The Battlefield

In simple terms, we are made up of soul and body, therefore this is the battlefield. That is to say, we are both corporeal and incorporeal. Most people believe this, with exception to fundamentalists in atheism and materialism. Self knowledge must include understanding of one’s soul. Ignoring and neglecting the needs of the soul causes nearly all of our issues. Today the soul is grossly misunderstood--or not understood at all. Because of this lack of understanding, as a civilization we have gravitated towards the needs of the body and almost totally neglect our spiritual needs.

It is no secret that our modern society has become singularly concerned and engrossed with the body or physical needs and wants. Our belly aches for sweet and salty foods, our hair must be just right, our clothes must be attractive and comfortable, our socks must be made of the right material, and our homes must be set at the right temperature. This pursuit of physical comfort, combined with the dissolution of the concept of the soul has lead to a culture of materialism and rampant psychosis. Of this St. John Chrysostom (†407) says that we can easily have the tendency of having no consideration of the soul and even treat it as a castaway. He goes on to say:

“For this reason all things are full of confusion, and disorder, and trouble, because it [the soul] is made a secondary matter, because necessary things are neglected…”

-- St. John Chrysostom

Throughout history public discussion on the soul and spiritual life were common—as common as politics, entertainment and sports is today. The Greeks debated these philosophical concepts in public forums, the Byzantines argued over them in the markets, medieval European academics fought over them in universities, and the Egyptians built monuments as a testament to them. However, with the advance of the modern sophisticated man, there has been a marked departure from anything outside the scope of the contemporary scientific milieu or mindset. This includes philosophy and theology, both of which address various concepts of the soul. We have lost touch with these ideas. Sure, we can make mention of the soul when it comes to art or music, but outside of these acceptable spheres, a discussion on the soul can be considered socially taboo, politically incorrect, or even offensive.

Although modern western man has a profound disconnectedness with the inner person, traces of the concept of the soul are to be found everywhere in our culture. It can be found in all forms of creative expression, in literature, in the passionate pursuit of knowledge and science, in some forms of psychology and psychiatry, and in music and movies. Reference to the soul can also be found in popular phrases and idioms. For instance when we someone says, “I love you with all of my heart” they may not even know it but they are not referring to the spirit (nous). This sentiment intuits the love that resides in a deep seated place inside the soul.  Or when someone says they need some “peace of mind” they are referring to that part of the soul that is the intellect. Or when someone says, “he has a strong will” they are referencing that appetitive aspect of the soul. Examples of the term ‘soul’ are ubiquitous. You can “bare your soul”, “sell your soul”, “pour out your soul”, and even go “soul searching”. Heck, it’s even a music genre.

So the first question to ask is: do you have a soul? Today there are two worldviews regarding that which makes up human existence or consciousness: physicalism and dualism. Arguments for and against the existence of the soul have been raging for some time and getting into the nuances of both arguments is beyond the purpose of this discussion. However, here are the two viewpoints in a nutshell. On one side physicalism believes that humans are simply physical or material creatures with biological systems. For the modern person who ascribes to physicalism there is a serious problem with the notion of the soul because the soul, mind and consciousness within a person cannot be found, tested and proved, therefore this is largely outside the realm of science. On the other hand dualism believes that human existence is comprised of both physical (body) and non-physical (soul or mind). The former is a fairly modern belief system, while the latter is a view that was upheld by nearly all ancient civilizations and peoples throughout history and throughout the world; from the classical Greek philosophers, to the Chinese sages, to the Arctic Inuits, to the Incas.

In our day and age most folks who believe in dualism (and even some casual physicalists), have a vague and cloudy notion of the soul. Although largely undefined, many believe in the soul because of its works, such as music, art, love, intuition, intellect and the mind. Even consciousness itself leads one to the soul. When it comes to understanding the soul and its relationship to the body, the extent of the modern view is that we are a body that has a soul trapped inside. This generic and common misunderstanding was challenged by the famed British scholar and author C.S. Lewis who once said insightfully, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” When beginning a discussion of the anatomy of the human soul it is important to approach it from this point of view.

According to the Orthodox perspective your soul is not “trapped” inside your body. The complete person is total unity of body and soul. It is important to emphasize this balance between the soul and body. This was eloquently illustrated by the German philosopher Leibniz in his concept of the monads. Here he explains that the soul is simple substance and the body is organic compound of simple substances, which leads to,

“the union or rather the mutual agreement of the soul and the organic body. The soul follows its own laws, and the body likewise follows its own laws; and they agree with each other in virtue of the pre-established harmony between all substances…”

-- Gottfried Leibniz

When this natural balance is not recognized (or the balance is misperceived off) the soul becomes preeminent, which introduces many problems. This misperception has largely been adopted in modern western thought. Somehow the underlying belief is that the body is inferior to the soul and that it is merely a shell that will be shed one day, at which point the person will be liberated. This has lead to vilification of the body, which in turn has introduced a deep seated shame of the body that has had lasting negative effects. According to the Church Fathers, the complete human person is both soul and body, and the two function together, and influence one another during life. St. Gregory Palamas talks about this as the force that gives us life: “The soul of each man is also the life of the body that it animates.” This is similar to Aristotle’s view of the soul as being the life-force of the body. The soul therefore activates, animates and directs the body, and all the members of the body.

The soul is in union with the body, and although united, the soul remains distinct. Because the soul directs the body, it is considered the higher aspect of the human person. Harmony between soul and body lead to harmony with the whole person. The pursuit of this harmony is aim of spiritual life. As Nikitas Stithatos said in the Philokalia:

“the unconfused union and conjunction of soul and body constitutes, when maintained in harmony, a single reality... When not harmonious, there is a civil war in which each side desires victory.”

-- Nikitas Stithatos

This statement is a fantastic summary of unseen warfare and its aim, which is harmony with the human person.

Since the human body has been largely mapped by science we will skip biology and explore the five senses. Yes these are of the body but we are less concerned with neurology here and more concerned with how the senses interact with the soul.