‘Upon my soul!’ This rather dated exclamation of surprise is apt when one reads the atheist philosopher Alain de Botton on the concept of soul:
Christianity is focused on helping a part of us that secular language struggles even to name, which is not precisely intelligence or emotion, not character or personality, but another, even more abstract entity loosely connected with all of those and yet differentiated from them by an additional ethical and transcendent dimension – and to which we may as well refer, following Christian terminology, as the soul. [..] Differ though we might with Christianity’s view of what precisely souls need, it is hard to discredit the provocative underlying thesis, which seems no less relevant in the secular realm than in the religious one – that we have within us a precious, childlike, vulnerable core which we should nourish and nurture on its turbulent journey through life (De Botton 2012; 113-115).
Interestingly, this writing of De Botton is just one example of the revival of soul-language in Western popular culture and philosophy. One of the most prominent themes in the works of the widely read novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson is the soul, although her use of soul is different from De Botton’s. Next to soul-language in popular culture and philosophy, social scientific research shows that many people in the West still believe in a particular concept of soul: the immaterial ‘I’ that possibly survives bodily death. This concept has become very problematic in Christian theology and is the concept of soul that is ridiculed by popular neuroscientists such as Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris.
An important reason for the return of soul-language might be the ability of the word to express who the human being is in a manner that is more closely connected to the subjectivity of the person than the language of the natural sciences, whose voices dominate public debate on the human being. In order to understand what soul-language means in Western society, the ways in which the word soul are used in contemporary language are analyzed by distinguishing four categories of meaning in which De Botton and Robinson will serve as examples of two categories. In each category, soul has a different emphasis, but all have in common that soul is associated with the subjectivity of the human being and the longing for transcendence. Furthermore, soul is an important concept to express that a different view on reality than the natural scientific perspective is necessary to appreciate the human being. Although ‘soul’ is no longer particular Christian, it is considered an important contribution to Western society. The remarkable persistence of the soul as a valuable word to convey something fundamental about the human being in the Western context, demands a response of Christian theology, in which the uneasiness with the soul needs to be re-evaluated.
Botton, A. de. Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. London: Penguin, 2013.
Harris, S. The Moral Landscape. London: Transworld Publishers, 2010.
Hart, J. de. Geloven binnen en buiten verband: Godsdienstige ontwikkelingen in Nederland. Den Haag: Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau, 2014.
Robinson, M. Absence of Mind. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2010.
Robinson, M. The Givenness of Things. London: Virago, 2015.
Perry Huesmann – The Challenge of Defining and Defending Cultural Pluralism: A Reformational Philosophical Analysis of Three Governmental Responses to Cultural Pluralism
Cultures are no longer geographically divided but are intertwined in ever-changing ways. The idea of nation, often tied to identity and culture, is problematic, as it is porous, ambivalent and often ambiguous. In many different national contexts we now have to find ways to live together. At the same time, the West seems to be in a moment of profound transition from a clear structured social order and its reliance on power, wealth, and authority in widely recognized institutions, to a more fluid social order. New anchor points are needed for the public social space, which means some things may need to be left behind.
Given this state of affairs, we must ask as Christian thinkers if adequate theoretical concepts exist and have been articulated to guide us in responding to the challenges of this new situation. Many attempts have been made to answer the question of how pluralism may exist in social relations. One solution may be to create one overarching new identity that may or may not allow for variations within a given territory to retain parts of their original unique identity. Another solution, the opposite approach, would be to have fully separate groups who are recognized and treated according to their status as different, and who live without much contact with one another.
Before seeking solutions, the larger research project starts from the basic question of what reasons exist for why we should live together as different cultures, and what this means in the richest possible sense. The research does not aim to be an apologetic for mere tolerance. It aims to explore the possibility of human flourishing, or biblical shalom, in a framework of pluralism, one highlighted by ongoing immigration from less developed to more developed countries in which a variety of cultural identities are living side by side. This paper, therefore, proposes to explore the question of how humans with different cultural identities may indeed live together. It will explore this through the analysis of three governmental elaborations of this most basic question.
