The soul — Father Gushee knows it when he sees it

PopeJohnPaulII25th.jpgThis, dear readers, is what the editors of The Palm Beach Post think of the religion beat and any traditional Catholic and Christian readers who remain on their subscription lists.

Veteran religion writer, and Episcopal priest, Steve Gushee is back with another column on why this pope just does not get the postmodern world and its evolving view of life and death, truth and mystery.

The bottom line: The Terri Schiavo case proves that John Paul II is a heretic and an idol worshipper.

You need to read it all. Here is a glimpse.

A human being has that extraordinary, intangible presence we call life. Like love and beauty, life defies precise definition. Some call it spirit. Others label it soul. Whatever we call it, we know it when we see it. The human body is a shell, a temple in the words of St. Paul, that houses the spirit, the soul, the human being. Through modern medicine, a human body often can continue to function long after its spirit has left. . . .

People of faith routinely speak of the body and the soul as distinct entities. Paul wrote of his desire to cast off the body to enable his spirit to be closer to God. Those who define life as any biological function that enables the body simply to exist confuse the spirit and its temple and cause extraordinary moral confusion.

Should the Post continue to print Gushee? Of course it should. That is not the point.

Should the newspaper get itself one or more other columnists who can add balance and, every now and then, some facts and authoritative quotes from experts? Yes.

Why continue to allow one reporter/priest to bash away at traditional believers in this region? What’s the point? And why aren’t local Roman Catholic authorities up in arms about this?

UPDATED: An email from a reader notes that The Wall Street Journal published precisely the opposite http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110006500″>point of view yesterday in Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart’s piece, “The Soul of a Controversy.” A sample, starting with the writer listening to some very American voices on talk radio:

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.

Thus, his final question in the Schiavo case is one that haunted much of the mainstream press coverage.

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. . . .

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.splendoftruth.com/curtjester curtjester

    This is a pretty muddled article and not only according to Catholic teaching but traditional Christian teaching as well. It is the soul that animates the body and to say that it is common that the body will continue to operate without a soul is just nonscence. A respirator might help to continue to make life possible, but it will have no effect on a lifeless body.

    Notice how when anybody says that something is a complex issue that they are also equipped to understand it and explain it to us.

  • http://terrenceberres.com Terrence Berres

    “The human body is a shell, a temple in the words of St. Paul…” says Father Gushee.

    Equating a shell and a temple might be giving some insight into recent church architecture, as well.

  • http://god-of-smallt-things.blogspot.com bob smietana

    Somewhere in that article is an important question–what happens, on a spiritual level, when the brain dies and the body is kept alive artificially. Or, as may be in the case of Terri Shiavo, if the cerebral cortex dies–leaving the brain stem intact but the “person” that once was conscious in that brain is gone?

  • Tom Breen

    The soul, in addition to being like a shell and a temple, is now apparently also like pornography: the Rev. Gushee can’t define it, but he knows it when he sees it.

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