5. There is another doctrine that repudiates the qualification of “Materialist,” because it admits the existence of a principle distinct from matter; we allude to that which asserts that each individual soul is to be absorbed in the Universal Whole. According to this doctrine, each human being assimilates, at birth, a particle of
this principle, which constitutes his soul and gives him life, intelligence and sentiment. At death, this soul returns to the common source, and is merged in infinity as a drop of water is merged in the ocean.
This doctrine is, undoubtedly, an advance upon that of pure and simple Materialism, inasmuch as it admits something more than matter; but its consequences are precisely the same. Whether a man, after death, is dissolved into nothingness, or plunged into a general reservoir, is all one, as far as he himself is concerned; for
if, in the one case, he is annihilated, in the other, he loses his individuality, which is, for him, exactly the same thing as though he ceased to exist: in either case, all social relations are destroyed forever. What is essential for each human being is the preservation of his me; without that, what does it matter to him whether he exists, or does not exist? In either case, for him, the future is nil, and his present life is the only thing of any importance to him. As regards its moral consequences, this doctrine is, therefore, just as pernicious, just as devoid of hope, just as powerful a stimulus to selfishness, as materialism properly so called.
6. The doctrine we have been considering is open, moreover, to the following objection. All the drops of water contained in the ocean resemble one another exactly and possess identically the same properties, as must necessarily be the case with the several parts of any homogeneous Whole; how is it, then, that the souls of the human race, if they are only so many drops taken out of a great ocean of intelligence, are so unlike one another? Why do we find genius side by side with stupidity? The sublimest virtues, side by side with the most ignoble vices? Kindness, gentleness, forbearance, side by side with cruelty, violence, and barbarity? How can the parts
of a homogenous Whole be so different from one another? Will it be said that they are modified by education? But, if so, whence come the various qualities which they bring with them at birth, the precocious intelligence of some, the good or bad instinct of others, that are not only independent of education, but often altogether out of harmony with the surrounding amidst which they are found?
Education, most undoubtedly, does modify the intellectual and moral qualities of the soul; but here another difficulty presents itself. Who is it that gives, to each soul, the education that causes it to progress? Other souls, who—according to the doctrine that makes them out to be drops of a homogenous ocean of soul— could be no more advanced than themselves! On the other hand, if the soul, after having thus progressed during the life, returns to the Universal Whole from which it came, it gives back an improved element to that Whole; and it would therefore follow that the general Whole will be, in course of time, profoundly modified, and improved, by this educational modification of its parts. How is it, in that case, that ignorant and perverse souls are constantly being produced from it?
7. According to this doctrine, the universal source of intelligence, from which souls are produced, is distinct from the Divinity; it is, therefore, not quite the same as Pantheism. Pantheism, properly so called, differs from this doctrine inasmuch as it considers the universal principle of life and intelligence as constituting the Divinity. God, according to Pantheism, is both spirit and matter; all the beings, all the bodies, of nature, compose the Divinity, of which they are molecules, the constituent elements. God is the total of all that is; each individual, being a part of this total, is himself God; the total is not ruled over by any commanding and superior being; the universe is an immense republic without a chief, or, rather, in which each of its members is a chief, endowed with absolute power.
(Book: Heaven and hell – Allan Kardec).