“Do not say, ‘Bless You!’ You do not have souls!”
Our daughter’s physics teacher was probably a little exasperated by his fourteen-year-old students and the disruption that was brought to the class every time someone sneezed. But it still did make us raise our eyebrows when she told us that this was something he yelled at the whole class. The mediaeval notion that bad spirits leave your body when you sneeze, and you should therefore be blessed, seems a harmless tradition. But for this teacher it was an opportunity to set these young minds straight when it comes to his secular understanding of what it means to be human.
If, like ourselves, you are raising children in the midst of a secular culture, you’ll no doubt be aware of the battle around this most basic of questions, “What does it mean to be human?”
Whether it’s from educators, Youtubers, or BBC science personalities the message seems to be the same: You are no more than a body and a brain.
Our culture has put aside the existence of God and the afterlife and embraced what it believes is a more scientific, and thus accurate understanding of the universe. If we are going to help our children navigate this question of what does it mean to be human, we are going to have to start by understanding the secular viewpoint.
Science Can Explain Everything
First, understand that your child may be taught that science can provide an explanation for everything. In our home we are working to debunk the myth that science and the Christian faith are incompatible. Instead, we help our children see the role science plays, it’s amazing potential and its obvious limits.
Science can tell us amazing and fascinating information about how the world works, but it cannot answer questions like, “How did everything begin?” “What are we here for?” and “What is the point of living?”. It cannot answer the why questions. The most accessible book we have found on this topic is called Can Science Explain Everything? by Oxford professor, Dr. John Lennox. We think it’s a book every Christian parent should own.
There are only natural forces at work
Despite brief forays into the realm of the spiritual, naturalism is our secular culture’s base-line belief. This is the belief that only natural laws and forces are at work in the universe. Belief in the supernatural or any forces outside what is observable and measured by science is excluded. A worldview based on naturalism is what drove our daughter’s physics teacher to shout, “you do not have souls!”.
We are matter and nothing else
Third, know that materialism is naturalism’s counterpart. It’s the belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Every thought, action, desire, and choice humans make comes down to the matter in our brain- our DNA. Richard Dawkins famously purported that we are merely “dancing to our DNA” and that “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” That means our DNA is driving us to be safe, to find sustenance and to survive. All of our longings and emotions, our experiences of beauty and love, and ultimately our decisions are caused by our biochemistry. We are matter and nothing else.
The Christian story reads differently and starts with a conscious God who shares his image with his human creation. Rather than just being a complex mass of matter, the Bible confirms that we are embodied souls. Our true nature is that we are physical and
spiritual. Both the body and soul are valuable in God’s economy and find ultimate healing in his Kingdom.
It is true that we cannot pour our soul into a test tube or conduct repeatable experiments that measure its scope in a laboratory. But we can help our children learn to identify the presence of their soul. We believe this will take them a long way towards understanding their true spiritual nature as they grow and wrestle with the question of what it means to be human.
Throughout this series we will help you learn to identify the longings of our soul that seem difficult to explain as a result of physical matter alone and difficult to satisfy within the confines of this life. We’ll get practical and explore three ways you can help your children to experience their true spiritual nature by pointing out their soul in action- through moments of awe and wonder, through appealing to their longing for justice, and by translating moments of connection. This experiential foundation is just as crucial for your children as a Biblical foundation. You could sit down and try to “teach” your children about their soul. But don’t overlook the role of experience in building their worldview. To be human is to be a spiritual being - the Bible will tell them so, and so will their lived experience.
Joy has been a youth worker for over 20 years. In addition to training Christian youth workers she regularly leads communication, digital media and fundraising projects for Start To Stir. Joy and Darin have two teenage daughters and a nutty ginger dog.