What Happens When Mind, Soul, & Body Go in Different Directions

What Happens When Mind, Soul, & Body Go in Different Directions May 29, 2018

Love in the Ruins (1972) is a dark, comic, disturbing, and yet profoundly Christian novel by the late Catholic author Walker Percy. “It’s all there in that one book,” said William F. Buckley, “what’s happening to us and why.”

Baylor theology professor Ralph C. Wood discusses the novel and how it addresses our present times in his article for American Conservative entitled  Walker Percy’s Funny and Frightening Prophecy.

In the course of his review, Wood sums up in two paragraphs the root of many of our problems today, as Percy addresses them:  The mind, the soul, and the body are all going in different directions.  As a result, nature is lost; reason is lost; and reality itself is lost.  Whereas the Christian worldview ties them all together.

From Ralph Wood:

It is safe to say that, prior to Descartes, human reason seated itself either in the natural order or else in divine revelation. In the medieval tradition, reason brought these two thought-originating sources into harmony. Thus were mind, soul, and body regarded as having an inseparable relation: they were wondrously intertwined. So also, in this bi-millennial way of construing the world, was the created order seen as having multiple causes—first and final, no less than efficient and material causes. This meant that creation was not a thing that stood over against us, but as the realm in which we participate—living and moving and having our being there, as both ancient Stoics and St. Paul insisted. The physical creation was understood as God’s great book of metaphors and analogies for grasping his will for the world.

After Descartes, by contrast, the sensible realm becomes a purposeless thing, a domain of physical causes awaiting our own mastery and manipulation. Nature no longer encompasses humanity as its crowning participant. The soul drops out altogether and is replaced by disembodied mind. Shorn of its spiritual qualities, the mind becomes a calculating faculty for bare, abstract thinking. To yank the mind free from the body is also to untether it from history, tradition, and locality. After Descartes, the mind allegedly stands outside these given things so as to operate equally well at anytime and anywhere. Insofar as belief in God is kept at all, it is an entailment of the human. Atheism was sure to follow. Marx made truth itself a human production, whether social or economic. Nietzsche went further, insisted that nothing whatever can stand over against the human will to power, not even socially constructed truth. Hence the cry of Zarathustra: “If there were gods, how could I endure not to be a god!”

Where do we see these confusions today?


Illustration: Portrait of René Descartes (1596-1650) by Frans Hals,  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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