Monday, 10 September 2018

Nature and Nurture

There is constant argument between those who think that human beings are largely the product of nature (their genetic inheritance) and those who see nurture (their upbringing and formation) as more important with sometimes the balance falling on one side and sometimes the other. It's a strange debate. Both elements are a factor in what a person is with the deciding element practically always being nature. I would say that's fairly obvious.

However I would like to introduce a third factor into the mix. There is our genetic inheritance, of course, and there is our cultural formation, also of course, but there is something else too which is rarely considered. That is the soul.

I believe in reincarnation and I think that a soul evolves spiritually (and in other ways but spiritually is the most important) through a series of lifetimes in this world. Now, I don't know whether all human beings go through this process or only some but even those that might not do so have a pre-existence in the spiritual world. They are not newly created at conception or whenever it might be. Their spiritual creation precedes their material one.

But let me take the reincarnation scenario first. In this scenario, God creates individual souls on a spiritual level whose consciousness when created will perhaps be similar to that of a new born baby. No real sense of self, no capacity yet for thought. They are enveloped in a kind of passive blissful oneness. They come to this world to develop, first in ways with which we are familiar, bodily, emotionally, mentally and so on, and then in a spiritual sense as they grow out of their ego into a wider sense of union with life but this time experienced consciously. They start off ignorant children and end up saints. That is the aim anyway, with this world, essentially a world of duality with the awareness of God removed so that the soul may grow as an individual, the theatre of operations for their education.

This means that each human being has a spiritual past. We are not just the result of the genetic mix of our two parents and the experiences we have undergone in the physical world. We are also a reflection of our soul, the part of us that is the distilled essence of our previous experience in a number of earthly lives plus our spiritual experience and our actual quality or individual character originally bestowed by God.

The soul itself remains aloft in the higher worlds while it sends down a part of itself into this world, clothed in mental, emotional and physical forms. We are not normally aware of it in its full nature but we could not be aware at all were it not animating our minds with its presence. This soul has a quality. It is not just consciousness but a kind of consciousness with its own nature. It is the soul that drives this man to become a painter or that woman to become a writer, and it is the soul that largely determines the level of achievement of which each person will be capable. The story is more complicated than that because nature and nurture, conventionally understood, also have their part to play, and there is the important matter of karma or spiritual destiny to consider. Not all of the soul may be allowed to come through so that the individual may learn needed lessons. But we can still reasonably assume that those who are great artists or scientists or called to sainthood or excel in any particular field achieve what they do because of the evolution of their souls, their above average development.

Even if reincarnation is not accepted we must consider the fact of the pre-mortal existence of the soul and understand that the quality of any individual soul will have a bearing on its expression in this world. I do think it is a mistake of Christianity that it has neglected this aspect of spiritual reality. It is the soul that animates the physical form created by (or by means of) the parents. It expresses itself through that form and, though limited by the nature of that form, is a strong determining factor in what sort of person we are.

There is then this third aspect to a human being. There is the product of the parental genetic admixture. There is the conditioning of personal experience. And then there is the soul, the spiritual factor behind each individual. In many ways this is the most important.

The soul is like a light that shines through the two lenses of nature and nurture. If a human being had no spiritual pre-existence, it could not be born in this world.

N.B. I don't think the idea of reincarnation negates the element of choice that is a critical factor for all souls, the choice to turn to or away from God. That choice is one of the major reasons for a soul to be born in this world. It may be, though, that a definitive choice is put off until the individual has developed self to the point at which a truly free and intelligent decision can be made - one way or the other. But this is probably the subject for another post.


edwin said...

All that you say seems quite reasonable, but it appears to be based on inference and, to some extent, speculation. If we trust in the words of Jesus as reported in the Gospels, it would seem that the soul, as well as the body, in not naturally immortal. Again and again we hear that we can become immortal, not that we are immortal. And the alternative is not eternal punishment, but annihilation. We will "perish" or suffer the second death, in which the soul is destroyed and the spirit that animated it returns to its source, God. One lifetime on Earth, however, does not appear adequate to determine so great a thing as eternal life or annihilation. Whether we are reincarnated or continue to develop in a disembodied soul state until a final choice can be made is something that is not revealed to us directly, or so it seems to me.

William Wildblood said...

Well, edwin, I am not saying I know reincarnation is true (which would be very foolish) but I do believe in it. It makes sense to me as a system of growth but I admit it leaves some important questions unanswered which is why I put in that note at the end.

And I would agree that the soul is not naturally immortal even if it may last a lot longer than one physical lifetime. After all, anything that is created can be destroyed. So I would agree with you that there is a possibility that the individual element of our being may be annihilated and the spirit returned to its source in God. Though how common this might be I would obviously have no idea. But it is surely a possibility for the spiritually rejecting soul.

