Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thoughts on the False Self and Original Sin

Beth, writing on Inscapes, posts from a Christian perspective about "finding oneself," the effort to figure out or discover who and what one really is so that one can live in accordance with that truest nature--surely the key to true happiness.

I've used the term "false self" for some time now, even mentioning it here on Quotidian Light. It isn't an official term I'd found anywhere, but a simply a term I use in my own mind to describe the internal turmoil and tussle with habits and faulty/damaging thinking that I know are sheer nonsense but that have their sharp little talons sunken deep into my life nonetheless. Growing up, I was taught that all human beings are inherently bad, evil, from birth, a concept my teachers called "original sin." I may offend or horrify my more Calvinistic friends by saying so, but I don't swallow it. I didn't when I was a child (although eventually I learned to quit arguing with my teachers, since it only seemed to upset them), and I don't now. Traditional definition of "original sin" or no, however, it's fairly self-evident that human beings aren't all sunshine and sweetness by a long shot, either. We're pretty messed up, I'll be the first to admit.

Last week I was reading Thomas Keating's Open Mind Open Heart, a book on centering prayer and the contemplative dimension of the gospel, and I had to restrain myself from leaping to my feet and running around the room singing, "Yes!Yes!Yes!Yes!Yes!" Here are some excerpts of what struck me so forcibly:

"The term 'original sin' is a way of describing the human condition, which is the universal experience of coming to full reflective self-consciousness without the certitude of personal union with God. ..

"Original sin is not the result of personal wrongdoing on our part. Still, it causes a pervasive feeling of alienation from God, from other people and from the true Self...The urgent need to escape from the profound insecurity of this situation gives rise, when unchecked, to insatiable desires for pleasure, possession, and power...

"The particular consequences of original sin include all the self-serving habits that have been woven into our personality from the time we were conceived; all the emotional damage that has come from our early environment and upbringing; all the harm that other people have done to us knowingly or unknowlingly at an age when we could not defend ourselves; and the methods we acquired--many of them now unconscious--to ward off the pain of unbearable situations.

"This constellation of prerational reactions is the foundation of the false self..."

This seems to me a very clear and compassionate explanation, an explanation that grew out of no little understanding of human nature. I find very little of that in the Church in this area, to be honest--compassion or understanding either one. Churches around here seem to me to be very concerned with conveying "Truth"--with a hammer, if need be. But compassion IS part of Truth. Truth is incomplete without it. Anyone with understanding (real discernment) knows that.

I need a break from attending church, to be honest. I have very little trouble seeing hurting people AS hurting people except when they're in positions of self-satisfied authority in the church. (And self-satisfaction is, in a big way, one of those human coping mechanisms mentioned above--no one gets to be exempt from deserving compassion.)

It is very hard to love everyone. It hurts, because the people you love are hurting other people you love. No wonder so few of us manage to live consistently from our True Selves.


alaiyo said...

I like this. Excellent food for thought; thanks, LuCindy.


Fieldfleur said...

Regarding your break from church, Cindy, I agree that it becomes quite tempting. Church often seems to be a depository for intolerant behavior (and why has 'tolerance' become a bad word for Christians? I've heard this preached against several times lately which I can't understand). Tolerance/compassion is a must for me too; if it's not there, it shows that the Spirit of God has been barred for some reason. It makes me sad.

Community, of some type, though, is supposedly a must in discipleship. I've read two books that's helped me somewhat. The first is called "Jaded: Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up on Church, but Not on God" by Angela Kiesling which is about other ways to do/forms of church when the ways you expect fail. The other is called "The Safest Place on Earth" by Larry Crabb. He more or less helps us accomodate (and still love) the Church in all her human messiness.
It's hard, isn't it?
Lots of prayers to you in holding on to the ideal of Love even in the midst of church (or a break from church). I'm glad you wrote about this.


beepbeepitsme said...

RE: original sin

Original Sin And God's Plan

Sarah said...

I enjoyed reading these ideas in my never-ending search for truth. I can honestly say that I recieve more spiritual benefit from fellowship with one friend or a small group of friends than I have ever recieved from any type of organized religion. I've become increasingly "intolerant" of the intolerance of the "church." I agree with fieldfleur, tolerance is considered a dirty word in the world of christianity. From my perspective, my tolerance is the outward portrayal of the neverending grace and forgiveness I have experienced from God personally.