TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: OpinionJournal Article: The Soul of a Controversy

OpinionJournal Article: The Soul of a Controversy

Telecom Digest Reader via OpinionJournal (
Sun, 3 Apr 2005 18:41:45 -0400


Please consider posting this in Obituary thread about Terry Schiavo.

The writer clearly understands the Descartian Duality. If this topic
is going to be in the digest, we need to elevate the discussion.

For fairly obvious reasons, wish to remain anonymous -- I don't need
the hatemail from either side of this controversy.

The Soul of a Controversy: After Terri Schiavo's death, questions


Terri Schiavo has now died, but of course the controversy surrounding
her last days will persist indefinitely. Most of the issues raised as
she was dying were legal and moral; but at the margins of the storm,
questions of a more "metaphysical" nature were occasionally raised in

For instance, I heard three people on the radio last week speculating
on the whereabouts of her "soul."

One opined that where consciousness has sunk below a certain minimally responsive level, the soul has already departed the body; the other two thought that the soul remains, but as a dormant prisoner of the ruined flesh, awaiting release.
Their arguments, being intuitive, were of little interest.
What caught my attention was the unreflective dualism to which all
three clearly subscribed: The soul, they assumed, is a kind of magical
essence haunting the body, a ghost in a machine.

This is in fact a peculiarly modern view of the matter, not much older
than the 17th-century philosophy of Descartes. While it is now the
model to which most of us habitually revert when talking about the
soul -- whether we believe in such things or not -- it has scant basis
in either Christian or Jewish tradition.

The "living soul" of Scripture is the whole corporeal and spiritual
totality of a person whom the breath of God has wakened to life.
Thomas Aquinas, interpreting centuries of Christian and pagan
metaphysics, defined the immortal soul as the "form of the body," the
vital power animating, pervading, shaping an individual from the
moment of conception, drawing all the energies of life into a unity.

This is not to deny that, for Christian tradition, the soul transcends
and survives the earthly life of the body. It is only to say that the
soul, rather than being a kind of "guest" within the self, is instead
the underlying mystery of a life in its fullness. In it the
multiplicity of experience is knit into a single continuous and
developing identity.

It encompasses all the dimensions of human existence: animal functions
and abstract intellect, sensation and reason, emotion and reflection,
flesh and spirit, natural aptitude and supernatural longing.

As such, it grants us an openness to the world of which no other
creature is capable, allowing us to take in reality through feeling
and thought, recognition and surprise, will and desire, memory and
anticipation, imagination and curiosity, delight and sorrow, invention
and art.

The fourth-century theologian Gregory of Nyssa calls the soul a
"living mirror" in which all things shine, so immense in its capacity
that it can, when turned toward the light of God, grow eternally in an
ever greater embrace of divine beauty.

For the seventh-century theologian Maximus the Confessor, the human
soul is the "boundary" between material and spiritual reality --
heaven and earth -- and so constitutes a microcosm that joins
together, in itself, all the spheres of being.

I doubt even the dogmatic materialists among us are wholly insensible
to the miraculous oddity that in the midst of organic nature there
exists a creature so exorbitantly in excess of what material causality
could possibly adumbrate, a living mirror where all splendors gather,
an animal who is also a creative and interpretive being with a longing
for eternity. Whether one is willing to speak of a "rational soul" or
not, there is obviously an irreducible mystery here, one that commands
our reverence.

Granted, it is easiest to sense this mystery when gazing at the
Sistine Chapel's ceiling or listening to Bach.

But it should be evident -- for Christians at least -- even when
everything glorious and prodigious in our nature has been stripped
away and all that remains is frailty, brokenness and dependency, or
when a person we love has been largely lost to us in the labyrinth of
a damaged brain. Even among such ravages -- for those with the eyes
to see it -- a terrible dignity still shines out.

I do not understand exactly why those who wanted Terri Schiavo to die
had become so resolute in their purposes by the end. If she was as
"vegetative" as they believed, what harm would it have done, I wonder,
to surrender her to the charity (however fruitless) of her parents? Of
this I am certain, though: Christians who understand their faith are
obliged to believe that she was, to the last, a living soul.

It is true that, in some real sense, it was her soul that those who
loved her could no longer reach, but it was also her soul that they
touched with their hands and spoke to and grieved over and adored.

And this also means that it was a living soul that we as a society
chose to abandon to starvation and thirst -- which should, at the very
least, give us cause to consider what else we may have abandoned along
the way.

Mr. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, is the author of "The Beauty
of the Infinite" (Eerdmans).

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Thank you very much for this fitting
conclusion to the 'Terri Shiavo Obituary Thread', which itself has
now been declared dead, unless anyone absolutely has something they
wish to add. Seriously, this is _not_ going to become the 'Terri
Shiavo News All the Time' corner of the net. There are lots of such
places and URL's which will live on and on and on, I suspect, and they
do not need, nor welcome my assistance in their debates.

My _original intent_ in allowing the first message of the thread to
see the light of day here last week was to lead up to the message by
Monty Solomon posted yesterday telling how greed had once again taken
root in the net, with the sale, for purposes of spam, the email names
and mailing list of those folks who had presumably expressed their
condolences to the family and/or the husband; either their condolences
or their hatred, one or the other, or both. That, and the fact that
Ms. Schiavo had been employed years ago for a short time by Bell of
Pennsylvania then later as a clerk/telephone operator for the
'insurance company' in Florida, seemed to make the message at least
a wee bit relevant here in this forum on communications.

And what should have been a very private, personal matter between a
husband and his wife turned into such a three-ring circus with the
politicians, legislators, judges and other 'professionals' getting
involved. I know, that as a disabled person myself -- though hardly
in the category of Ms. Shiavo -- I would be greatly aggrieved by the
notion of someone deciding for me that 'my time had come'. In this
lose-lose situation one good thing _did_ come out of it for me at
least, and perhaps some of you. If you have not written a living
will, and instructions for (a) your treatment if you get in Ms. Shiavo's
situation and (b) the disposal of your remains, consider doing so

Most of you long term readers know that I was 'as good as dead' back
in 1999-2000, following my brain aneurysm. I was comatose for two
months, and like Ms. Shiavo, fed through a tube in my stomach. The
doctors and therapists 'did me a favor' -- or did they? -- by bringing
me around two months and a few days following November 26, 1999 (in
late January, 2000). To this day, April, 2005 I _still_ feel groggy
and dizzy, with very poor memory skills, and a variety of other
incidental problems. Sometimes I have to wonder, I really do. Why I
was brought back to life (?) after two months and left as essentially
a half-person is not something I can understand. Those of you who were
readers here back in the 1980's and 1990's know many of my ideas and
attitudes were much, much different, when I felt like a whole person,
something that has remained evasive to me now for several years.

Do yourself and your partners/companions a _big favor_. Write up those
living wills today, please. You don't know when your time is up, any
more than I knew on that Thursday morning that I would wind up
comatose in a hospital in Topeka -- a hundred miles away -- by
nightfall. Now, is there any more to say on the obituary thread? I
hope not. PAT]

Post Followup Article Use your browser's quoting feature to quote article into reply
Go to Next message: Lisa Minter: "Prison Cell Phone Scandal"
Go to Previous message: Justin Time: "Re: Cell Phone Service Comparisons"
TELECOM Digest: Home Page