Śnieżyński Krzysztof
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48(2012)1 - Current controversies about soul

Krzysztof Śnieżyński

Immortality of the soul – an old philosophical idea within the culture of contemporary consumer society

  • language: Polish


European identity is rooted in the “collective memory” of common cultural foundations that include the philosophical-religious idea of the immortality of the human soul. For centuries this idea symbolized man’s extramundane, metaphysical calling to eternity. However, in the circumstances of contemporary consumer society the awareness of this calling has been lost, while the idea of the human soul and the defence of its immortality have been put into question. The following contemporary phenomena have contributed to this state of affairs: domination of the medical sciences especially the neurological ones, which treat the concept of the “soul” as a useless hypothesis; this entails a functionalizing and materializing of the human being, who can no longer refer to the metaphysics of his/her being but only to the physical sphere; as a result of an excess of physicality in the world, a sense of personal satisfaction has become the sole basis of valuation and this in turn causes an irrational fear of old age and boredom; the spectre of boredom misrepresents the (religious) ideas of eternal life as eternal boredom, from which one can only escape into a sequence of earthly pleasures that are meant to replace the longing for eternity; a deconstruction of death and eternity have dissolved and blurred the ideal of eternal life by submerging it in moments of day-to-day existence which are now supposed to be a substitute for man’s former great longings and hopes.

However, the deep eschatological content embedded in the idea of the immortality of the human soul has not been ousted altogether. Among contemporary phenomena that hold the hope of retrieving the sense of the “depth dimension” of human life one can mention the following: people are bored with the excesses of the physical world, since neither scientific progress nor improvements of the standard of living have reduced the need for discovering the comprehensive character of human existence; the end of naive confidence in the possibilities of modern natural sciences and technology is reflected in a revival of the question about the sense of the individual and the whole; the unmasking of the false promises of a purely mundane life and only temporal perspectives of the future; discovery of an unalienable religious dimension of human life; belief that besides contact with one’s corporeality, the human being can and should establish contact with that which surpasses what one can see, grasp and sense – in contact with one’s soul as the depth of one’s self; belief that the phrase “immortality of the soul”, whatever it means, is still relevant and necessary as it safeguards the human being and culture against self-annihilation in the form of yearning for earthly immortality that can only end in madness; awareness of immortality is a transformed memory, i.e. memory in which the impossibility of forgetting about the inevitability of death is transformed by the hope of immortality that a human being can only expect to receive from God.