During the past few years, a trio of American authors, James Hillman, Michael Meade, and Thomas Moore, have given us a number of books which are as brilliant as they are provocative. The books have different titles – The Soul’s Code, Soulmates, Care of the Soul, Men and the Water of Life, and so on – but they have a common theme. They suggest that when we are born into the world our souls are not blank pieces of paper, infinitely malleable, to be shaped simply by the experiences that life hands us. Rather the soul has its own internal code and this accounts for many of those fierce pressures (often irrational), which so frequently obsess us and so desperately complicate our lives. Our souls, as Hillman puts it, contain all kinds of daimons, angels and demons that haunt us, which generate most of our real energy, and keep us perpetually restlessness with their incessant demands.
It is because of these things that our souls often try to lead us in ways that leave our bodies, heads, moral instincts, families, spouses, friends, and churches wondering what exactly is going on. The heart has its reasons, Pascal once commented. The soul has it code, Hillman would echo.
Few persons dispute the brilliance of these books. What leaves some persons uncomfortable however, is their seeming amorality. A superficial reading of these authors can give the impression that there is no moral order, only certain non-negotiable needs within the soul. Right and wrong are simply a question of being true to one’s soul, irrespective of the consequences. What’s right is what the soul wants, pure and simple. If an affair widens your personality, have one. If your soul feels suffocated in this or that particular commitment, leave the commitment. The soul’s code alone, it would seem, dictates what makes for happiness, meaning, and truthful living.
But that is not exactly what these men are saying. They are not denying the moral code, neither its existence nor its legitimacy. They are only saying that the soul’s code is not the moral code and that we will all be much wiser and more in tune with the actual complexity of our own lives when we realize that.
Our lives, these men rightly assure us, are not simple. And they are right. We are born into the world with a tortured complexity because we have been wired for more than just one kind of electricity. As Hillman, Meade, and Moore point out, the soul has its own secret design for our lives. It makes its demands accordingly and sometimes these demands are not the same ones that the Gospels ask of us. But these men do not deny that we have within us too other codes, which are also very powerful.
Thus, we have within us a genetic code, a powerful set of blind biological instincts that pressure us mercilessly, every second of our lives, to ensure that we go on living, that we protect ourselves, survive, and propagate. This code, in a manner of speaking, demands that we be selfish and that we immortalize ourselves by getting ourselves into the gene pool.
Then too there is within us a rational code, intellectual instincts. These give us that incurable itch to know, to understand everything, including ourselves, and to put a rational face on everything. Because of it, there is in all of us a constant need for clarity, for order , for numbers, for names.
Beyond this we all have within us an aesthetic code, a feel for beauty. Something inside of every healthy human being wants to be shaped by beauty, wants to admire the beautiful, and wants to be admired as somehow beautiful. This code too makes constant demands, openly and surreptitiously.
Finally, within us all there is too a moral code, a sense of the goodness things, the relativity of the self in relation that, and the need to respect the proper order of reality even if the cost of that is self-sacrifice and the loss of one’s own comfort and even one’s life. Inside of all of us there is a voice, which can never be silenced that tells us that there are more important things than even our own lives.
But these various codes are rarely friends with each other. Each is imperialistic and wants the final say. It can be helpful to understand this and thus to know that it is not a simple task to be a human being and that each of us has enough complexity within to write a couple of books on abnormal psychology. That is where these new perspectives on the soul, as spelled out by Hillman, Moore, and Meade, are of value. They are brilliant insights, albeit (they will be the first to admit this) one-sided, into some of the things that make us tick, make us whole, and help give us character, dignity, and happiness.