Friday, February 10, 2012

Are souls gendered?

This is a question that a commenter over at Randal Rauser’s blog asked. (“Does Christian theology hold that the soul has gender?”). Of course, the answer is somewhat speculative.

i) Some folks might think the question is inherently nonsensical. Surely gender is a property of embodied agents. Only bodies can have primary and secondary sexual characteristics.

But we need to distinguish between gender as an abstract property and its concrete exemplifications. For instance, every man is male, but every male isn’t a man. Maleness is more general than manhood, while masculinity is more general than maleness. Same thing with femininity.

ii) There are different ways to model the mind/body problem. Different versions of monism and dualism. For discussion purposes, I’ll take interactionist dualism as my operating model.

iii) The question of whether souls have gender raises the nature/nurture debate. It’s really two questions with two possible answers:

a) Does the soul have innate gender?

b) Does the soul have acquired gender?

Apropos (a), I don’t know that we’re in a position to tell one way or the other.

Assuming that (a) is true, there’s not much more to be said. But if (b) is true, then that generates other permutations:

iv) Take a comparison. I’m psychologically American. That’s acquired rather than innate. I could have been born to the same parents, but in a different country (if they were living abroad).

I’m psychologically American because I was raised by American parents, and I grew up in America, around American relatives, neighbors, and classmates. Because I’ve been immersed in American culture (both media and society) from as early as I can remember. So I’ve been conditioned to be psychologically American.

Moreover, that conditioning is irreversible at this stage. It’s part of my formative years. To a great extent, personal identity is bound up with memory. Remembered experience.

v) In principle, gender could be conditioned by physical experience. Say a soul is united to the body of a human male from conception to death from old age.  His experience of the world is filtered through a physical medium. Specifically, male embodiment. That’s how he perceives the world, interacts with the world, remembers the world. That informs and thereby forms his psychological makeup to some degree.

vi) When he dies, he leaves his body behind, but not the lasting effect of his physical conditioning.

vii) But suppose he dies in the womb and goes straight to heaven? Then what? There are two possibilities:

viii) The soul of the baby remains in a state of psychological stasis until the resurrection of the just, at which time it’s united with the body of a baby, and naturally matures. Perhaps the discarnate baby has little sense of time’s passage during the intermediate state. It’s happy, but there’s no character development. No acquisition of knowledge.

ix) That’s one possibility. Here’s another: the discarnate baby enjoys a simulated physical existence. Like dreams or virtual reality. The discarnate baby undergoes a simulated lifecycle–infancy, boyhood (or girlhood), adolescence, adulthood (manhood or womanhood, as the case may be).


  1. Genesis 1:27 comes to mind here.

    So God created man in his own image,

    in the image of God he created him;

    male and female he created them.

    What does this verse describe?

    How about Genesis 2? Is that description of material only?

    I'm curious about your thoughts here.

  2. So is it sinful for people like Chastity Bono or Warren Beatty's daughter to reject their physical, genetic characteristics and assert that they actually are of the other gender?

  3. I'm avoiding the corner case of people with dubious genetics or intersexed physical characteristics. What are you saying about the sinfulness in the case in which the person is physically/genetically gender A but claims to have a "soul" that is gender B?

  4. I think that's a case of social malformation (abnormal developmental psychology). A Christian psychiatrist might have some good pointers.

  5. BTW, I believe Gaius Davies is a pretty good Christian psychiatrist.