When I first started to look for discussion groups and message boards for people with an interest in Buffy the Vampire Slayer a year and a half ago (already? blimey!), this was the first discussion I became embroiled in. And it looks as if I now may have to dive into it again, as my name has been put forward for participation in a panel that addresses that particular question at MR in June.
Problem is, I'm like a vampire: I like to talk big -- or maybe it's just that I like to talk. I don't feel particularly qualified to make any pronouncements on the subject, but that's hardly enough to stop me from trying to formulate an opinion. So, I've more or less agreed to do it.
Which means that yesterday, going home on the train, I was suddenly inspired to jot down a few thoughts on the question of souls, morality and how the notion of Theory of Mind might tie in with it. Haven't thought much about redemption yet, haven't even defined what it means (is it simply to be rescued from sin and its penalties, or is it something much more exalted?), but if I had to decide if Spike was being redeemed without his soul right now, my answer would be a resounding yes!yes!yes! If I was looking for an argument to support that theory, I would say that in 'Hellbound', it was clearly stated that the soul on its own wasn't enough, because if it had been, Spike would never have been seen fading in and out of the Underworld. Same with Angel: he's still had to spend his time eating rats for 90-odd years and 'helping the helpless' for at least 5 since acquiring his soul -- and IMO, his redemption is still a long way off. Actually, I would think Spike had a headstart on him there, because he gave his all to regain his soul, and seems to have adjusted so much better than Angel has in a 100-plus years of enforced soulfulness. Of course, I fully expect the writers to change that point of view around at the end of the show, because it is after all, Angel's show -- and I'll have to deal with it when it comes.
But now that I'm pondering the question of soul and redemption, a related one (in my mind) pops up as well: what is evil, what does it mean in the Jossverse? We've seen the First Evil to be a big, ineffectual wuss, and we've seen all kinds of characters, ensouled or not, running amok...
If I'm going with the definition of 'evil' as 'morally bad', then I've seen plenty of examples where ensouled creatures meet the criterium with ease, e.g. the stupid frat boys who in their quest for power and riches feel no compunction about offering their dates up for sacrifice to a snake demon. Unless they had sold their souls to the demon before they started feeding him girls?
Because if I go with the definition of 'evil' as 'morally bad', and of the soul as the divine spark that connects us to God/ultimate good, then severing that connection by selling or losing the soul would result in a disconnection from a sense of what's morally right. And by that reasoning, a vampire having lost his soul, would be evil. And then in that strict sense, it would follow that Spike is evil while he goes around soulless.
But in the eyes of the beholder (this beholder?), his actions during at least part of that time seem to belie that theory, so there must be more to the notion or perception of a creature being evil than it simply being cut off from or having trouble with the concept of morality.
When the Scoobies discuss Angel going evil, they mention his past penchant for nailing puppies to doors -- so that would imply that their notion of evil is not just morally bad, but morally bad with cruelty mixed in. His evil nature comes to the fore not only in the killing of innocent little puppies as well as men, women and children; but perhaps even more so in the apparent pleasure he takes in what he calls his 'art', of torturing his prey/victims.
Some people argue that vampires are like animals, predators, without a sense of right and wrong, only the sense of an empty stomach. For which reason they attack other animals, kill and eat them. Yet we don't think of predatory animals as inherently evil. We excuse them on the grounds of them not possessing Theory of Mind: they know not what they do, i.e. have no sense of the pain and anguish they're putting their victim through because they have no sense of self and cannot empathise.
That seems to be the case as well for most of the Sunnydale vamps, esp. the fledglings that we see. All they seem to think about, if they can be said to think at all, is their stomach. As a result, they're far too stupid and careless to pose much of a threat to the Slayer. But of course, these vamps were once human, and humans -and quite possibly certain species of apes- do possess Theory of Mind; is this ability then erased in the process of becoming a vampire?
But both Angel and Spike, pre-soul, seem to have retained it; and Holden Webster, even if he was newly risen, seemed to have all his intact as well. So once again, if I take evil to mean 'morally bad and cruel', then I can only conclude that Joss is right and Spike is evil. But maybe I can qualify that by adding: 'only for as long as he has no need to question his purpose and place in the food chain.' Because I do believe that he shows signs of improvement way before the soul was added to the mix.
I'm going round in circles and I can't make head or tail of it...but it's almost 5 o'clock now and my yoga class awaits, so for today at least, I'll think no more. But I can see that I'm a long way from cobbling together a bloody brilliant hypothesis to support the idea that Spike could have been redeemed without his soul, if I'm going to take part in this debate!