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Humanist Essay for March 2012
"Half-Souls"
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[Reprinted from the HSNM March 2012 Newsletter.]

It's still February as I write, and I have a Darwin Day gift for you. Below is a short excerpt from Harry Willson's philosophical memoir, From Fear To Love: My Journey Beyond Christianity, which will be published this spring. It is the third volume in his humanist trilogy, and while this posthumous publication follows Freedom From God: Restoring the Sense of Wonder, and Myth and Mortality: Testing the Stories, the work of those two books really started with this one, with Harry's careful review of his roots, his life choices, and his personal evolution from missionary pastor to activist/humanist author. Harry was a frequent contributor to this Newsletter. He writes:

"Your eternal soul" is a phrase used by fundamentalist preachers to terrify the non-thoughtful with threats of eternal conscious torment. My mother used a similar phrase, with a grim twist. When we had upset her, and she was into her reactive rant -- which is marvelous to remember but was terrifying to experience while little -- she'd shriek, "You make me damn my eternal soul!" She had an eternal soul, and she was putting it in jeopardy, and it was all our fault! Well, from this perspective, fifty years later, I can flatly state that I don't believe any of that. I don't believe in eternal conscious torment of eternal souls in hell. I quit doing that, and said so, while I was still a clergyman. Christians objected to my view, even then, saying that if there wasn't any hell, heaven would be no fun. That's how mean they were, meaner than any self-respecting God would ever be.

I still don't know about eternal souls. Souls are what are reincarnated, according to that metaphor. Christian theology, which rejects reincarnation, is irrational at this point. "Eternal" means "not limited by time," "outside of time." Most popular usage means "everlasting," which is the old translation and not exactly the same thing. But everlasting goes in two directions. Looking forward into an everlasting future, one can try to imagine a future that never ends, that goes on and on, forever. The mean-hearted want to add conscious torment to that.

But what about looking backward? "Everlasting" would mean looking backward, back and back, farther and farther, on and on, back and back, with no end, that is, no beginning. Hindus do it. Then the two everlasting directions meet, way out there, and we get circles, huge circles, cycles, very large and very long cycles. Hindus can do it, but Hebrew/Christians cannot. They plunk down a thing they call "creation" and stop the process, when looking backward. It is not everlasting, not eternal. It is only half-eternal. Now, that's illogical. Either something is eternal, or it isn't.

"God" is supposedly making eternal souls, either at creation or at conception. People who believe in creation don't believe in eternal souls at all, but half-eternal ones. You can tell I'm not believing it, not any of it, not even the notion that there is an Entity/Creator "God" at all. But I still have to figure out what I am, and what you are.
        --Harry Willson, From Fear To Love: My Journey Beyond Christianity

Humanists are wisely moving away from knee-jerk religion-bashing to seek common ground with people of faith. I think Harry considered himself a person of faith -- he had a faith in what he called the Cosmos, "The Whole Thing Doing What It Does." But he and others rightly point out that certain religious doctrines cause real harm. Recent spurious debates over contraception and climate change provide two examples. Those who cling stubbornly to ignorance, hypocrisy and misogyny must not be allowed to hinder the advance and application of science or interfere with our quest for a fair and just society. While Harry's logic seems unassailable, be prepared for staunch religionists to reject any application of logic, or fact, to their belief systems. At that point, we may simply state: That's why we keep church and state separate -- you can believe what you want, but you can't make it law on that basis alone.

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Copyright © 2012 Zelda Gatuskin; excerpt Copyright © 2012 Harry Willson

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