ground for his teaching, probably in the hopes that they could charge him with some crime. Christ not only fails to punish the woman, he shames everyone else that was gathered and ready to stone her. Though Christ occupies the place of exception, and thus is the only person who could legitimately condemn the woman, he refuses to do so. Instead, he tells her, go and sin no more. The freedom to make mistakes is the necessary path to lessening one’s track record of error. This story also shows Christ’s desire, even as the embodiment of law, to turn people away from law towards another path: that of spirit.

By moving human activity away from law and towards spirit, being is directed to produce itself, rather than attempt to reproduce an ideal, non-existent. No man can become God, which often function as a projection of the ideal self. This ideal self that has eluded the actual self never actually existed; this is why God himself had to assume the form of man in order to destroy law. Law itself is founded on the lie that men can attain to the status of God. In order to rid man of this burden God must die so as to not stand in the way of humans being humans.

Law then loses its legitimacy in a world beholden to error. In the same way that we instinctively do not punish mentally handicapped people we also ought not to punish others who are mentally competent for their crimes. The punishment is itself reflective of the problem that led to the initial transgression. In either case, the plea of Christ on the cross is still pertinent: “They know not what they do.” And this is really the great existential problem. We do not know what we do, and all of our attempts to say that we do end up compounding the problem of error even more.

This “ontology of error” opens up a space for non-logic (instead of a binary of logic and ill-logic) and spiritual materialism (versus mechanistic materialism). This space is the revolutionary starting point for resistance to the false god of perfection. In order to look for perfection “you would need to go out of the world.” (1 Cor 5:10), and this ontology rejects any exit sign pointing you outside.

Vain Imaginings

I sat, then saw.

Around me was void, of a kind unseen and yet,
a blackness that had subtle shape, texture, scale,
vast and near, a close expanse of dim sight,
but no sound was of yet heard

A burst of sound at my seven bid me turn, and I was then blind,
momentarily darkened in my comprehension,
then when my eyes alighted I felt drawn,
like one whose name is called by a great friend

The light enveloped me and I was beckoned,
ushered into a sanctuary of light and sound,
the symphony of tune and tone, tenor and alto,
yet no human voice was uttering music so sweet

Nor did it need for words, for script, for text,
it danced in my mind like a thousand marionettes,
clothed in splendor and encompassed about by beauty,
though no figures were actually there, just the sound in the light

I looked down and saw a globe of dark blue, coming up towards me,
rushing and becoming clearer, until it was my own planet I saw,
though only an image, for in space I was not, but
surrounded instead by the ethereal,

For my own mind cannot think now how to tell,
how to describe, denote, represent, retell,
how to present to you what it was about me,
Except to say that a blanket of warmth and love,

Love like I had only felt in passing moments,
which was now rescinding into the outer courtyards of my mind,
fading out as I faded into this new reality,
love ineffable being expressed, being presented before me,

Suddenly vagueness became sharp and I was sitting under a tree,
in the early afternoon, or so it felt,
when the sun has climbed the staircase of the sky,
and is now beaming from its balcony so that all may see

At my seven I heard the sound of feet and ground, and I turned,
there was a man, dressed in simple attire,
with a homely face and little that drew me to gaze upon him,
for he was not an impressive figure, a person to be studied

The figure walked up to me, and looking straight at me,
spoke, his words in sharp oppose to the beautiful scene,
“How come ye here, and roundabout what way have ye traveled?”
as he gazed at me with eyes of coal and look of dread

I was now curious, as his words seemed distant, his phrasing archaic,
had I been transported back in time, or was I still outside of it?
I did not know but I said back to him, “I was not,
then I was, for I awoke here, having never been.”

“So be it with e’r’one who comes here. I know of y’r thoughts, and no,
back in time thou art not, but a figment this is, an image, a dream;
I am diff’rent to e’r’one who comes through this way, for
all are in need of seeing somethin’ diff’rent”

I puzzled at his meaning, and then asked, “Sir,
I saw and felt wondrous things before I awoke, things
too majestic and magnificent to speak of now,
but, forgive me, now I feel like all is normal, but I am not yet awake.”

He beckoned me towards him and I lifted myself up to see a house
off in the direction he had come, and it seemed
to me to be plain, like the stranger himself; but caring not
about such things, I followed the man towards his abode

As we came upon his step, he turned back toward me, and his hand,
while motioning to enter, his mouth opened,
and he said, “Imprint this moment into yo’r mem’ry, make solid
this ‘x’perience for ye are about to see the opp’site of before.”

He stood still at the door, but his hand still motioned for me to enter,
so I walked past him and he shut the door behind me,
and as he did the recollection of what had just transpired
became dim in my mind, and I felt as dead, but still I felt

Whereas before in my heavenly vision I had first seen blackness,
instead this time I felt blackness and saw only white,
but not a white of brightness, rather a white of death, of despair,
of loss, of a spectral quality that was cold, though I felt no coolness

Instead I felt a penetrating and horrible unease, like that felt after bad news
is delivered, like that after a stinging rebuke,
or after a secret is exposed, laid bare for all to see,
and the hurt that is contained is poured out, but no comfort comes

The dread was heightened by how alone I felt and indeed was,
for in my heavenly vision I felt enveloped in another, a being of love and light,
but here I felt utterly alone, as if for the first time,
and I wept bitterly, though no tears came out

I cried aloud, and found no voice came forth;
I cowered down to the ground and pounded my fists against it,
but my fists were not hurt, for I felt no pain,
nor did I strike something, for no sound came forth

All I had was the whiteness and my own mind, my inner thinking,
and every wrong, every terror, every evil was rehearsed,
as a film is projected onto a screen, so my own thinking was a screen
of misery, of such matchless sorrow that immediately I wished death upon me

Indeed, I wished for the man to return and beat me to the ground,
to do such pain to me that I could actually feel, that I would feel my body being crushed,
that I could feel it becoming bruised, and then expire
as light of my eyes drew to darkness and I no longer was

But there was no reprieve, there was no seeking, there was no finding,
though I knocked, no door was opened,
though I asked, no one answered,
and though I sought, there was nothing to find

I tried to stop and gather my thoughts, but they were scattering more and more,
and in this place there was no passage of time, for I may have been
there a second or a century, but it did not matter,
for I had ceased to keep track, bothered as I was

And then as quickly as it had happened, I awoke, and
looked upon my monitor, and looked around to find myself
in my room, with text on the screen, for I had typed what I had seen,
what I had felt, what I had known

I sometimes refer back, to remind myself of what had passed,
for whether I was in the body or out of the body I do not know,
or whether it was real or not real I do not know,
but one day I shall know, even as I am known