During the past week I have had the occasion to have to endure Christian preaching at two separate funeral services. Having been a ministerial candidate myself many years ago I can actually sympathize with a preacher who really does not know the deceased and, yet, has to come up with something to say. Even so, my endurance was early tested when this particular minister began, lightly, articulating the concept of the tripartite (human) being. Yes, he confidently stated, we are creatures of three distinct parts; body, soul and spirit, mirroring “God’s” nature of a trinitarian being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Never mind that this is patently illogical, this is what is widely taught in Christian circles. This concept is most directly taken from the New Testament passage of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 which reads “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NASB). Thus, an entire Christian doctrine is based on this verse almost exclusively.
I have entitled this “Proto-On the Soul” for the simple reason that I do not wish to delve extensively, in any detail, with the concept of the soul. I may well do that at some later point. After all, it has already been done multiple times by other authors before me, including ancient ones. One excellent treatise can be found on-line at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ancient-soul/. This article, entitled “Ancient Theories of Soul”, authored by Hendrik Lorenz, lays out in excellent detail the basic understandings of the concept of soul held by the most important ancient writers, most especially Platon (Plato), in Phaedo and Republic. Needless to say (or, perhaps, it is necessary to say), nowhere is the idea of the tripartite being postulated among these ancient intellectuals although it is postulated that the soul itself can be divided into three parts, but not separate, independent, parts. In essence, if we read the New Testament passage literally, as those who hold to the Christian tripartite concept do, we are actually reading a (perhaps deliberate) corruption of Platonic understanding.
To make things even more clear, it is patently illogical to posit that both a soul and a spirit inhabit a living human body, but this is what the tripartite concept stipulates. First of all, definitions provide the detail necessary to make this clear. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, for example, “spirit” is defined as “an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms” while “soul” is defined as “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life”. Not much difference, right? In fact, there is NO difference. So, to posit that there is a difference between spirit and soul is illogical. But this is what Christians generally do in order to always place their beliefs above anything else; logic, reason, science, evidence – anything. After all, the Bible has to be infallible or their faith is in vain. That would be like us Pagans accepting Thale’s belief that magnets were alive because they moved on their own when coming into contact with one another as “gospel” and an infallible belief that we MUST accept or be damned. Just because something is animate does not mean that it is alive. if that were the case then we would have to say that machines or robots are alive. What an idiotic concept that would be! The concept of the tripartite human being is equally idiotic.
Inherent in Platon’s writings here runs a distinct train of thought, although it is not easy to notice if one does not pay attention. Platon makes a point that I will put into my own words. Beliefs are a symptom of a polluted soul, a soul that has not risen to excellence. This, because beliefs are beneath the aspirations of the good soul. Belief, therefore, is a far lower level of cognition than understanding. Humans have a more advanced soul than other living things. Base beliefs and emotions come mainly from the flesh (Phaedo). And beliefs are basically synonymous with baser desires, such as the desire for sex or the desire to accumulate money (Republic).
But, Christianity is a religion based almost entirely on “belief”. It is your belief and your child-like faith that matters, not your logic or reason. THIS, in fact, is where Christianity goes wrong and turns every ancient concept upside-down. As a Pagan who has an understanding of logic and reason and who does not place belief above evidence I sometimes feel sorry for the Christian and other monotheist who has to hold to vain belief, because they literally have nothing else. When death comes, would you rather understand or believe? For me, understanding is far better.