Well-meaning evangelicals unfamiliar with Nancey Murphy’s philosophical theology frequently worry that her work in philosophy of mind has the effect of depriving us of our souls. When such an objection is voiced after a speaking engagement, Murphy’s “reassurance” is predictable: “Don’t worry! There is nothing to be lost; we never had souls to begin with!”
Underneath her wry reply is a deep concern that philosophical confusion about “having a soul” is seriously undermining Christian discipleship. For example, it has become second nature for many Christians to hold that the soul is more important than the body; regardless of the state of one’s body, the state of one’s soul is what really counts. Using this line of reasoning, St. Augustine (d. 430) concluded that the rape of women by invading barbarians did not cost them their chastity. He reasoned that chastity is primarily a property of the soul that becomes the body’s by association: “not only the souls of Christian women who have been forcibly violated during their captivity, but also their bodies, remain holy.”
Augustine’s conclusion seems forced, to say the least. But the line of reasoning that cannot but bifurcate bodies and souls can be avoided if we reconsider where to imagine the dividing line between the “inner” and the “outer.” It is without question that human experience is marked by both “inner” and “outer” aspects. (I cannot feel your pain in the same way you feel it.) The question is where best to locate the dividing line.
I cannot deny the popularity of the dualistic picture, which sees the dividing line “in here” (pointing to one’s head or heart) as it were, between body and mind (or soul). But there is another way to understand the dividing line. I begin with the suggestion (following Stephen Mulhall) that the primary dividing line between “inner” and “outer” is not between soul and body. Rather the dividing line is better understood as lying between body and surroundings. This is not a bright, red line but a fuzzy boundary constituted by a set of “skins.” After explaining the concept of “skins,” I will argue that both language and technology function as “skins” in distinctive ways.
The upshot of my reasoning is that “soul” is not something we have but something we are. The difference in these verbs, “have “ and “are,” connotes a difference between substance and time. In surrendering the notion of souls-as-substance, Murphy is not obligating herself to deny the notion of souls-as-timeful. I end with a comparison of the grammars of “time” and “soul” by considering the nature of music.
Copyright © 2015, Wipf and Stock
Place of Publication
Newson, Ryan and Kallenberg, Brad, "Practicing to Aim at Truth: Theological Engagements in Honor of Nancey Murphy" (2015). Religious Studies Faculty Publications. 80.