Sunday, January 10, 2010

Droopy Souls

Soul as Time Lord

What makes humans any better than animals?

Every time the issue comes up at a meeting, my daughter asks the same question: Why do animals not have souls? She asked the question once more at a recent seminar we attended on the nature of the soul. The speaker handed her the usual arguments, the same thing she has heard and rejected a thousand times before. As I looked on I felt a mix of boredom and dismay. Then for a while, I zoned out. They began discussing other things. Suddenly the answer to her question hit me. Of course! Why did I never think of this before? What is one thing that makes humans so smart? What makes us superior?


It is so simple. Humans reach a whole new level because we can put time in our pocket. Superior intelligence does not consist of the usual suspects, opposing thumbs, tool making, language, money, abstract thinking... No. These are part of the answer, but they each on its own does not explain what the soul is or why our mental powers can take us to a whole new level. The real explanation is that they give us access to an entire new dimension, time. They not only let us in on this dimension, they give us control over it as well.

Like animals, our senses let us plug into all three perceptible physical dimensions: width, depth and height. Animals do this too. This is necessary, since the power of locomotion requires sensory perception, if only to avoid collisions. Animals have a grasp of the first three dimensions that every bit as good as ours, sometimes better.

Nor is it that animals have absolutely no sense of time. The difference is that they perforce live in the present, the here and now. They do plan a little way into the future. And undoubtedly, they can remember what happened to them in the past. But, temporally speaking, there is no meeting of animal minds in this dimension. Animals are always individuals living here and now. No matter how hard they may try, they cannot meet in the dimension of time.

True, animals are endowed with the mysterious power of instinct, which gives them brief, limited access to what to do. Instinct comes from some longer sense of evolutionary time. But it is a simulacrum, not a power or a meeting ground. Instinct is conditioned by time and circumstance, it does not rule or transcend time. Even ants and bees, cooperative as they are, can only see and make decisions as individuals.

But all distinctive human powers plug directly into time, and use it actively. Our reasoning powers make time our stepping stone, not a brick wall. Our powers of language and abstraction let us move around in and interact with past and future, not only as individuals but as a collectivity. Reason, magnified by language, gives a vision of the entire human race, past and future, and in turn, this vision conditions who we become as individuals. This is where the first two principles, search and oneness, come together as the confluence of two great rivers.

With this transcendent grasp, we connect past to the present, and the future to the present. Our miraculous power of imagination is magnified in our virtual time machine -- for language, especially written language, is a time machine. Books and information technology take us around the world in an instant; they give a peek into the brightest insights of the best minds in history. Our imagination flies us through past and future and connects the two, giving us the ability to invent new plans for a better life. The plan lets us construct a different future than what our background and environment would otherwise dictate. Thus the soul is a divine thing in that it is a temporal reality, a link to the Beginning that has no beginning, and the End beyond ends.

Out of time comes free will, a choice between good and evil, or to speak more exactly, a choice between planning and drifting, between active rational activity and letting the whim of the moment predominate. This is termed the fall of man. The Qur'an uses the word "Kharra," falling or drooping, for human refusal to plan a new future. It says,

"Those who, when they are admonished with the Signs of their Lord, droop (kharra) not down at them as if they were deaf or blind." (Q25:73, tr. Yusuf)

Kharra means to "fall down, to snore, droop down as if bored or inattentive," as if a listener does not want to hear." This is the meaning of the fall of man, a falling away of the soul from a covenant with a Creator who wants to lead us into active relationship with time. We are time lords, and if we renounce this lordship, we renounce not only time but the other dimensions as well; since Einstein we have known that time and space are a single entity.

Given all that, I woke this morning with an addendum to this idea that the soul is lordship over time.

I awoke with the thought that we must expunge all commercialism and broadcast advertising, not for the usual reasons but because it blocks the soul. The whole capitalist system is specifically designed to divide and conquer, to break our time lordship up into tiny, impotent particles.

I thought of the dozens of people I have met and entered into what passes for deep discussion during the past five years in our Socrates Cafe meeting. Every one of them is what you would expect to find if you encountered a character out of the novel 1984. Everything they say, it is "Big Brother this, Big Brother that." Even if these poor souls were freed forever from the oppressive society depicted in that novel, they will still have Big Brother on their tongues. He will be looking over their shoulder until the day they die.

That is what we are like in this consumer society.

Even when we are not looking at ads, they are looking at us. They look right into our soul. We are utterly, deeply cowed by advertising. Whenever we are called to say something, to think for ourselves, to make a plan to change our world, our first thought is: what will the advertisers think? What can be done without them? What can we possibly do against this current. Is it conceivable to ever oppose what the huge waves of commercials tell the world?

I lay in bed thinking: what is the message of commercials? What is the message behind all the ostensive messages in the flood of advertising conditioning our mental world? It is this:

"In a capitalist system thoughts, opinions, ideas are all votes. And these votes are not free. If you have money, you can vote. If you do not already have money, a lot of money to spend on advertising, forget about voting. You are free to think, but forget about acting. Your thoughts cannot vote in plans. You are utterly without power. I your friendly advertiser have just bought a space in your head. I have sucked away your time, your thoughts, your limited time, and inserted what I think right there. Think about what that means. If I can buy a piece of your brain, if I can buy out your access to time, what power do you have? You are no time lord. You have no soul. I am your time lord. You are a mere animal. You are my puppet. I am your God. Droop, fall. I paid for this, so submit."

Healthy souls may take a message like that a few times a day and resist successfully but we permit ourselves to be flooded, inundated by thousands, millions of ads with this same underlying message tacked onto them every minute, every hour of the day.

"These few brief days shall pass away, this present life shall vanish from our sight; the roses of this world shall be fresh and fair no more, the garden of this earth's triumphs and delights shall droop and fade. The spring season of life shall turn into the autumn of death, the bright joy of palace halls give way to moonless dark within the tomb. And therefore is none of this worth loving at all, and to this the wise will not anchor his heart.

"He who hath knowledge and power will rather seek out the glory of heaven, and spiritual distinction, and the life that dieth not. And such a one longeth to approach the sacred Threshold of God; for in the tavern of this swiftly-passing world the man of God will not lie drunken, nor will he even for a moment take his ease, nor stain himself with any fondness for this earthly life." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 220-221)


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