When almost all world religions and cultures, both ancient and modern believe in the dualistic nature of mankind, it can be very compelling to accept it as truth. If billions of people from such divergent worldviews can all report with amazing commonality such things as communication with dead spirits, out of body experiences, and near death experiences, how could it all be wrong? To what could we ascribe this phenomena if people do not have an immaterial soul that can disengage from the body and continue to observe and interact with people, even after the body has died? What other possible explanation could there be?
My work as a video producer has taken me into many remote villages of our world where people for millennia have had intimate interaction with a world that is populated with spirits. If I tried to convince them that people do not have a spirit inside them, I would have a very challenging task indeed! The same could be said for almost every people-group that have ever lived on this planet. How has almost everyone who has ever lived, come to this belief if it were not true? Why are we even discussing it? To what end would it be of any benefit, to believe in the idea that people do not have an immortal soul?
In order to properly lay the foundation for this dialog, I believe that would be valuable for all to be aware of a background story that directly relates to the question of the nature of life. Most Christians will already be familiar with this “back story”, but for those who may not be Bible students, the following briefing may be helpful.
The Bible reports an amazing conflict that is going on all around us in unseen dimensions. It all started long ago with a war in heaven. The Bible says:
“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him." Revelation 12:7-9 (NIV)
Here we have information that would be good for everyone to keep in the back of their mind as we discuss any important belief! The devil we have heard so many stories about is very real, he has a host of angels that can help him, they were sent to this earth, and their mission is to deceive and destroy the lives of humans!
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
The very first “con game” that Satan pulled on people is directly related to our discussion. God had told our first parents that they could eat of every tree of the garden in which they lived except for one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had said,
“you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:17 (NIV)
Satan, the great deceiver appeared to Eve one day, as she wandered a little too close to the forbidden tree. Impersonating another being, Satan started up a conversation. However we might choose to interpret this story, one very interesting aspect of the event stands out in the light of our current discussion. Whereas God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the tree, they would die, Satan said to Eve;
“You will not certainly die,” Genesis 3:4
This could be referred to as the “first lie” ever told in Earth history! How does it relate to our discussion? Most directly! One of the underling presuppositions to the idea of dualism, where the soul can survive the death of the body, is that people have immortal souls, a “spirit essence” that does not, indeed, cannot die! Does this sound like the teaching of God, or the words of the serpent? As amazing as it may seem to some, the Bible never once says that people have an immortal soul, except here, where it comes from the mouth of the serpent! God said, “You will die”. Satan said, “You will not certainly die”. Who should we believe?
While there are a number of passages that, on a surface reading, seem to imply that people have a soul that survives death, in all actuality, nowhere in the Bible is there an explicit statement that teaches that God has given us an immortal soul. You would think that if God had given people this most amazing gift, it would be referred to often throughout the Bible, but in reality, it is strangely absent from the text! In fact the exact opposite is taught. An early confession of the Christian church, in a world steeped in Plato's idea that we all possess an immortal soul was:
"God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen." 1 Timothy 6:15, 16
OK, so what would the great deceiver have to gain by propagating the belief that we have immortal souls? Much, in many ways! We will explore some of these clever schemes in more detail in future articles, but for now, here is a glimpse of a few popular ideas that are a natural outgrowth of a belief in an immortal soul.
“Death is not the end, you will live forever, in one state or another. Don't worry too much if you can't get your act together in this life, you will have many more chances to improve...”
“Don't worry too much about the thoughtless and selfish people around you. People are like that when they are ‘young souls’. Once they have cycled through life a few more times they will mature and be more responsible. After 100 cycles or so, they will be very, thoughtful, respectful and wise. Even as children they will be seen as having wise, thoughtful ‘old souls’.”
“People that you are inexplicably drawn to, and seem to have known all your life after just a couple of brief encounters, are actually souls that you have known and loved deeply from a previous life, either here on this earth or in some other realm. You may have even pre-planned your life-roles and interactions, before entering this world. Parent/children relationships, friendships, marriage relationships, lovers have all been preplanned and on some conscious level you will know that something extraordinary is happening, when you first meet your ‘soul mates’.”
As much trouble as these cunning ideas can get us into, it is the following deception that can cause the most damage to people lives and belief systems:
“Since people have immortal souls that go on to experience such wondrous things as enjoying the companionship of the Creator Himself, communication with these spirits, by whatever means we can, would be very helpful to our journey in this life. If we could have a ‘spirit guide’ in our lives, the insights that they could share with us about decisions we should make, about what we should believe, about what life is like beyond the grave, would be very interesting and beneficial! If they should visit us from the presence of God, anything that they say about anything should be taken with the greatest authority!”
Can you see how the great deceiver might benefit from propagating the belief that people have an immortal soul that survives death? What would you do if you were struggling with a big paradigm shift in your life and you were visited by a dear loved one who has “passed on”? What if the Bible passages that you were studying were causing you to re-evaluate a long held teaching, and your loved one came with the message, “Jesus has asked me to come to you and tell you to be careful not to lose your way! Hold fast to the things that you have always believed.” Would you likely pursue your study or go with the message, “direct from Jesus”, delivered by someone that you have loved and trust?
If you were Satan, could you come up with a better plan to deceive the whole world then to develop in every culture and religion the belief that people have immortal souls that you can communicate with after they die? What an amazing conduit for your deceptions! Anything that you want people to believe can now be transmitted through thoughts, impressions, ideas, dreams, visions, or apparitions with great authority, through a deep emotional bond that people have with loved ones who have died. Deception now comes not from a chatty serpent in a tree, the whisperings of an evil angel in our ear, an atheistic professor, a skeptic at work, a clever philosophy or theory, but from the very “throne room of God” via our dearly departed!
At Timeless Themes we believe that the position that one takes on the nature of mankind is not critical to one’s salvation. However, we are also aware that some beliefs, while not harmful, can be dangerous, or at least potentially dangerous. Think of dualism as a kind of "gateway drug" to the occult. If you do not believe in a soul, you never give credence to after death experiences, attend a séance, try to have "out of body" experiences, or ever fall for the deception that the apparition that appears at your bedside is the actual spirit of your dead loved one. All of these things have led people away from Christ and down the road to the occult.
In our next article, on what people believed in the Old Testament, we discover that God did His best to protect His people from the dangers of this "gateway drug". Perhaps this would be the safest course for us today as well!