It’s the sort of glurge one expects in the Inspirational category of sympathy cards at the chain grocery story: the human soul is in Heaven, watching our every movement with newly acquired supernatural powers. Except in this case the body is not dead yet:
I am Terri Schiavo. I died and my soul came to Heaven long ago. What was left behind wasn’t me. It was the body I used to live in.
When I look down and see pictures in the newspapers of my body — gape-mouthed, blank-staring — it makes me sick. Is my body some circus curiosity?
Let my body die and let me rest in peace.
So Terri Schiavo can now write a letter to the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch? From Heaven, no less? Who knew? (It did require channeling her thoughts to a resident of Montross, Virginia.)
This ostensibly Christian understanding of the ethical debate swirling around Terri Schiavo is becoming increasingly common among churchgoers, if a report by Neela Banerjee in this morning’s New York Times is any indication.
Banerjee’s article is a good roundup of what churchgoers had to say as they left worship services Sunday in Boston, Chicago, Washington and New Orleans. Many worshipers speak of how their confidence in going to Heaven would free them from anxieties about any suffering they experience as they die.
But some express an understanding of the soul that is — how else to say this? — biblically illiterate:
After 9:30 Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago, Stephanie Zacharias, a 34-year-old personal trainer, said she saw a correlation between Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection and the Schiavo case. “Terri Schiavo deserves to end her suffering on this earth and go to a better place just like Jesus did,” Ms. Zacharias said. “What is her life? What kind of life is that? She’s a shell. Her soul is not living. I think she died 15 years ago and her body is just being kept alive to comfort somebody else.”
The Times never explains the church’s historic teaching that the soul animates the body, that the soul and body are separated at physical death and that the soul and body are reunited at the end of time.
Even Gnosticism normally would not say that the soul is gone when a body remains alive. Were a Gnostic to write in the name of Terri Schiavo, the message might be: “My pure spirit is imprisoned in this corrupt body. Please free me from it.”
But for Americans even that is not a sufficiently cheery presentation of Terri Schiavo’s condition. Instead, we are told she is strolling about Heaven already, or her soul is dead, regardless of what her body is doing.
In contrast, George Felos — Michael Schiavo’s attorney — offers a less authoritative answer on what Terri’s soul may be up to. Sharon Tubbs of the St. Petersburg Times wrote a sharp-eyed profile of Felos in 2001, before he had published his book Litigation as Spiritual Practice (“This book is a miracle,” says Conversations With God author Neale Donald Walsch).
Tubbs mentions in the profile that Felos says one disabled woman’s soul spoke to his and asked, “Why am I still here?”
But he’s reserving comment on Terri:
Does Felos believe Terri Schiavo’s soul has spoken to his?
Felos declines to answer, showing his lawyerly side. “It’s a pending case,” he says.