A spiritual soul is not the only understanding of the soul. Monism, a belief often associated with materialism, believes in the soul and the body as one entity. Whilst this does not reject the idea of life after death, a monist will typically reject ideas of life after death, believing in the perishing of the soul along with the physical body. the monist belief is one adopted by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins holds that the soul is nothing more than a mythical concept, rejecting the religious soul. Dawkins believes that the only way of talking of the soul is in relation to the human conscience, which he sees as having, like everything, been developed for survival. In this manner Dawkins would believe that as the body perishes, as does the “soul” – a key belief in monism and materialism.
Personally I feel inclined to the dualist perspective. I find claims such as that of Peter Geach that we must have our physical bodies in heaven to retain a sense of self and recognisability weak. Heaven is a place incomparable to earth, so to bring in our earthly experiences of “recognizing” and “self” to me does not seem necessary. Not even our notions of beauty or justice come near to the beauty experienced in heaven. Similarly, the belief in a physical body in a perfect afterlife does not seem compatible to me. Our human bodies are riddled with flaws. What would continue into this afterlife? Would one still have grey hairs and wrinkles in heaven? It makes much more sense to me to describe the afterlife in a spiritual sense, whilst our physical self dies. Whilst not making this into a debate on the existence of God, I also do not believe in monist materialist points of view such as that of Richard Dawkins, as my faith in a higher power overrides the empirical attitude to the soul. I find the Christian belief in the soul convincing yet only for their belief in a higher power – the idea of bodily reincarnation to me is incompatible with my view of heaven. Interestingly, I feel most inclined to settle with the views of Plato and Descartes. I find the dualist belief of a soul that, upon the body dying, transcends into another realm the most convincing.
Nevertheless, the question of the distinction between body and soul remains in place. Dualism and monism may provide suggestions, but neither seem to provide answers. It is only with faith that we may find conviction.