I kinda wonder how broadly the idea of ensoulment affects what we consider is acceptable to think and do. For instance, it occurs to me that war and the death penalty are easier to contemplate in a social matrix of soul-belief. Sure you’re killing people’s BODIES, but you’re not affecting their real selves.
Likewise I wonder if our rather casual approach to drug use is somehow a result of that same idea. If you think your brain is YOU, that any change or damage to it is a direct assault on your most intimate Self, it seems to me you’d be especially careful about consuming things that impact it. But if you think the REAL you is this disembodied soul-thingie, and that anything you do to “my body” or “my brain” is just another experience, you might be a lot more accepting of the idea of consuming or doing something that might dramatically alter those … mere material possessions.
Every day in my work with addicts (I’m not a counselor, just a driver), I hear clients talking about taking heroin or other drugs purchased from street dealers, and I have a hard time imagining opening up the top of my head and allowing some unwashed street hustler to diddle with the contents inside. But that’s exactly what they’re doing. Years back, I read about some kids who accepted designer-drug capsules at a party, and wound up with instant, permanent Parkinson’s disease.
Gah. Mega-creepy. Why would you even CONSIDER such a thing? Well, you might consider it if you and everyone around you had been lied to for a thousand generations, and your entire culture and society was based on the idea that we’re not really real, and that the real Self is this hovering gaseous thingie that somehow exists outside our mere bodies, safely distant from any effect of physics or chemistry.
I’ve thought a lot about ensoulment over the past several years, and it seems to me that this one idea is more pervasive, and more deeply affecting to us — from the individual level to the level of our entire civilization — than we’re able to realize.
One of the many things that worries me about present-day atheism is that those of us who free ourselves from our home religions tend to think we’re THERE, that gaining our little bit of personal perspective is the whole job. Hey, we’re free! Victory!
But the real job is this vastly more complex thing — remaking civilization itself. Reimagining and reforming a world full of lifeways that grew (and continue to grow) from the soil of millennia-old religious conceptualization. The idea of souls may be the most basic and pervasive of the religious poisons. We have breathed it in as a species — incorporating it into our thought, our language, our customs, our daily lives, the gross structure of our societies and every little thing within them — so that we have little or no idea of how to live without it.
Our individual atheism is the first tiny step. It seems to me that a thousand-year journey stretches out before us.
I don’t know whether I feel good about being one of the pioneers, back here in the Dark Ages, or deep despair that I’ll never get to live in the sane world that might someday be.
But the idea that there’s this larger work before us, the necessary something-greater that has to follow individual atheism, is what drives me to think about Beta Culture as a next step along the path.