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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Whence goeth the self?

So, I'm watching Oprah - uh, no comments/laughter/snickering/etc, please...It's a re-run, "Oprah's Bad Hair Day" (2005), and this lady is getting a makeover. I must confess, she looks fantastic after the makeover, and from the initial picture I truly did not see any possible hope.

What happened?

It seems that the makeover artist was able to tap into something authentic and genuine about the subject. It was more than simply a matter of now being "in style", rather, she was now more herself. Authenticity.

Interestingly enough she now has the opportunity to grow as an authentic person. Looking better and more genuine will affect the way people see and perceive her and interact with her. She can now develop, if she would so choose, into someone more real.

Is all of this psycho-babble? Have I been Oprahized?


What really fascinates me, however, is the issue of authenticity. I am also fascinated by how people can become more or less authentic over time. That something as superficial and trivial as how we look can affect our personal authenticity. Being authentic is not a one time deal. It is a process. It is connected with our experience of interaction with others and with ourselves through the moments of time. Time is a key element in this (crf. Heidegger). We must think in terms of process.

Augustine made an interesting connection between the self and God: You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

We could examine the above quotation ceaselessly for hours on end and still find ourselves thirsty for more, but I bring Augustine into Oprah's studio for sake of suggesting the simple logical connection between the self and God: If we were created for God then authenticity will only be achieved through the Encounter with the Theos.

I hestitate with the Augustine connection because in many ways it seems completely worthless. After all, this idea has been completely butchered by 20th century pop-evangelism. I think we need to wait another hundred years or so before serious discussion can begin - until the corroding, pseudo-Christian elements have been flushed from the culture.

Encounter and authenticity was cheapened. In short, the process of the self was removed from the equation and in its place was substituted a generic theology of "mankind." But Augustine realized this truth personally. In our haste to make converts we lost touch with the individual. We lost touch with the struggle and the angst that is so evident in Augustine's life - the process that made Augustine genuine. We decided that it was too much trouble to truly take care with the self, like the care of the artistic stylist from Oprah's studio who took the time to draw out the real person - that real person who had been allowed herself to develop a confused/cheapened/unauthentic external appearance that did not resonate with her true self.

I think we developed templates and we got sloppy. It became one-size-fits-all.

Did we gain the whole world and lose our souls, only to find out that in the end we also lost the world?


Melody said...

I like your Augustine quote...so much more elequent than the donut man ("Life without Jesus, is like a donut, like a donut, like a donut, there's a whole the in the middle of my heart" something like that).

Ok...obviously too little sleep this morning.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Indeed.....perhaps we need a little coffee with that donut....I know I sure do.

Melody said...

Mmm, yeah, I already had two starbucks double shots...

Jonathan Erdman said...

I think that in the Oprah photo shown above the count is closer to four or five Starbucks double shots.

Melody said...

Limit double shot intake...duly noted.

samlcarr said...

Jon, some important distinctions in this post. Most interesting!
Authenticity, is it just encounter, or does the response also matter?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I would say that response matters as well because an authentic life is a life-long process. As such it is both Encounter and response. You ask a good question because sometimes as Evangelicals we base our Christianity on a past Encounter that may have taken place 20+ years ago. We say we are Christians because of a faith commitment that took place in the past. There is a place for this, but I think the greater emphasis should be on whether I am open and being exposed to Christ in the present.