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The idea that there was something inherently different about the essence of man has been around for centuries, and in our society can be traced back to Greek civilization. Humanists concurred that there was something about the nature of man that set him apart from the other animals that run over the Earth. That "something" is man's ability to reason, and man's soul.
Prior to the Humanistic movement, literature and art were dedicated to the realm of the Gods: the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Titan stories, the Mahabarata etc. were all pieces of literature which contained the Gods or beings which were part God, as the main and central theme. It was the idea of these earlier peoples that man was not a worthy topic for art or literature, for to dwell upon the nature of man was to worship man--to put him in a realm with everlasting specters which man simply could not compare to. It wasn't until later writers such as Sophocles, Euripides, Plato and Aristotle (more significantly Aristotle than Plato) that human nature began to be a suitable topic for aesthetic exploration. While we cannot be completely sure of the change in attitude of these peoples, we can probably attribute this change to the idea that man embodies a soul, and that soul is, in and of itself, Divine, making man an energetic and physiological manifestation of the sublime.
While the Greeks were not quick to say that man was God, this philosophical belief and understanding that man's soul set him apart is a crucial piece of information when we look at how our religion and our philosophy has progressed over time. animals do encompass energy in the sense that we believe in as Wiccans. Plants, humans and animals all have some kind of Divine energy that course through them, as the energy of the Gods is present in all living things. However, I do deny that there is nothing that separates man from animal. What I will call "soul" is not merely the energy that permeates and connects all living things, but that which gives humans the power to reason, the power to cast spells and the power to invoke the Deities--when I say "soul" without clarification, I mean the soul of man, not the soul of another animal. Therefore, in a larger sense, man is closer to the essence of God because of his ability to manipulate and guide that energy, while the simple animal cannot. (As far as we know)
However, along with having our soul comes an enormous responsibility. Because it is the soul, in part, that allows us to recognize a right and wrong, indeed to create right and a wrong, the soul allows us to rationalize, and to reason. This is, of course, allowing that the brain and the soul are somehow interconnected, but for the sake of argument I will have to argue that they are. The ability to identify right and wrong is not something that we are born with. Indeed, it is not an *a priori* knowledge that comes long with the territory, but rather it is something that we acquire through an assimilation into a larger society. In fact, the ideas of right and wrong are mere human inventions. If we look to the animal kingdom, we will not notice that they have strict moral code, or a legal system. The idea of right and wrong is part of the implication of the human condition--that is, it is a side effect from the presence of soul and rational thought. In recognizing these facts, we understand that to function as normal, healthy individuals in a society, we must constantly feed ourselves information. This is where the responsibility comes in. Society and its rules are always changing. One merely needs to juxtapose 1996 to 1956 to see what I mean. The rules, the norms, the attitudes are always in flux, but it is this change that gives human culture such interesting dynamics. The responsibility as a member of that society is to not completely break the conformity in society (for without general consensus there is chaos) but also to make sure that this society does not become corrupt and that it is not halted by staunch conservative traditionalists. A society must change if it is to survive. So must the human mind.
It is the collaborative efforts of the mind and soul that bring man close to God. Without the mind to reason with, the energy within us is useless, as it would be without guidance, without productivity. An idle soul is life wasted. On the other hand, a mind without soul would make us wild creatures, subject to the whims and forces of nature, without any hand in controlling such, and without any hopes of ever really coming to terms with it.
We may never really understand what the soul is, and we may never be able to come to grips with its complications, and why we of all creatures were chosen to have soul. However, understanding the responsibility and accepting the challenge of the human condition have brought us where we are today, and will help us to progress should we keep this in mind.