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A Twisty Look at Ensoulment
– Feb. 25, 2023
first posted to the Adversaria May 10, 2022

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matt 7:13-14 (NIV)

So, ensoulment, when a person gains a soul, though that idea is tied in also with (if not confused with) when a person becomes a "person" (not at all necessarily the same thing). The Wikipedia article on the matter gives a quick little journey through the traditions, though not all the possibilities. Still, looking about the web: conception, fourty days, ninety days, one hundred and twenty days, birth, a week after, two weeks after, as found in the wikipedia article, "The first amen."[FN]

[FN]To note, that Wikipedia article is rather tainted by its emphasis on the question of abortion, and its seeming desire to to take every opportunity to speak against it.

Lots of choices, and that's not nearly all of them. But, through them all there is a truth: at some point somebody simply decided on an answer. Even when it seems that answer is Biblically based – or by the Quran, or what other religious text or philosophical train of thought – the arguments always follow the conclusion. If it were not so there would not be debate. They are all, in the end, merely traditions. Arbitrarily chosen dates given substance by philosophical and dogmatic accretion.

And if you want to know what I think about the validity of religious – particularly (for geography) Christian – traditions, keep in mind that the Inquisition (to choose one example from many) was Biblically based, despite the on-its-face obviousness of that Jesus would openly and vehemently condemn it. Not easy to find torture in the Beatitudes. And don't you think that because you are Protestant you escape that condemnation. Just take a look at your own history of abuses. Find out about the atrocities of early U.S. Christianity. Read The Scarlet Letter already.[FN]

[FN] In fact, it may not be outside the point that the Wikipedia article seems so tied up in abortion. The idea of ensoulment is greatly used by the religious right as argument against it. And, it must also be considered that for the most part religion has held women to be second status human beings, particularly (for geography) Christianity, which still mostly does. When it comes to it I don't give a good god damn what Christianity has to say about women, or the social realm in general. To say their very, very long track record on the matter is less than stellar requires thick rosy glasses. And it is not that far a jump to say that the Christian traditions of ensoulment are deeply tied in with that attitude toward women.

Though I can't for the life of me find it online there was a time and a place where it was thought a child did not become a person until, if I remember it correctly, their third or fourth year. And, to be honest, I see some potential validity to that in that with both my daughters during that time it seemed as though a switch was being turned on. Perhaps the ability to retain memories is more profound than one might think.

When it comes to it, it is absurd to me to think that a blastula has a soul. I mean, patently absurd. To the point of hilarity. And it is almost as difficult for me to think a new born infant has a soul. In fact, the (now defunct) Catholic tradition of Limbo – the place where unbaptised infants (among others) went after death – seems to me a desperate grasp at getting the desire for everything to have a soul to meld with the dogma that only the baptized go to heaven. But, then, when you come up with traditions like that only the baptized go to heaven – even if you are baptized before you have any real and developed conception of what that means – you rather find yourself in such predicaments.

It seems to me the idea that an one-day-old infant – or, even, a formed fetus – has a soul is greatly emotional in derivation. Keep in mind, human infants are born early. In most other animals, gestation leads to a cognizant, capable creature. The three to four year coming upon personhood makes more sense, however silly it might at first sound. There is, at least to my observance, and there would be universally some kind of cognitive change if we consider that memories were starting to accrue, a decent bit of rationale behind it. If you can get beyond the emotions.

Though, when it really comes to it, when I am made to consider the question in depth, I see no absolute reason, except emotions and tradition, even to say that all adults have a soul. And I am not talking merely about evil and psychopathy and such. I think I could make a fairly strong argument that a person who believes that law (nearly) universally supercedes compassion has no soul: that is, they have never developed enough, spiritually, to see beyond the rule of authority or to desire what it grants. You cannot follow Jesus if you are first obedient to law. Which is a polite way to avoid asking the question: is the reason that such a person is unable to walk the narrow path that they are incapable of it? That they have no soul? At least, not yet?

Is it so hard to consider that a soul might not be just this passive thing, this tacked on ribbon that gives membership to some club, but might actually, in its possession, have an effect on a person?

Perhaps my Kohlbergianism is showing through. But is it so strange an idea? Is it so strange to consider that perhaps a soul has to be developed, has to be cultivated and grown through life for it to exist? The narrow gate and the wide gate. Though, I don't quite like the idea of gates because that is a point event: I prefer that of roads. The road to life is small, winding, and hard to follow – you have to want to walk it to walk it. While the highway to destruction is broad, and easily walked, with lots of roadside attractions and comfy, segregated hotels to sleep within. Thinking in terms of roads makes the road to life a journey. Gaining life is walking the narrow dirt trail through the dark woods. Not gaining life is the wide gate, the easily walked highway.

Few find life. Many – that is, all the others – find destruction. And in no way can it be concluded that "being a Christian" in the standard sense of the phrase means you are on the narrow path. That is not what Jesus meant. That is a church idea. And need "destruction" be some Hell? Could it not simply be the absence of life? Can I not argue, there, that ensoulment is a road, a process, not a magical, instantaneous rendering? That life is gained?

Imagine a society where it was believed that you had to develop your soul, that salvation actually did occur through works – which is far more to the flavor of what Jesus taught than saying it was only a matter of faith, of saying magical words and voilà! Imagine a place where it was believed that life was built up, one's soul crafted, almost in the nature of true poetry. What would be different there?

Actually, probably nothing. There would still be the few, there would still be the many. Self-righteousness cures a lot of ailments, after all. Law can be quite the source of comfort. Indeed, mere belief – and performing the right rituals – can make things very easy.