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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Idolatry of Identity

We tend to identify with what is right with us.

Or we tend to identify with what is wrong with us.

Or, some of us are like a ping-pong ball being paddled back and forth between the two: I am bad, I am good, I am bad, I am good.

Various theologies of spiritually tend to identify us with what is wrong: human beings are bad. You are bad. You are totally bad.

For many Christian theologies, our identity as bad people is the reason why we need Jesus. For example, you need your badness to be transferred to someone else.


Is this a truly transformative theology? I mean, humility is important. I understand this. But, is such a negative identity theology truly transformative over the long haul?

On the other side, some theologies (whether religious, New Age, or other) tend to identify us with what is good about ourselves. Actually, truth be told, the Apostle Paul does a good deal of this in his epistles. He talks more about believers identifying themselves as saints, holy, righteous, chosen, loved, etc. than about an identity based on badness. In fact, it is almost to the point that the very definition of a believer is one who believes that he or she is a "new creation."

I think there is something to this, in terms of transformation, but is there something even deeper?

James Finley talks about identifying with what is wrong or right about us. He calls it the “idolatry of identity.”

What we are, says Finley, is “that which arises from a longing for infinite love. Children of infinite love, trapped in the rubble. The illusion is believing that our circumstances define us.”

Finley is in practice as a psychotherapist, working primarily with victims of trauma. He discusses from a therapeutic/counseling perspective the healing and transformation that comes through loving compassion: “always the answer is to touch the hurting part with infinite love.”


Anne Doyle said...

And how do we show this infinite love? By listening.

Many say they listen, but few do. True listening is a gift.

When someone else listens to us, we can sometimes hear ourselves in ways that are impossible alone.

What might we hear when we listen to self? No one can know. Will it be worth it to hear? Maybe.

Did Jesus model listening? It's difficult to point to many examples but he often stopped and gave his full attention...I think that is comparable to true listening.

Listening. Loving.

All good wishes!!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thanks Anne.......well said.

Jesus also seemed to be an expert at getting us to start listening to ourselves, to hear what we are saying, to think more intentionally about the words that we take for granted.

Someone says, "Good teacher," and Jesus responds by saying, "Why do you call me 'good'?"

The story of the Woman at the Well in the Gospel of John is another account of Jesus taking the time to draw us out so that we can hear ourselves, contemplate our own words.

olifiawr said...

I believe this ping pong game within ourselves is causing a lot of confusion. Instead of focusing on one side of the spectrum, perhaps incorporating everything at an equilibrium would be more progressive to discovering true selves. Not just defining ourselves to what is good, or what is bad, because in the end it's all just a perception of the mind.

Anonymous said...

The primary I-dol, or centre-pole around which all the other idolatries turn, and extend from, is the separate and always separative ego-"I", the presumed separate self sense or "identity".

But what is "self" altogether?