If you study religious history, even a little, you discover that virtually every religion, in almost every era, and almost every corner of the world asks a variant of that same question.
There have been serious theological treatises on whether women, slaves, ideological or political adversaries have souls.
The debate over when, or if, children have souls has gone on for centuries: At age 13? Birth? Conception?
Some wonder if animals, even fish, have souls.
The question is usually asked from a safe and lofty, assured if not assumed, confidence in one’s own possession of a soul — if not certain “salvation.”
When the question is raised, it is almost always in the context of a pressing, if not urgent decision; usually on the precipice of a major act of betrayal, invasion, enslavement or violation where the alleged absence of a soul of the intended victims somehow alleviates any action of conscience.
Any atrocity or exploitation, it seems, is allowable, if the objects are without souls.
This line of thought was inspired by a recent case of a juror who, after “studying his Bible” was convinced that Black people do not have souls.
The perceived lack of a soul allowed, if not required, this juror to press for the death penalty with a clear conscience.
Putting aside the blatant racism, terrible theology, and inherent self-righteousness of the juror’s logic, one has to admit, that in a salvation/damnation model of religion, a high level of heartlessness, if not soullessness, is often required to “uphold” one’s “religious values.”
If a certain race, population, even gender is seen as lost, why would it matter if we exploited, stole from, or violated them?
In fact, as that “theology” has developed and been applied over the centuries, the assumption has emerged several times that these “soulless” races, cultures, and adherents of other religions have been put in front of us to convert or exploit specifically for our own uses, with no inherent value or autonomy of their own.
It is a most convenient theology.
Any violent or rapacious act is justified — if not demanded — by “our God” and our interpretation of “our” scriptures.
And, of course it is true. At least if your “God” is a God of violence, exploitation, oppression, enslavement, literal dehumanization, and destruction at every level.
But for a God of creation, renewal, restoration and durable, inspired, practical hope, nothing could be further from “good news.”
In a true faith, the “lost” are to be sought after and restored, not harassed and abused. The “broken” are to be healed, and the cast down are to be lifted up.
And the one who diminishes or violates or seeks to deny or negate the souls of others is, in fact, the one who proves that they are the ones with no soul.