Your Soul for a Cookie

Rekindle Reason, the atheist group at the University of Pennsylvania, recently handed out chocolate chip cookies to fellow students.

In return, they just wanted their souls.

Or their pets’ souls. Visiting parents could hand over their childrens’ souls. It didn’t matter. Any old soul would do.

That bite cost you a fraction of your eternal life

With a table and whiteboard on the Walk, group members claimed 13 souls in half an hour. Individuals “sold” their souls by signing a contract on a small piece of paper. In three hours, the group owned 79 souls.

Second-year computer science graduate student Christopher Imbriano tempted families visiting for Penn Preview Days: “Sell your child’s soul! These cookies are delicious, I had one!”

Rekindle Reason co-founder and College freshman Emmett Wynn said, “The point of making a Faustian bargain for a cookie is that most people have never really thought about whether they have a soul. We’re trying to get people to think.”

Looks like it had an effect:

David Gregson, first-year graduate computer science student, said, “If there is a soul, we should be feeling different right now. But all I’m feeling is that delicious cookie.”

“Up until now, souls had zero nominal value,” second-year computer science graduate student Sunny Gupta said. Then he chomped on his cookie.

At least now we know how much one is worth.

On their Facebook page, group leader Seth Koren mentioned one of the not-so-positive responses they received:

After hearing me say, “Sell your soul for a cookie?” a young boy who was touring with his family started to come over before his mother pulled him back in line.

Yikes.

You would hope some of this had an effect, that some students actually questioned what a soul is, realized no one actually has one, came to their senses. That’s a lot to ask for from a cookie, but you have to start somewhere, and this is a fairly non-confrontational way to do it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Ggsillars

    Hemant,

    Were the Penn students perhaps inspired by your own adventures in soul commerce?

  • http://twitter.com/phoo Chris Irwin Davis

    A collection of souls? Somehow my collection of state quarters isn’t as cool now. Well played, sirs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cburschka Christoph Burschka

    Come to the dark side! We have cookies.

  • Ray Mansell

    If I tilt my head just so… and squint like this… I can see Jesus’s face in the cookie. CHOMP!!

  • Skjaere

    At my (Episcopal) church camp in high school, one of my friends used to go around offering people a dollar for their souls. He didn’t make them sign anything; a handshake was good enough. He got a few takers.

  • Satia

    And if I were not satisfied with the quality of the cookie, could I have my non-existent soul back?  I mean, just in case they decided to get better cookies next time?  Just saying . . . 

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      No need to get it back. You can just keep selling it over and over again. Kind of neat how that works!

  • DG

    Most people have never really thought about whether they have a soul? 

    I wonder how he knows that.  Any studies?  And does it mean today, in the 21st century?  Any age groups in particular? Does it only mean in the US?  A part of the US?  Seems a pretty broad statement to make unless there’s something to back it up.

    • Guest

      Point is, DG, he was trying to point out that many people assume that they have a soul because it’s a part of our cultural heritage to assume so. You can disagree, but that doesn’t need a study. 

      • DG

        Are you
        kidding me?  Our cultural heritage?  Since when? 
        Last time that could have been argued to be a cultural assumption, Bing
        Crosby was dominating the charts.  No, that sort of statement demands a study – and we all know how keen atheists are
        in insisting they base their views on evidence. 
        Even the response doesn’t mean anything. 
        A Mom pulled her child away from taking a cookie from a stranger? Wow, never saw that happen before – it must be her take on the meaning of the
        giveaway. Sorry, but evidence for such a
        sweeping statement is demanded.  If a
        religious person insisted that most Americans believe we have souls, I would
        want to see the data.  It’s no less
        expected when an atheist makes the claim that people don’t think about it.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          Seriously? It’s not a cultural assumption? Since when are souls not simply assumed to exist? It’s present in all forms of media: movies, cartoons, video games, etc. From the time we are small children, we are exposed to the idea that everyone has a “soul” (distinct from the brain/body) that supposedly lives on after death.

    • Coyotenose

       A study to determine whether people don’t think about something? What does that remind me of…

      “Quick, are you imagining a pink elephant?”

      Though he may or may not be correct, one-off comments that don’t malign don’t generally require studies. Do I need to do research before stating, “Most people think that the planet Mars is red” or “Few Americans care for both major political parties”?

      And yes, even now, people assume they have souls without thinking about it. We can extrapolate this because (generalization coming) a lot of people consider themselves to be Christians just because it was the norm for them growing up. That is, it was a part of their cultural  heritage that they have never closely examined. And we know they haven’t closely examined it because they consider themselves Christians, but don’t actually know a whole lot about that or any religion.

      • DG

        I would suggest that if you are basing a particular endeavor on the idea that most people think that the planet Mars is red, then yeah, logic suggests knowing that you’re correct in thinking that most people think Mars is red would be a wonderful first step.

        As for studies, that would be easy.  Just establish what is meant by thinking about the soul, and then do some questioning, a survey, something.  It would be so easy to do, don’t you think? 

