This is something I really want to discuss, but my review of “Angel” was getting too long and honestly I think it’s important enough to warrant its own post. AND THIS IS 50% MY CALL, FOLKS. So there.
There are lots of events, ideas, characters, etc presented throughout this series that force me to suspend my own beliefs. Of course there are–it’s a TV show dealing with vampires and monsters and Hellmouths. As an atheist, though, there are certain aspects of the show that I personally don’t believe in, and the nature of “souls” is one of them. I don’t believe in souls. When I watch or discuss Buffy, though, well. They’re real in this universe and so I will discuss them as such.
I think Joss Whedon deliberately leaves some questions unanswered. The existence of God, for one thing. Although God is mentioned a few times, and although this a show that deals with hell dimensions and demons and souls, religion is never directly addressed. The times that God is mentioned are times that the characters are basically saying, “Yeah, we don’t know about that.” I’m glad he chose to handle it this way, for the record. But it leaves the very notion of “souls” in this universe a murky one. We see demons that behave humanely, with humor and compassion (Clem). We see humans that do despicable, unforgivable things with no remorse (Warren). We see demons get souls (Spike), lose their souls (Angel), become demons (Anya), become humans (Anya), and well…it’s complicated. I really do think each demon has to be looked at separately, which is why I’m talking specifically about Angel’s soul here. For Angel, a soul seems to be a fairly simple concept: Remorse. Conscience. Guilt. “Angel” is the first place he explains what happened to him. As a punishment for killing a beloved woman of a Romani clan, the elders of said clan conjured him up a soul so he could feel remorse for everything he’d done.
When you become a vampire, the demon takes your body but it doesn’t get your soul. That’s gone. No conscience, no remorse. It’s an easy way to live. You have no idea what it’s like to have done the things I’ve done…and to care.
As of this point in the show, we don’t know much more than that. A soul = the ability to feel remorse. Other emotions (to love, to empathize, etc) aren’t really mentioned yet.
It’s interesting that Angel describes being a demon as an easy way to live. Having a soul, caring, is what makes life difficult.
Unfortunately, the definition of “soul” doesn’t nearly stay this simple.