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What we’re reading: “The Soul’s Upward Yearning: Clues to Our Transcendent Nature from Experience and Reason”

Mark Legg is a staff writer for Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a degree in philosophy and biblical studies. He eventually wants to pursue his PhD and become a professor in philosophy.

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“What we’re reading” is a new series from Denison Forum focusing on one of the many books in Dr. Denison’s expansive library that he or a member of the Denison Forum team has recently read.

These brief reviews are intended to give you quick context, a reason to read the book, what you can expect to take away from having read the book, a few choice quotes, and a preview of the first chapter (when available).

We hope you find this series helpful in curating your to-read shelf.


About The Soul’s Upward Yearning

In 2015, a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that nonreligious affiliation leads to marked increases in “family tension, drug use, and a sense of meaninglessness and despondency.”

Our culture’s rejection of the spiritual seems to show a loss of connection with reality beyond ourselves (the “transcendent” reality). 

In The Soul’s Upward Yearning, Dr. Robert Spitzer writes, “[We settle] for entertainment rather than enlightenment, for ‘good times’ instead of contribution, for being admired instead of loving and being loved, and for image instead of reality.”

Humans experience a yearning, a drawing to the spiritual. We can either explain this through “reductionist” or “materialist” explanations (i.e., it’s an illusion) or something beyond us truly does exist. 

Spitzer gives arguments based on experience and reason that point to the spiritual actually existing. And, indeed, the Christian God fits that mold, that which our soul yearns for. He draws from a plethora of thinkers from a wide range of viewpoints, such as Immanuel Kant, Stephen Hawking, Carl Jung, J. R. R. Tolkien, John Henry Newman, and Plato. 

Spitzer examines the “numinous” (spiritual) yearning of our inner being, our religious intuition of the sacred, the rightness of myth, the intelligibility of our reality, and he even discusses verified studies that show people having near-death experiences can experience the world without their body. Perhaps most interestingly, he discusses a very theoretical argument that shows how quantum physics might allow for a bridge between the immaterial soul and the material body.

Why Christians should read The Soul’s Upward Yearning

As may be apparent, this book requires a higher reading level. But don’t let that scare you. This work will help anyone interested in philosophy and religion find a new way to reflect on religious experience. 

Additionally, if you have relatives or friends who reject God and spirituality at face value because they believe science makes God outdated, this book will help you respond to them. Spitzer lays out rigorous arguments and solid evidence that points to the reality of something else besides the mere existence of atoms in our universe. 

The big takeaway

We can be thankful that humans are not merely sacks of meat. We are not our brains or the molecules that make us up. We are not a determined cog in the materialistic machine of the universe. 

As C. S. Lewis famously notes, “If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” 

We live for something greater, something transcendent and beautiful. God created us to live and be with him; he draws us to him with our soul’s upward yearning. 

Three quotes from The Soul’s Upward Yearning

  1. “It seems that rejection of the transcendent leads to alienation from reality, others, and especially ourselves.” 
  2. “Though faith is ultimately grounded in the heart — in our affinity and need for God — we must also believe that the reality of God is not only credible , but worthy of certainty and conviction.”
  3. “Conscience implies a relation between the soul and something exterior, and moreover, superior to itself; a relation to an excellence which it does not possess, and to a tribunal over which it has no power. And since the more closely this inward monitor is respected and followed, the clearer, the more exalted, and the more varied its dictates become, and the standard of excellence is ever outstripping, while it guides, our obedience. A moral conviction is thus at length obtained of the unapproachable nature as well as the supreme authority of that, whatever it is, which is the object of the mind’s contemplation.”

Read the first chapter of The Soul’s Upward Yearning