The Christian Dilemma

In Christian theology, after death we transcend earthly existence and make the transition to a spiritual realm where we reap the rewards of our past actions (or we are saved by the grace of a benevolent Savior). This Afterlife spiritual realm is captured in the concepts of heaven and hell. But what is it that transcends to the spiritual realm? Who enjoys heaven, or experiences torment in hell? This question, when pursued diligently, exposes a dilemma that challenges the coherency of Christian theology.

Upon death, does our flesh body rise to heaven? One can observe this is not the case. Do we rest peacefully, six feet under, waiting for the body to resurrect? That does not seem to be the case for many reasons that are fairly obvious (not to mention the problem created by cremation). So what is the nature of our passage to the Afterlife destination?

Most answer it is the soul which makes the journey. Upon death, we separate from our flesh body and, in spiritual form, ascend to the spiritual kingdom. But where was this soul when we were alive? It is not uncommon to hear people claim they “have” a soul. This language treats the soul as a possession, some thing one has, some thing one keeps around, an ethereal balloon that is launched upon death. You die but what you “have” (your possession, the soul) finds a new home in the Afterlife. Why would one spend time ensuring their possessions ended up in heaven? The idea doesn’t make sense.

A spiritual being, a soul, is who we really are.

Instead, based upon theology and evidence, we can conclude we are the spirit or soul that travels to the spiritual realm upon death of the body. We don’t “have” a soul. A spiritual being, a soul, is who we really are. The body is merely a vehicle we inhabit. It is secondary and ultimately disposable. The body is our possession. As a soul, we possess a body. Scriptures tell us we do not take our earthly possessions to the spiritual kingdom. Jesus did not come to save our possessions. He came to save us, as we really are—spiritual beings.

What is the nature of this spirit? We know it is not the body, as it survives body death. The soul can be separated from the body. It has a life of its own. Is the body an incubator that creates this independent soul? Templeton theologians, who see spirit as an epiphenomenon of brain activity, embrace this idea. They believe evolutionary processes, not God, created the body and the body creates the idea of a soul. On the one hand, they have a good argument, as the image of God as puppet-maker, hand-crafting each body strains credulity. We know that is not how bodies come into existence. On the other hand, the Templeton folks do not recognize the independent nature of the soul and assume evolutionary processes also create what they consider to be the pragmatic fantasy of a soul. In other words, the idea of a soul is a (useful) delusion created by the survival needs of an evolved brain. They consider the soul to be a practical, but delusional, evolutionary artifact. They stray from scripture and from the evidence to advance this convoluted materialistic reasoning. They wander from the spiritual path and end up chatting with monkeys in their search for a “raised up from the mud” Darwinian theology.

Fundamentalist Christians avoid straying into absurd materialist thinking but fail to pursue a reasoned explanation of the soul and its relationship to the body. Once we accept the idea the soul is independent from the body and continues on after body death, we must also accept its independence before the birth of the body. In other words, the birth of the body is not one and the same with the birth of the spirit. We are pressed to ask: What is this thing called spirit (or soul) that ascends to the Afterlife, and what is its relationship to the body? Without answers, Christians face a dilemma—they must either explain the nature of a soul independent from the body or, lacking an explanation, succumb to a materialistic evolutionary theology that treats soul as an emergent property of brain cells. Or they hopelessly confuse who we are as a spiritual being with the body and thus negate the basis of the entire religion.

What is it about the soul that proves so difficult for Christians to explain?

What is it about the soul that proves so difficult for Christians to explain? Part of the difficulty arises from not wishing to confront the idea that if the soul is independent of the body after death, it is also independent of the body before death, thus necessitating an understanding of reincarnation. This was not always the case. Early Christians understood reincarnation. Reincarnation played a role in early Christian thought and only later was expunged in an act of theological surgery. The patient (Christianity) survived this brutal operation, a testament to its robust health, but, as the surgical patient ages, it will not prove sufficiently strong to withstand the removal of so vital a theological organ. Not because reincarnation is important, it is not but rather because understanding reincarnation is one aspect of understanding the soul’s independence from the biological substrata.

As noted previously, Jesus did not come to save our earthly possessions such as our biological form; he came to save us—souls who have “fallen” into material forms. A soul needs to know they can and do transcend body death. A spiritual being who has forgotten their past, especially their true nature as a spiritual being, is lost. In the Bible, this is spoken of as being asleep. In such a state of unawareness, of unconsciousness, they are in need of being “saved.” Christ’s teachings make this clear. His message was that you are a spiritual being who will continue to live, independent of your mortal vehicle; the condition in which you will survive, in the Spiritual Kingdom, or Hades, depends on your actions and upon the grace of Christ which may bring you out of your state of sinful unawareness. Our compulsive attachment and obsessive clinging to the human form, however, obscures his teachings. The belief “I am the body” is the fallen state from which Christ was awakening us.

Without a clear understanding of the existence of the spirit (soul) and its relationship to the material realm, Christian theology will turn into a search for evolutionary artifacts in the brains of primates and Christianity will fade into the shadows…

For the most part, contemporary Christian theologians lack a cogent view of the soul with which to minister to spiritual beings in their preparation for the Afterlife. They lack the cogent view of spirit needed to ward off the attack of philosophical materialism, which includes “I am the body” thinking. If Christians do not stand on solid ground when it comes to knowledge of the soul, they will be swept away by Templeton theologians. Without a clear understanding of the existence of the spirit (soul) and its relationship to the material realm, Christian theology will turn into a search for evolutionary artifacts in the brains of primates and Christianity will fade into the shadows, no longer the vital spiritual call that leads to the Spiritual Kingdom.