Atheism, Religion, Spotlight

Why Did You Give Up the Soul?

One July afternoon I stopped believing in the soul.

Why? That’s a question I’ve been dodging.

But not anymore. State of Formation, a project of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, just published my first guest essay, Giving Up the Soul. If it goes well, I may become one of their contributing scholars.

Why did I wait so long to explain myself? I wanted to do it right. This is a big change in my beliefs, and I wanted to make sure I could explain it. I feel that this essay, at that website, is the right place.

So what made up my mind? Find out for yourself and share your thoughts.

(Hint: it was not my grandmother’s death—that came four days later)

I’d like your ideas. Is my reasoning solid? Am I overlooking something? And what does religion-without-souls look like? Please leave a comment—preferably at State of Formation, if you want to make me look good to my new editor—and tell me what you think.


James Altucher on Age and Death

So this soul thing. I used to believe in a soul, I no longer do. This causes some ruckus (why? why can’t we just believe what we want?) and people want to know my reasoning.

Here are some thoughts on aging and death from James Altucher.


[A reader asks:] James, how do you deal with the stress of getting older and the feeling that the years are flying by?


Aging, decay, death, is a horrible part of life. And it happens to every atom, cell, molecule, animal, human. But it’s horrible. Eventually, about 15 trillion years from now, all of the light will be extinguished from the universe, everything left will just be a lifeless husk. It’s sad that such beauty was created and there is no other course for it other than eventual imploding despair and nothingness. I can relate that you are afraid of the decay that will happen. And it’s not just the decay, it’s the uncertainty of which things will break first, which memories will be forgotten, which bones will be the next to break, and finally, the ultimate question of what happens next. Knowing that we will never know until it’s too late.

But I hate to tell you, I love getting older. Because the years that preceded my current advanced age of 44 were really not that great for me either. Or for  many people.

0-5 years old: you shit in your pants and you are dependent on other people 100% of the time to move, to eat, to bathe, to sleep, to wake up, to communicate. It’s awful. Those were probably the worst years of my life. Particularly the shitting in my pants part because sometimes it happened in front of my friends. Or on top of them. I still remember that. My mother comforting me when all the other kids on the block were laughing at me.

5-13 years old. What a nightmare. The fear of first grade. Of school. Of my father telling me: first there’s school until 18. Then college until 22. Then graduate school until 26. Then work until 65. Then you die. What the hell! And then, at age 13, junior high school! That was like a prison. I was getting acne, braces, glasses, and random kids that had beards at the age of 13 were fighting each other in the hallways until there was blood. And girls started getting pregnant. And now I have a 13 year old! This is horrible!

13-18. Disaster! High school. Teenage years. Constantly lusting after every girl. If you’re not a guy you might not even be able to imagine. All I could think about was girls. It doesn’t matter what the teacher was saying, I was pressing up against my desk to get constantly excited. And then I would eye every girl in the hallway with the implicit question: “will you have sex with me”. From 13 to 18. And do you know how many girls eyes back with a “yes”? ZERO. What a nightmare.

18-25. College, then graduate school. Horrible. And the sex, while plentiful, is not even that great either. Nobody knows what they were doing and I knew even less. And then when you start to get a job and you have to pretend like you know what you are doing but you know nothing and all you want to do is cut every corner and quickly retire. At least, for me.

25-44. Career. Family. Debt. Responsibilities. Fears. The first time I ever thought of suicide. Squashed dreams. Failures. What are so great about these years? I mean, I’m glad I have two kids now. Did I want them? No. But now I’m glad they are alive so they can torment me for a few more years.

I’m 44 now. I think maybe I enjoyed 5% of the years that came before this year.

What do I have to look forward to now?

Ahh, bliss. I have Claudia so I hope the next 40 years are good in that department. My kids are older and soon they will be adults so finally I can be their friend instead of just their dad. I legitimately like them so I think that will be fun. I’m wiser do I don’t make the non-stop stupid mistakes I made from 25-44. Persistence is not about sticking with something, its about making mistake after mistake after mistake until stop making them anymore. Hopefully I’m at that point.

