Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Rise And Triumph of the Modern Self


We know that we live in the era of "it's all about ME" ... what most don't ponder very much is what is "me"? Certainly a body, and in current times, the body and especially the genitals, or the denial of same are critical to "identity".

The man, woman, or "whatever" on the street usually admits to having a brain -- however what it means to have a brain that according to most biologists, is genetically "human",  falls far short of what it means to be "human" in the sense of the modern self is quite vague. Is there something beyond the physical? And if so, does it matter? 

A term that arises often in the book is the "social imaginary" (link followers be warned). To simplify, it can be thought of as "worldview". A fairly short way to scratch this surface a little deeper is "Moral Believing Animals". Communication between other "humans" requires some sort of shared "social imaginary", and since what that now shifts in timeframes that are historically unimaginable, we are all in undiscovered country, almost all the time. 

In 2008, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were firm on the thousands year old fact that marriage was a sacred union between a man and a woman.  By 2012, Obama supported gay "marriage".  In 2015, with the SCOTUS Obergefell ruling, it was the law of the land. By 2022, a SCOTUS nominee was unable to define what a "woman" is. There is every expectation that the pace of this kind of massive change in the Social Imaginary will accelerate. Even worse, the stakes of at least adequately pretending to keep up are rising at a similar pace. 

Not being completely up to date and showing complete fealty to whatever got "imagined" in maybe the past few hours, can cause loss relationship with friends, family, your employer, and increasingly even your freedom of action ... the FBI may identify you as a "semi fascist".  It can certainly be an issue if you want to use a phrase like "sexual preference" if you are trying to get on the SCOTUS. In the case of Amy Coney Barrett, the term was fine in the AM, but had been redefined to be "offensive" by the PM!

Sane people realize that it is not possible for each one of us to define ourselves in any way we see fit (at this moment), and expect the rest of society to totally buy into that definition of the moment (see proper pronouns). As in the case of Barrett, the meaning of what you say may be changed in a matter of hours! 

Unfortunately, at least one member of the SCOTUS strongly supports an individual's right to do just that! As Justice Kennedy stated in Casey: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Thankfully, after an insane fight, Kennedy was replaced by Kavanaugh, who disagrees. For Kennedy, the Hitchhiker's guide declaring the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything" to be "42" is as valid as any imagined "reality" that all should celebrate and relate to "correctly" (as defined by the individual who created it). 

(As an aside, there are 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus as quoted in Matthew ... so perhaps "42" DOES point us to the the answer to "Life, the Universe, and Everything" after all)

The book opens with:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement as has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: "I am a woman trapped in a man's body". 

The book does an excellent and reasonably concise explanation of how we got here. The foreword by Rod Dreher, contains a much shorter explanation of the "how" from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ... "Men have forgotten God, and that is why all this as happened". He was referring to the tragedy of the USSR, but it applies equally well here. 

The linked review is excellent, well worth quite minimal time to read it.  Fortunately there is a more concise version of  this book that is reviewed by Clairmont. For those that know me, it will be unsurprising that I took the long version. 

Here is a link to that book on Amazon  - Strange New World - How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution

A quote from the introduction that cut to the soul is: "The task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives, but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them." 

As with pretty much all such books at this time, suggestions of what to do are sparse. Prayer is always one answer, because it is going to take action from God to change this Social Imaginary. Perhaps his solution is already baked in ... those that buy into the Social Imaginary of our times tend not to reproduce ... which can make an particular Social Imaginaries future less bright!

The review contains this: 

Another weakness is the relative lack of suggestions for combating Western culture’s increasing decadence. Important as they are, a mere six pages of 400 are dedicated to navigating our way out of the ruins. Trueman proposes three suggestions. First, Christians must better understand the interplay between aesthetics and formation—both within and outside the church. Here Trueman insists that moral legitimacy cannot be achieved by emotion or narrative, but by “the being of God and his act of creation.” Second, in a world of constant flux wherein liquid modernity provides ever-shifting foundations for identity, Trueman calls the church to a greater sense of community. Only this will counteract the hollowing out of institutions that more securely anchored human identity in the past. Third—and of particular importance to me, I confess—Trueman argues that Protestant Christians need greater familiarity with natural law, but not because it will necessarily convince skeptics but because it will provide grounding for a theology of human embodiment, which will counteract the transient Gnosticisms of modernity.

Gnosticism - the idea that it is your "knowledge/timeless wisdom/etc" that will save/set you free/make you happy/etc.

As stated above: "Trueman insists that moral legitimacy cannot be achieved by emotion or narrative, but by “the being of God and his act of creation.”"

To a Christian, the "being of God" is the Holy Trinity, with the Holy Spirit being the indwelling of God that through "The Way, The Truth, and The Life" (Christ). To others it may be "the Great Spirit", the Tao, El Shaddai, Adonai, Dirawong, Sango, Odin, etc. I'm struggling through Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life at this time -- seeking a way to help people understand that since they are human, they DO have a God. Based on my search, I believe there is much to suggest Christianity, however, the BEGINNING of wisdom is the fear (respect) of God. We all need to understand that it isn't all about ME ... which this book is a help in realizing.

My personal "search for God" (or proof of his absence) went through a lot of books, meditations and practices -- if you seek you will find, or if you are willing to submit, Christ will find you. Understanding the real stakes of everyone living an isolated, meaningless life is important these days. Your faith WILL be questioned! Christians need to all be defenders of their faith, and the reasons to believe -- ideally in terms that an atheist secularist can at least understand. 

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