So among the many problems I have with the soul is the idea of a continuously existent subject: that subset of beliefs which holds the soul is the eternal thing inside this hollow shell. The gnostics and their various kissing cousins who believe that luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. (In fact we are luminous beings, but this does not mean we have a soul. ) In this scenario, the soul is that substantial core of the being which exists beyond time, and maintains whether the human lives or dies. In religion, the soul is the thing which is damned or saved. In the absence of religion where soul belief is still maintained, the soul is the thing which is worth believing in, the soul is the thing distinguishing the person from the rest of the universe.
Any half-awake atheist has a lot more tools than we do for describing why either of these scenarios is a fat lot of ridiculous hot air.
But it's the religious person for whom the soul is a far more dangerous entity. Because if you stare it in the face, the soul renders God pointless. Rendered as pointless as some think evolution does (I maintain evolution doesn't, but I'll post that shit later). If the soul in this rendition exists, what point is there for a creator? A redeemer? Indeed, if the soul is the representative of the eternally existing subject, the "I" in "I am", then there is nothing really meaningful happening in creation, and certainly nothing in redemption. In this structure, the sinner doesn't sin, his flesh does. His luminous being is intact, awaiting liberation from this shell. Oh? Sin damages the soul? Then enough sins stain the soul and damn it? If we are not crude matter, why would our actions against other crude matter (theft, murder, rape, or any of the "7 Deadlies") count? They wouldn't, we wouldn't be harming anything real, it would be our crude matters doing their natural crude things to other crude matters while the souls recline awaiting their liberty.
A second scenario, in which the soul is not eternal, but is still the core essence of what constitutes a person, is also unsatisfactory. I am not "I" without a soul. It is the soul, added at the moment of creation or birth or some time, which makes me a whole person. Why? That's a pretty good question: why does this crude matter need this addition? God breathed on the clay—some consider this the imbuing of the soul—so we need this "divine spark" at the moment of conception or the moment of personhood, in order to be a person.
As before, the problem of sin actually calls attention to this quite effectively: if I can resist sin, I can maintain this divine spark, I can keep out the howling wind of the void and keep the flame lit. My task is then to protect this soul spark from others and from myself. I am a lamp, a treasure in earthen vessel, to corrupt a well known Pauline phrase, and if I tend it, it will burn on. This gives my body something to do, certainly, which is perhaps better than the kind of extreme gnosticism I mention above (I might even admit it's straw man gnosticism). It gives me the responsibility of tending the soul.
Unfortunately, this still doesn't really give the creator anything to do. (Yes, at this point the atheists still with us in this conversation are clicking their tongues and considering the matter closed) You might as well not believe in God if you believe in a soul.
Or more precisely, you don't need to believe in a particular God who takes away the sin of the world. The cross and the resurrection in this scenario are utterly pointless acts of divine child abuse: if we must simply take better care of our souls, Jesus is killed because God wants to set an example of the extremity to which we must go for the care of our souls.
But if you dump the stupid soul, you get some wide open opportunities. The easily distractible among you are about to throw up your hands but here goes: I don't believe in soul, but I do believe in spirit. Particularly because I believe in the Holy Spirit.
Oh come on! What the fuck is the difference between soul and spirit? Right?
Spirit is the emergent life of relationship. The Holy Spirit is the unifying emergence of God in relationship to God's self and to the world. (In this and other regards, I maintain the trinity is the only doctrine that makes any damn sense. )
Human spirit emergent from humans in relationship. Thus, I am this crude matter. And so are you. But in relationship, material things acquire spiritual force. When we speak of the spirit of an age, we are talking quite specifically in these terms, about the assemblage of efforts and matrices of relationships during a time which produce numerous effects. When an ugly mob assembles and commits to the course of violent genocidal action, then the spirit that arises is an evil spirit, or a host of evil spirits. Sometimes we relate with people and things, and out of this relationship pours a spirit of artistry or craftsmanship, a painting, a composition. Nothing with spirit is born in isolation. Soul requires no relationship, it's the continuously existing subject for which all things are objects. Spirit is the continuously evolving substance of relationship.
Buber's Ich und Du? Like that.
I suppose I'll get around to writing more about this.