The paper will focus on the exploration of three different typologies as a response to increasing pluralism: monoculturalism, multiculturalism and interculturalism. The analysis will seek to answer the following question: Which, if any, of these typologies is an adequate response, or are new theoretical proposals needed? These three paradigms are very different from one another, and each represents certain positions in the policy debate. I will argue that each of these has a fundamental ontological component as well, one that is fundamental to the paradigm. The paper will show that all three of these have fundamental problems at the ontological level, and this is why the debate remains open. Each paradigm will be explored and defined through the analysis of government reports issued in response to increasing cultural pluralism in the following countries: Canada, France, and the Netherlands.
Bouchard, Gerard and Charles Taylor.Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation, Canadian Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences. Quebec: Bibliotheque et Archives nationales du Quebec,2008.
Stasi, Bernard. The Stasi Report: The Report of the Committee of Reflection on the Application of the Principle of Secularity in the Republic. Robert O’Brien, ed. Buffalo, NY: William, S. Hein & Co., Inc., 2005.
Taylor, Charles. Multiculturalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
Taylor, Charles .“Interculturalism or Multiculturalism?”, Philosophy and Social Criticism 38:413-423, 2012.
________. “From Daiwa to Jihad: The various threats from radical Islam to the democratic legal order”. The Hague: General Intelligence and Security Service, 2004.
 See, for example, the best-selling book by Moses Naim, “The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be”, (New York: Basic Books, 2013).
Tensions regarding the relationship of Christianity and LGBT movement in Brazil are no different from most of the western countries. In the Brazilian context it has a very clear line of public justification on the general basis of a new affective sensibility and upon the specific discourse of the “affective rights” movement. It has also been considered by the political left as a strategic discourse to keep the vanguard of the historical process.
Driving from the studies of Colin Campbell (1987) on the rise of the “emotional capitalism” and especially from Eva Illouz (1997, 2007), which developed her own theory of emotional capitalism and applied the theories of Pierre Bourdieu on “power fields” and modes of symbolic capital and of Michael Walzer on “spheres of justice” to the understanding of the emerging “affective power field” with its institutions, processes, discourse and capital, we suggest that the new LGBT discourse on marriage and sexual ethics could possibly be an ideological instance and function of the expansion of the affective field and a case of predominance from the affective social sphere over the ethical realm.
We think that this general hypothesis is confirmed and enhanced from Goudzwaard’s proposal of ideologies as a matrix of cultural idols (2007) and from Dooyeweerd’s perspective on the relationship among social spheres and on normativity in the historical process (1979). First of all, if we postulate the emergence of an affective social field as a normative and progressive development consolidated in the second half of the 21st century, we must ask questions about its integration and/or its conflict with other spheres and specifically with the ethical sphere around the core issue of the institution of marriage. Secondly, we can ask further questions about the impact of capitalism in the shaping of the positive “logic” of the actual affective field and see if it has in some way distorted its relationship with the ethical goods and “moral capital”, taking marriage as our core instance. Finally, we propose a search for the spiritual basis of the purported affectivistic ideology and reflections about the way Christians should respond to the reality of an affective social sphere in a non-reactionary yet non-revolutionary/reductionist way, having in mind their responsibilities regarding the future of marriage in the western societies.
MAIN BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SOURCES:
CAMPBELL, Colin. The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. Alcuin Academics, 2005 (1987 1st Ed).
DOOYEWEERD, Herman. Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian options. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003 (1979 1st Ed).
GOUDZWAARD, Bob, VENNEN, M. V., HEEMST, D. V. Hope in Troubled Times: a new vision for confronting global crises. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.
ILLOUZ, Eva. Consuming the Romantic Utopia: love and the cultural contradictions of Capitalism. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1997.
ILLOUZ, Eva. Cold Intimacies: the making of emotional capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.