Health after 44. Several good things. I am much more aware of my digestion now than when I was 21 so it means I eat better. I also sleep better because I realized that drinking was one of the stupid mistakes from 25-44. I also have now accumulated enough positive people in my life (after 44 years) that I don’t have to hunt for too many more in order to enjoy my friendships. The good thing about maintaining health is that every year I probably move up in ranking in the looks category among people my age. When I was 21 I was probably in the bottom 10%. Now maybe I’m hopefully at the 50th percentile. That’s a big improvement!

So I figure this is good for the next 20 years and then maybe other health issues start to happen. Like cancer or something. Bring it on, bitches! No chemo for me. Chemotherapy rarely works and just makes you more sick. I’m looking forward to morphine, hospice, saying goodbyes to people. Making jokes about it.

Maybe I’m looking at it too lightly. What does death mean? It means nothing. Literally nothing.  There’s a big ocean out there. My life is a single wave on that ocean. A wave that laps into the beach, disappears, and then gets drawn back into the infinite ocean, where all life began. I’m looking forward to the welcome home party.

So there you go. It means nothing. Enjoy the life you have. Learn to enjoy it even though you’re making mistake after mistake. Mistakes are the basic condition of learning.

Also, please check out the Altucher Confidential for answers to more reader questions and essays on the human spirit.


What do you do the morning you return from your grandmother’s funeral?

0700: Our car pulls into my parents’ driveway. Yes, I’m in a car and yes, I’m back in Wisconsin. The woman who gave birth to my dad stopped living and that seemed reason enough to pause the Adventure. Pausing an adventure—what a very American concept, I don’t bother to think as we pull onto the gravel. Instead I think: I don’t want to unload the car; I do want to sleep; I need to do work. We just drove 16 hours back from Pennsylvania where the funeral was.

My grandmother, Mary King Jacob, at her wedding in 1946.

0708: Breakfast of chocolate-covered graham cracker cookies and, if I remember correctly, nothing to drink, not even water and definitely not coffee.

0712: Set to work on my laptop in my parents’ den. “Work” in this case mostly means procrastinating by checking online games, email, new photos of old friends on Facebook: anything that does not involve writing about a basketball player’s DUI after my night of driving through thunderstorms. I complete my work incrementally and in fits.

0822: Submit articles and an invoice. Accept that, as I’d feared, my brain is now firing way too much to sleep. Have a great idea for an art project involving women’s faces as they masturbate. Try to search for women’s masturbation faces without getting only porn. Fail. Wonder if my art project can truly be liberating and empowering and low-key erotic or if it will just be smutty. Am too tired to trust my judgment.

0831: Agree to go with my mom to her haircut appointment later. Maybe there will be spring rolls at the neighboring Asian market.

0836: Discover that my mom also intends to combine weekly groceries, liquor store stop, gas station, and bakery run with the haircut trip. Begin to regret my decision to come. Consider cancelling. Decide spring rolls are worth any tariff. I commit to being ready to go at 9:30.

0910: Mom begins the first of several knocks on my door, certain that I will not be ready at 9:30. I go back to sleep.

0935: I am not ready, but explain to Mom that this is because I’m looking for a cord for the iPod I gave her which will let her use it in the car. She is about as excited as if I told her I can get accessories for an iguana terrarium.

0940–1332: Long pile of errands. The Asian market does not have spring rolls. I cringe and read a book.

1344–1406: Drink four bottles of beer while eating as many slices of pizza. This is an alarming beer:za ratio but ends with a pleasant mild buzz. I eat cookies both before and after the pizza/booze orgy.

1432: Excitedly send off an email making Friday plans that involve pizza, beer and cookies because the hit machine will never stop, right.

1435: It’s somehow still cloudy and cool outside and I want to go for a walk, but it’s Thursday and I need to create a blog post because that’s my deal. Shit.

1439: Instead of creating something philosophic I hastily write a post using my dead grandma to prey on reader sympathies. She has been buried only 24 hours and this is already not the first time I’ve leveraged her death. I remind myself she (a) would understand and (b) is no longer around to understand or not. I focus my thoughts to exclude my recent swing of opinion toward believing there is no soul. That would make the meat of a real blog post, which this is not.

(But seriously, guys, there is no such thing as a soul and that makes the language of mourning over the past 48 hours ring absurdist and lip-bitingly innocent in my ears.)

Feel free to wax faithful or philosophic on your thoughts on the soul: I’m going for a walk (followed most likely by beer) and will be sure to respond in kind. But really, FYI there is no soul. The gods told me so.