One of the things that remain a mystery to the world is the nature of the soul. I have already written a couple of posts on this subject, the first was called “Are we eternal or is it just our parts that are eternal?” and the second was my recent post on the Sterling McMurrin book. McMurrin put it pretty well when he said the question was one of what our spirits are made of – are they necessary or contingent; are they made up of irreducible parts or are they “simple”, irreducible, and indestructible themselves. When he wrote his book in 1965, McMurrin felt that the parts model was dominant in Mormonism.
Recently over at M* David J vigorously defended the idea that spirits are simple and irreducible. He reads statements from Joseph Smith in the King Follet Discourse as “clear and concise” evidence that Joseph taught the idea. Of course many others disagree with his interpretation. In fact, based on the overall evidence I have seen to date, I currently think it is more likely that spirits are composed of beginningless and uncreated parts rather than being simple and irreducible in their current form.
Joseph and the KFD
Joseph did make several statements that could be read as evidence for the irreducible model of spirits. But in the context they comment were given it seems likely to me that Joseph was mostly railing against creatio ex nihilo — the notion that our spirits were created out of nothing. He also seemed to be trying to drive home the idea that humankind and God are of the same kind — that there is no ontological gap between us and him.
Problems with simple and irreducible spirit model
There are some logical flaws with the notion that our spirits have always been in their current form. The primary problem for me is that I don’t think the doctrine is compatible with progress. If the spirit that is me has always been in its current form, then how can it change? The moment I change then that is a beginning of a new version of me. But that means I am no longer beginningless… There seems to be a paradox that requires absolute immutability (un-changeability) for this idea of beginningless, simple, “whole-cloth” spirits to work. But if we are unchangeable then there is no progress. If we are changeable, then we (in current form) have a beginning. The obvious fact that we are changeable seems to refute the notion that our spirits in current form are simple, irreducible, and beginningless.
The ring analogy
In the King Follet Discourse Joseph held up his ring and taught that everything that has a beginning must have an end. This could cause problems for us depending on how we interpret it. Our families and potential eternal marriages have beginnings after all. Joseph even taught that God (as God) had a beginning. Does the ring analogy mean that eternal marriages must eventually dissolve and that God must inevitable cease to be God some day? I doubt it. I suspect it mostly means that all things are in motion and that each second begins and ends and we are always slightly different as a result of the constant motion in the universe. Of course this constant motion is what allows for progress or for retrogression.
What is simple and irreducible then?
Joseph Smith taught that matter cannot be created – that all matter is beginningless. Our scriptures further teach that “spirit” is a form of matter. So the building blocks of our universe are without a beginning when reduced to their simplest form. The question is what are human spirits made of? Well we don’t know. But it seems most likely to me that just as our physical bodies are made up of tiny parts that work together and “we ” somehow emerge, our spirit bodies (whatever they might be) are likely built on the same basic principles. Based on the revelations, the universe is made of beginningless parts – the real question is what the nature of those parts is.
The destruction of the soul
I believe souls can probably be destroyed. I think spirits are not indestructible. More specifically, I suspect that souls/spirits have the capacity to erode away to oblivion. The scriptures use the term “destruction of the soul” in lots of places. I am not going to say that these verses are referring to anything other than figuratively suffering for our sins though. I think that would be reading too far in to the ancient texts (much like I think David J and others have done with the KFD). But I will argue that God and spirits live within time and that with temporal beings change is always possible and in some sense inevitable. Our spirits can transform into new and different types of beings. (I have already posted that I think the Adam narrative teaches this very principle.) We can get better. We can also get worse. We can gain light and truth or we can lose light and truth. There is opposition in all things. If on the one hand our spirits can embrace all light and truth, then on the other hand they can have the “lights out” experience of destruction – outer darkness. Therefore, I suspect that a better description of the destruction of the soul would be a deconstruction of the soul. A soul disposed to evil eventually loses so much light and truth that it loses its emergent identity and the parts that once constituted that spirit are recycled for another try some day – just like what happens to physical bodies. Perhaps in the world of spirits as in the mortal world, it can be ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
What do you think?