        And the presence of ‘cultural Christians’?  Why, of course.  Sometimes that happens no matter what.  I’ve met a few religious converts who considered themselves ‘cultural atheists’, born and raised in atheist families in a culture that, from the top down, was decidedly non-religious and it didn’t dawn on them to question it until they were older.  Does that mean I can make a sweeping statement about what atheists do or don’t think about?  I can, if it’s a one off remark.  But if I want to do anything else with it, I would be well off to make sure I’m actually correct.   Or at least, that’s what I would think I should do.

  • Bill the Cat

    What’s all this fuss about soles? Everybody who has shoes has soles – Imelda Marcos had several closets full of them! And for the price of some shoes – you could by dozens of cookies!

    (What’s that – you mean souls? Oh – that’s very different then.)

    Never Mind…

  • The Other Weirdo

    Reminds me of that time Homer Simpson sold his soul for a donut and then subsequently reneged  on the deal.  When Satan came to collect and stacked the deck against Homer, Homer actually won in a Satanic court. Satan had the last laugh, however, and cursed Homer with being a donut.

    Marge: “Homer, stop eating yourself.”
    Homer: “But I’m so sweet and tasty.”

    Chief Wiggum, outside, speaking to the other cops who had surrounded Homer’s house: “He’s gotta come out of there sometime, boys.”

  • StarStuff

    At least you get cool shit when you sell your soul to the devil…

  • Deven_Kale

    Even though I’m an atheist, I still wouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe in souls, and I have not seen any evidence of them to date, beyond possible hallucinations of ghosts brought on by things like drugs and sleep deprivation, or maybe a trick of the eye. In other words, unreliable anecdotes.

    So why wouldn’t I take the deal? Because I’m fully aware of the possibility that I may be wrong. Even though there is currently no evidence for the soul, that only means there’s no reason to believe in it right now, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Maybe we just haven’t found a way to detect it. So if it turns out that there is one, and I’ve already sold it for a cookie, what does that make me?

    • Renshia

       About 150 calories poorer than the person that did. :O)

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      But if there was such a thing, what makes you think that you could actually sell it? If souls are real, I suppose we can assume that they “reside” somewhere in the body. If they do, it doesn’t make much sense to think that they could be transferred from one person to another. How could the cookie sellers reach into your body and take your soul? How could you get rid of it? Even if you wanted to give it to someone, there’s no reason to think that you could. 

      Of course, this is just a silly thought experiment/publicity stunt, but aside from folktales about “selling one’s soul,” there’s no reason to believe that such a thing could actually happen. You could sell it to the devil, trade it for a cookie, or transfer it to a caterpillar, and they would all be pretty much the same action. If souls exist, then surely they are simply as-yet undetected physical attributes, not supernatural entities, and can’t be sold or given away.

  • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert

    Just to point out, this is a straw man version of what actual philosophers – especially classical philosophers – understand by “soul.” To them, a soul is simply the principle of life. To say “I don’t have a soul” or “there’s no such thing as a soul” is equivilent to saying “I don’t have life,” or “there’s no such thing as life.”

    Even the traditional Faustian bargain did not involve the trade of a thing separable from oneself, but rather the transfer of one’s allegiance from God to Satan. The underlying assumption is that we all belong to one or the other supernatural being, and that what someone is “trading” is their person, their life, their eternal destiny.

    Granted that most Americans probably have a hollywood notion of soul, that is much more like a wispy ghost-thingie that can be traded for a cookie. That’s like having a hollywood notion of police procedure or spy technology or any of the other myriad things they oversimplfy and distort for the sake of entertainment.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    Or their pets’ souls.

    Incidentally, I find it interesting that many theists seem to have decided that their pets have souls. I think this is different from much of religious history, when animals were considered to have no souls. Some fundamentalists, of course, still believe that animals do not go to an afterlife, but even many Christians seem to have hopped on the bandwagon and believe that Fluffy or Fido is waiting for them “in heaven.”

    What I find curious is that they’ve given their pets souls. But what about other animals? What about all the cows and pigs and chickens slaughtered for food? Did those poor creatures have souls? Are they milling around in some lovely afterlife? What about animals few people like, animals that aren’t cute, like slugs or cockroaches?   

    Aside from there being no evidence, I just don’t understand the exclusionary concept of a “soul.” Clearly, no one seems to believe that everything has a soul, so what are they basing it on? It doesn’t seem to be based on human exceptionalism, since they’ve decided dogs and cats have souls, and it clearly doesn’t include all sentient creatures.

    Of course,  it doesn’t appear as if logic is involved. It seems like believers are bestowing souls on certain animals purely out of emotion, because they consider their pets their family members, not because there’s actually any evidence that pets (or humans) have them and other creatures don’t.

  • http://www.shinystar.dk/festlokaler.php MAkii

    That’s ridiculous! Selling your soul for a cookie? Ohmy!


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