Hi Rick. I was looking up a quote often credited to CS Lewis…the one that reads, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” But upon a Google search, I found this link: thomasthurman.org/body It states that the quote is a slightly altered version of one found in the noted book. It then goes on to state that such a quote doesn’t align with Scripture for the reasons stated within the link. What’s your take on this? More-so the non-Biblical assertion?
Thanks for your question about Lewis. Yes, it appears that the quote (from what i can determine) is not authentic Lewis. The clever couplet sounds like Lewis, which is how the attribution must have started. However, the slight change was also necessary to make it sound “Lewisian” because it required a change to sound genuinely orthodox – which Lewis was.
The change I’m referring to is that in the popular version attributed to Lewis, it leaves out the one word: “temporarily.” This appears to be the original quote:
Abbot Zerchi smiled thinly. You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.
The theological problem with the quote in this version, is that Christians have always believed in resurrection. Not just a metaphorical resurrection of the soul into a heavenly existence, either. No, the surprising facet of Christian teaching about eschatology (the study of “last things”) is that we believe that there will be a resurrection of the body. In fact, Jesus’ own experience of being raised physically from the dead was taught over and over again by the early church as the model and harbinger of the fate of everyone who dies in him. (Romans 6:4,5; Act 23:6; 24:15)
So the website is correct to note that the quote as it was ORIGINALLY written by Walter Miller in Canticle for Liebowitz is not technically orthodox, for with the one word “temporarily” it posits a view of the afterlife where we die and the flesh is permanently left and we go to a disembodied heaven where we float as incorporeal spirits or mists forever. This is NOT the Christian hope.
The Christian hope is that when we die, we may go to “be with the Lord” but that this is only intermediate. In the end, the Lord will go to be with us! That intermediate state of “sleep” in the Lord, is what is temporary, Scripture teaches. What is permanent is the restoration of the earth, when the “sons of God” will be revealed in glorious new resurrection bodies, enfleshed as before, but now, incorruptible. See 1 Cor 15). So the website is correct – the quote with the word “temporarily” undermines or denies the hope of the resurrection of the body. See this post for a full response on what happens to Christians after death.
However, if we delete the word “temporarily” from the quote, it then reflects the truth that our essential self, is not material, but rather immaterial. When we think we HAVE a soul, but we ARE a body, we begin to slide into the view of naturalism, which reduces our whole being to the physical. In this view, we are chemical reactions and atoms – that is what we are ESSENTIALLY – and if we have a soul, it only emerges out of this biology, it is not independent of it. Thus the quote (modified and attributed to Lewis) helpfully contradicts this thinking. Your primary self is NOT physical, but immaterial, spiritual and non-corporeal.
This essential, spiritual self is attached to a body, and operates in one (and will again after death in a NEW body), just as information is attached to ink and paper or to tiny lights on an LED screen. But the screen or the paper is not what is primary. They are secondary. The INFORMATION is primary. However, the information always requires a vehicle of transmission – and just like that, Jesus taught that God’s design is that the human soul be permanently carried in a body.
To the extent that the modified quote gets us to see that our essential self transcends our biology, and the atoms and chemicals that make up our body, it is a helpful corrective to the pull of naturalistic philosophy. When you add the word “temporarily” however, the quote slides a bit into Greek dualism, denies the essential goodness of the created physical world and sees the ideal future as a place where the earth (and bodies) are destroyed – whereas Christian orthodoxy sees the ideal future as a place where the earth and bodies are restored.