What is the Human Being?
Different people view the human being in different ways. Are they only a body? Only a soul? Neither? Both? Is life just a matrix of fabricated existence created by robots and we are all coppertop batteries?
This comes down to belief, and is driven by a human being’s worldview.
The Story of the Rich Man and Laz’arus
Let’s first set a scene of a rich man and a poor man named Laz’arus. Much like today, there are gaps in material wealth between individuals, so there is an opportunity for the rich man to help. In the next section, we’ll consider how each religion might view the poor man.
“There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
Purple was an expensive color in that time, indicating royalty.
And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.
Abraham’s bosom here is referring to Abraham’s lap or simply his presence. Abraham and other righteous people who lived and died before Jesus’ death had to actually hang out in a kind of “waiting room” within hell before going to heaven. Jesus had to be the first one to blaze the trail to heaven.
The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom.
And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’
Even though Abraham and Laz’arus were technically in hell with the rich man, they weren’t suffering in their realm like the rich man was.
But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
And [the rich man] said, ‘Then I beg you, father [Abraham], to send him to my [earthly] father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’
And [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
[Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’ “—Luke 16:19-31, RSVCE
Let’s say you’re a wealthy person today living in the rich part of town, in a city near you. A modern day Laz’arus likes to sit on the steps of your luxury apartment building because he has no home and it gives him good shade from the midday sun. What do you think? What do you say? Do you do something?
The deeper question we might first ask ourselves is this: How do you view Laz’arus? What he is to you?
How Four Major Worldviews Define the Human Person
How would someone from another worldview look at Laz’arus? The answers below are based on a wonderful and entertaining talk given by Fr. Michael Schmitz on how four major worldviews/religions view the human being in drastically different ways.
Now, keep in mind that every religion has many different denominations or sections which may veer significantly away from the very religion they originated from.
How would a Hindu look at Laz’arus? A Hindu sees a human being as a soul with no body. He is one of the “untouchables.” He’s a soul trapped inside of a body. Laz’arus is not his body, he’s his soul. He must live out his karma and then in the next life Lazarus will be reincarnated as as a rich king or as a bird or a walrus; he will go either up or down in a karmic chain. Verdict: Don’t help Laz’arus. Leave it to karma. He needs to live out his karma and I can’t disrupt it.
How would a Buddhist see Laz’arus? A Buddhist sees a human being as neither soul nor body. Gautama Buddha was raised Hindu, but he was frustrated with the notion of the untouchable class. He felt compassion to help them somehow. As a Buddhist, we acknowledge that Laz’arus is suffering and it’s because he has a desire but no way to fulfill that desire. We then say that desire comes from within. To eliminate suffering, we must eliminate personal desire by realizing that we don’t actually exist. If we don’t exist, we can’t suffer. Verdict: As an “enlightened” follower of this neo-buddhist thought, help Laz’arus by “enlightening” him. Help him realize that he and this world are all an illusion.
How would an Athiest see Laz’arus? An Atheist sees a human being as a body with no soul. They don’t believe in a soul, so they think he’s simply a collection of cells. To paraphrase the way one of my college anatomy textbooks so frankly put it, we are a loosely coupled bag of tissue and water. Verdict: Put Laz’arus “out of his misery.” He’s just a body so if he agrees to be euthanized, he will die and no longer suffer.
How would a Christian see Laz’arus? A Christian sees a human being as both body and soul… as an enfleshed soul. Laz’arus, and all of us, were created in the likeness of God. We are all each other’s brothers and sisters. We won’t get turned into angels when we go to heaven. Laz’arus’ soul will instead be united with his body in heaven but he won’t be in pain and suffering. He is going through some real physical pain on earth right now though. Verdict: Help Laz’arus. Feed him to nourish his body and take him to be treated for his physical ailments. When he eventually passes away, hope he will be raised up in heaven for enduring his suffering and hope that we too will be raised up for helping him in his time of need.
So as a Christian, when I refer to you as a human being I’m talking about both your body and soul.
“This is the deep truth about Catholic Christianity is we actually believe that there is a woman’s body in heaven right now. Do you realize how revolutionary this is in the history of the world? Realize that other religions had gods and goddesses, but women were never considered equal until Christianity came on the scene. No other secular or religious institution in the entire world validates women like the Catholic Church.”—Fr. Michael Schimdt
How about Judaism & Islam?
While on this topic, I do want to briefly mention two other major religions here. Like Christianity, both Judaism and Islam believe in the human being as both a body and soul. After death, Judaism in general doesn’t have a clear consensus on what happens with the body and soul, while Islam—like Christianity—believes that both and soul are together in heaven.
There are no doubt many important differences between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam that are outside the scope of this post.
What Do You Believe?
Do you know which one of these four combinations of body and soul you believe? Do you know why you decided to believe that? Is it based purely on the way you were raised, or on those in your community?