Monday, 3 November 2008

A coherent sense of self

On the way home from orchestra rehearsal (Brahms, albeit anachronistically, rocks) I heard on radio3, a recording from a Free Thinking festival in Liverpool. They were discussing privacy and the lack of it in society, and while discussing facebook, and the extent to which we invite 'invasion' of privacy, one panelist suggested that we delight in creating many different versions of ourselves for different contexts: to only have one 'self' would be boring. I thought this horrendous: I do want one self. But that is perhaps because I am happy with this one self.

Not that I have already attained it, but Christ Jesus has laid hold of me to transform me increasingly into His image, to be restored to the glory of God. I don't need to play-act. I don't need to experiment with 1000 faces: I want only one, which is centred on Jesus, growing into the shape of Jesus. When children play-act, it healthily engages their imagination, and helps them grow their own character. But the idea is that in growing maturity they grow increasingly confident in who they are - and grow in grace (albeit common), establishing themselves in honesty and integrity. Have we really so lost the grace of God that we are immaturing, making life a game, in which we play many roles?

The panelist said that we don't want "a coherent sense of self" - it's "an old idea". There used to be a name for people who didn't present 'a coherent sense of self' - at least, "two-faced". So now I am expected to be a different person in my work from at home, at home from in my orchestra, in my orchestra from with friends. People find it quite strange that I would wish these worlds to intrude on each another. But only with the knowledge of the Creator do you have a basis for consistency of self, and of external reality. We are not just compositions of the impressions we give others. There is an objective Observer, a greater Other than those who see but one of our faces, and He made us as coherent 'selves'. But as we have rejected knowing God in whose image we are made, it is no surprise that has given us over to incoherence even in knowing ourselves. As Calvin said, without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.


dave bish said...

v.interesting. Could we have that in more than one paragraph tho, please :)

Anonymous said...

It may not be a great thing, but I think most of us *are* different people in different situations. Or, maybe it's that our coherent self applied to different contexts results in different things? Maybe both.

Chris said...


I've been absolutely staggered how many people, myself included, are responding to this question, Who am I? My recent outline went something like:

A) reduce: you are what you're made of. I become a victim.
B) construct: into which image? facebook/sexually/interests/productivity. I become a God.
C) transcend: God makes me me, but which God?
- Islam: I become a pawn.
- Buddhism: I am an illusion.
- Christianity: I am personal & broken -(neither a God nor a victim, or both a God and a victim)

I finished by comparing the medical mistake with Jesus the truly humane doctor (Mark 2) in whose image we were made.

étrangère said...

Bish cheers, it was a 'get it out of my head' post before finishing reading the Hobbit to my housemate, so I neglected formatting rather :D

Yes Matt, I think it could be that although in Christ we have a coherent self, it may be that we express that differently in different contexts. But we don't celebrate putting on different faces for different people, as if we weren't one in being. Hm, that would be modalism if applied to God, and we are in his image... So we are each one person, not divided, but in relationship with others, which brings variety. Trying to think from God to us (in whose image we're made) - don't push that back the other direction or I'm sure it would be heretical again about God!

Thanks Chris - I confess that sometimes I really appreciate your cultural-philosophical blog posts, and sometimes they're way over my head! Sounds like a neat summary on Who am I? though. On the topic of which, I recently watched The Island, which, amid the endless running, has interesting thoughts on human identity.