Zelophehad’s Daughters

Stuffed Animals and the Transmigration of Souls

Posted by Lynnette

I have a small stuffed bear by the name of Juliana (named after the dashing Dr. Julian Bashir of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). I got her as a birthday present about ten years ago, and she quickly developed a unique personality. She has a somewhat sad look to her, which has led to much speculation in my family about her possible involvement in a life of crime. It’s a well-known fact among my siblings that Juliana is very interested in money. But does she belong behind bars? When I was studying at a Catholic university a couple of years ago, I maintained that whatever her previous history might have involved, Juliana had now reformed and was planning to become a nun. But this assertion was met with serious skepticism by certain of my sisters. Juliana’s true character remains a source of much dispute.

My sister Kiskilili was kind enough to put a present for Juliana in my stocking this past Christmas, a pink sweater that says “Angel.” The year before, however, my sister Melyngoch literally framed her, putting her inside a frame with a stack of money. Juliana has been involved in many family activities, and the stories about her are numerous. For a stuffed bear who’s never uttered a word, she has a striking amount of personality.

Juliana gets “framed”

Juliana models her Angel sweater while studying her scriptures

Juliana has gotten somewhat more ragged as the years have gone by. Several years ago, I pondered the theological question of whether it would be possible to perform a sort of transmigration of her soul, to purchase a new and similar-looking body and move her personality over to it. (Incidentally, this was not the first time I’d had such an idea; I used to tease my youngest sister by telling her that a stuffed monkey of mine which she loved was going to turn into a camel after his first birthday.)

In the end, however, I couldn’t do it. A new bear just wouldn’t be Juliana. Which leads me, yet again, to wonder about the question of what happens in the Resurrection, when my own soul gets transferred into a new body. In what sense will that still be “me”?

14 Responses to “Stuffed Animals and the Transmigration of Souls”

  1. 1.

    Somebody should write a dissertation on this…

    For many early Christians, “you” were not your soul at all, but the specific elements of your body. They insisted on a strong, literal continuity between the specific bits of your mortal body and the resurrected body. Others argued for a more fluid view of the self. The self was not specific bits, but was an organic, constantly changing thing. The resurrection was to the human body as a tree is to an acorn.

  2. 2.

    That Melyngoch is so devious…

  3. 3.

    My favorite resurrection analogy is of the caterpillar / butterfly.

  4. 4.

    I think I’ll be almost identical to myself right now, but not tired all the time.

  5. 5.

    oh wow… I heart juliana!

  6. 6.

    TT, I second the call for a dissertation! This is a fascinating question. Elements of both views regarding the body seem to be with Mormons up to the present. In particular, regarding the “specific bits of matter” view, the church continues to counsel against cremation. Over against that perspective, a scientist might point out that pretty much all of our material bits have belonged to lots of other creatures over time — making resurrection potentially into a gory version of what happens when a wealthy relative dies without a will.

  7. 7.

    Lynnette,

    The picture of “Juliana models her Angel sweater while studying her scriptures” is priceless.

    As to the topic of bodies and identity, it seems that you may be exacerbating the problem by considering it in the context of a stuffed animal, where the only thing it has to define itself is its appearance. Consider, for a counter example, whether you would be able to “transmigrate” the soul of your family member from their current body to one that is disfigured by accident or fire. I think you’ll have a much easier time with that than with your stuffed animal because a person’s identity is so much deeper than their skin.

  8. 8.

    G, you’ve deeply endeared yourself to me with that comment. Alas, not everyone appreciates Juliana’s many virtues. :)

    Angie, that doesn’t sound bad! I do like the idea of a resurrected body free from the many physical ailments that plague us in this life. It would also be cool if, like in Defending Your Life (I think), you could eat unlimited chocolate and so forth without gaining weight.

    Zillah, I have to agree with you about Melyngoch. Fortunately, Juliana is safe from her for the time being, while she’s off inflicting her devious ways on the poor souls in Sweden.

  9. 9.

    TT, Ray, Roasted Tomatoes, and Jacob J, thanks for your thoughts. I’m really interested in that question of the self, and what gives it continuity over time. In what sense am I the “same” person I was when I was six years old, or six months old, given the stark differences between who I am now–physically, mentally, socially–and those earlier versions of me? Why might I consider myself accountable for actions done by an earlier version of myself? And the questions get even trickier once we’re talking about premortal and postmortal existence. What is the “me” that remains constant through all those spheres? I don’t like substance dualism that posits a spirit/mind which is fundamentally different from and separate from the body, but I find it difficult to talk about Mormon conceptions of eternal identity without falling into dualistic language. I don’t really have anything original to say about the problem, but it’s one I find fascinating.

    Jacob J, that’s a good point about the difference between a person and an inanimate object–I’m thinking that the latter can be reduced to its physicality in a way that a person probably can’t. I’m trying to think this out, because I agree with you that it’s not hard to imagine a person’s identity remaining constant even in the face of serious changes to their body. At the same time, I think there’s something flawed in the kind of premise you see on Star Trek, in which someone’s consciousness can get transferred into someone else’s body and yet remain “them”. Maybe the former seems more plausible to me because there’s still some kind of physical continuity, and because it doesn’t raise the problems of dualism.

    So perhaps the question I’m getting at here is–does the Resurrection give me a body which has some connection to the one I have now–perhaps along the lines of the acorn/tree or caterpillar/butterfly analogies–or does it put my consciousness into something entirely new, more along the lines of Star Trek? And I suppose a related problem is that of what continuity exists between who I am now and my disembodied spirit self said to exist in the next life before the Resurrection.

    And RT, that’s quite the image of the Resurrection and its use of recycled material–I may never think of it the same way again!

  10. 10.

    Lynnette,

    Why might I consider myself accountable for actions done by an earlier version of myself?

    Yes, this question is one that has interested me for the longest time. I have come to the conclusion that we are only accountable for our current selves and that the talk of being accountable for our past selves is only true in the sense that our past actions have made us who we are today. I’ve argued this point at various times in the past, but this comment was the only one I could dig up.

    And the questions get even trickier once we’re talking about premortal and postmortal existence. What is the “me” that remains constant through all those spheres?

    This one is quite a doozy. I wonder about that too.

  11. 11.

    “What is the “me” that remains constant through all those spheres?”

    If you include the concept of intelligences, I have no idea.

  12. 12.

    My mother once tried transmigration on my ninny bear, it was horrendously unsuccessful. Ninny and I still giggle about it sometimes.

  13. 13.

    I can add one more antecdote about Juliana. While I was Lynnette’s roommate, Lynnette’s sisters sent mail addressed to Juliana. The mail sorters were quite worried; they wondered if a third person had moved into the apartment, which was against the rules.

    This incident perhaps leads to a another question about self. How much of “self” is purely presentation driven by a need to conform to social expectations for different situations? Is it possible to see ourselves and others beyond the social roles that we play or masks that we wear?

  14. 14.

    Thanks for the link, Jacob. I agree with you, I think, about judgment dealing with who we are, as opposed to being an accounting of every single thing we’ve done.

    Ray, yeah, I’m quite murky about this notion of intelligences” and exactly what they consist of.

    fMhLisa, that’s great! I’m quite amused to hear that I’m not the only one to have considered a stuffed animal transmigration–though I’m not surprised it was unsuccessful.

    Fideline, ha! I’d forgotten about that. (I suppose it’s good they didn’t try to charge Juliana rent!) And I’m also interested in that relationship between the self and social roles. Are we ever not playing a role, I wonder? What would it mean to talk about a self that’s distinct from its roles?

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