I am going to try to write something that seeks to reconcile the idea of reincarnation with that of judgement. Since I believe in both it's up to me to try to bring them together in some way. I don't see reincarnation as a process that eventually perfects everybody. That would seem to conflict too much with free will and responsibility. But then I cannot see how the great difference in human beings can be understood without recourse to some kind of pre-existence of the soul, and probably experience in this and other worlds before birth this time round.

edwin said...

It would seem that free will must include the possibility of rejecting God, which would mean rejecting the source of life and light, without which nothing can exist. In the East, reincarnation is individuation caused by particular desires, but that begs the question: why should there be any individuation on any basis? Only if one acknowledges God as the Father of men can our birth as individuals make sense, and then our individuality becomes a facet of the Divine personality, in potentiality, i.e. in the process of becoming free and independent, which is what creation must mean. I look forward to your piece on reincarnation and judgment. Thanks for all you write.

Eric said...

If reincarnation means accumulated consequences, do you think people have "deserved" their outer form and heritage? This seemed to be the case in the indian caste system, where lower stratas were blamed for their own faith. I don't think I believe in individual soul reincarnation, but I believe our genetic lineage is our extended continuum. Our children are us reincarnated, for better or worse. And what do you think about overpopulation? Certainly all people can't be reincarnated souls, because there has been a constant increase of the world population? That would mean than souls multiply, so the extra souls must come directly from God? What if some people are born closed off from Gods will, as a consequence of human greed, abuse of free will and overgrowth?

Eric said...

Edit: From an impersonal non-dualistic sense reincarnation just means that the universal soul reconfigures into new bodies according to their karma. Thus our children are granted no integrity of their own besides their material configuration. But I believe our children are individuals who are granted their own souls, which I have a hard time reconciling with endless reincarnation.

William Wildblood said...

Eric, it depends what you mean by deserved. The short answer would be yes but not in the sense of punishment as in the Eastern idea. More the best situation for us at the moment to learn the lessons we are meant to learn. From a spiritual perspective a hard life might be more fruitful than an easy one. If it's harder for a rich man to get to heaven etc then wealth might not be such a great thing. But I would say that our life circumstances might be a mixture of karma from the past and what is spiritually educative for us now.

Regarding overpopulation, that's an interesting question. It could be that population is at an all time high now because this ( the end times) is a very important period in which to live. It may be that the need for real choices is coming to a head now. So there are fewer souls in the spiritual world at the moment and more in the physical one. Finally, it is possible that not all souls come from the same place or even that all people yet have a spiritual self though I don't want to speculate on that.

Faculty X said...

I agree with you about reincarnation. Genes and environment are conduits for souls.

In ancient times the belief was there was a wheel of karma and souls would progress from stage to stage. There would be firstborn souls, here for their new life time in the cycle; and later lives, each with its own quality to learn in life.

Finally there would be the paying of karma in the last life for what was easy at first or put off in earlier lives.

Eric said...

Thanks for the answer, William. Yes, it becomes a speculative business in the end. That's OK, but to a certain degree. I don't know what to make of reincarnation, yet. I sort of believed in it when I was not a Christian. The idea of reincarnation is easier to reconcile with Buddhism where everyone is just a temporary drop in the ocean and where there is no substantial self. It's just the world that reincarnates itself into reconfigurated parts, and personal individuality is illusion.

Eric said...

Edit: You have no property of your own, which is why mainstream Buddhism never resonated with me in the end. Non the least because of the potential collective/political consequences.

William Wildblood said...

Well, I don't agree with the Buddhist version of reincarnation because I think the individual is the whole reason for creation. I think that God creates individual souls which then go through a cycle of lives to perfect themselves and grow spiritually. But free will is crucial to this so not all make the cut just as not all seeds sprout. Some refuse God's gift. Some chose the option to be reabsorbed back into pure spirit and some rebel against God and chose separation which probably eventually leads to annihilation as mentioned in edwin's first comment. I do believe we are given chances to mend our ways if we have chosen the wrong path but these are not endless. There will come a point at which the choice we have made is definitive.

Eric said...

I like that somewhat pluralistic model better than the binary heaven/hell view of mainstream christianity. It also means that God comes first, not religious form. I don't think the world is a static place governed by predetermined outcomes/laws only. If it is maintained by God's habit, and we are his co-creators, it means we design and choose our model of reality. Both as individuals and as a collective. It means more agency and responsibility than those who want a fixed world with binary rules, but for me it solves the heaven/hell determinism that I find problematic. Not that I don't believe in it, but that it's more nuanced and not as literal as it seems. Truth is, most Christians are nominal believers but they have unconsciously internalised the world-view of scientific materialism. They then seem to project God as an object of belief outside of the system only, but not as something that permeates their Being?

Eric said...

And that also entails it matters less what we think in our head if it doesn't correlate with our soul setting. Which means that many Christians must change themselves if they want to actively re-align with God and become immortal.