The Death of a Soul


On my last day as a Christian I was reading a couple of Greta Christina’s blog posts on why she does not believe in a soul [1] [2]. This proved to be the final presupposition to fall before I admitted to myself I no longer believed.

As I have mentioned before, the hardest part for a believer to overcome is their own subjective experience. There is nothing more subjective than what one experiences as I. Our consciousness screams in our heads “I Am.” The thought that this being called I could have an end is so psychologically frightening that all of our evolved self protection mechanisms come into play to protect us from realizing this inevitable inexorable truth: death comes to us all eventually.

To protect ourselves from the psychological blow of acknowledging, “one day I will die,” we have come up with the greatest self deception in human history: the eternality of the soul. This is a dualistic concept that one is more than one’s physical self; that the true self, the soul, is eternal and will never die.

I posit that this self protection mechanism is one of the root causes of religion. If my soul will never die and my loved ones will also live forever in an after life, this leads directly to a belief in an after life or ancestral worship, otherwise known as religion.

The main point of Greta’s posts is that the things we attribute to one’s soul all have physical processes. A person is not more than their physical self. If certain medications are applied consciousness is temporarily halted. If the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long the ultimate in unconsciousness occurs: death. There is no I apart from my physical body.

But back to subjectivity. “I Am!” screams your consciousness. I certainly feel like I have a soul. Even now after the loss of my faith. Here Greta quotes a discussion board member with a brilliant analogy:

“I think the soul is something like a rainbow. It is not a thing in itself, it is a relationship between physical things. The most important of these things is the body, and under all conditions we understand by evidence are possible, the soul dies with the body and sometimes expires before the body.”

This was said by Eric, in a comment in the Daylight Atheism post Emptying the Haunted Air.

Understanding of this simple concept, that we can perceive something to be very real that has no substance of its own but is a trick of perspective [*], was the last piece of the Jenga puzzle. The tower of teetering contradictory beliefs came tumbling down. If I had no soul, then there is no after life. With no after life, there is no need for a god.

In a nod to Descartes I used to say:

I am because God is

What I meant was that my sense of being was tied to my sense of the existence of God. But ultimately this was all subjective perception, a trick of perspective. That day reading Greta’s blog posts there was a death of a soul.

I came to understand I am my body and my body is me.  There is no need for something other than the physical. The biological processes that generate my consciousness are me. And one day they will stop and I will cease to be. I am OK with that. It means the time I have alive is even more precious to me than when I had faith. My time with family and friends is more poignant because it is finite.

*  Note: a rainbow is actually more real than our sense of the supernatural in that anyone else sharing the same perspective will observe the same rainbow.

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