Tag Archives: persona

Simone Weil on the Christian Persona

The “false self” is what the Crucifixion is about.  It is about the persona that we acquire, even the “christian persona” which is the façade that many of us hide behind to keep us from the Jungian shadow that we all fear.  Behind the perfunctory righteousness and platitudes that we have learned, there is abysmal darkness that we refuse to acknowledge, even though simple acknowledgement would free us up to allow the energy of our life-force, i.e. the “Spirit of God,” to flow unimpeded and allow the “enfleshment” which the story of Jesus was about.  Read here how one great Christian Saint of the 20th century put it:

Simone Weil said that we have been given the very gift of our being by God, so everything that comes to us, everything is God’s gift, including our very being. So what can we give God in return, she says. She says what happens, for whatever reason, is that we construct a false self, a false I, a false ego. False because we become attached to it, we defend it, we attribute too much reality to it. We think it’s an end in itself rather than a means, a medium of communication, or a way of service. So the ego begins to predominate in our minds, our feelings, our relationships – in that whole complex business – and that takes years sometimes to unravel. She says the one thing we can give to God is the demolition of this false self, this false I. She uses the word ‘destruction’ which is rather a violent word but sometimes it does feel like destruction. At times when you struggle with your ego, it feels there is a certain interior violence going on. It isn’t really about doing harm to oneself, but there is a real, serious work to do which is at times difficult in the transcendence, or the deconstruction, or the demolition of our false self. And this is the central importance of meditation in the process of finding ourselves.

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Truth in our Modern “Fact-free” Zone

Truth is not a thing!  Truth is not an object that you stumble across one day as you amble along your life’s pathway, a bright and shiny object which you immediately recognize as “The Truth.”  Now it is true that walking along this path you might stumble upon a spiritual tradition, a thing or object, which is intriguing and even having a “bright and shiny” quality to it which appears to convey truth.  But this “bright and shiny object” can easily be only a spiritual bauble with which the ego can find amusement and self-gratification for a while.  The Truth is not on the surface of any spiritual tradition, is not a “thing” in the least.

But if you have been raised in the West where we have been systematized and “thingi-fied” since at least the industrial revolution, it is human nature to see everything as a “thing” even spiritual matters which are intrinsically a “no-thing.”  This is because our culture has turned our soul into a “thing” so that our intrinsic grasp of who we are is conceptual and therefore we will see other people, spiritual traditions, and even “god” as a thing.  We can’t help it.  It is human nature to perceive out of “the abundance of one’s heart” and the heart is always encumbered by the dross of the enculturation process.  Any spiritual tradition will encounter “meaning” only when one has the temerity to look beneath the surface of his life which always will jeopardize spiritual traditions that have been passed on to him.  Indeed, in some sense one must lose his spiritual tradition, his faith, his god if he is to find meaningful spiritual roots, meaningful faith, and a meaningful “god” who is not a mere idle thought rattling around in his skull.  This is relevant to the admonishment of Jesus that we must lose our life in order to find it, our “life” consisting of the persona that by necessity we acquired and has served a useful purpose…and can do so again if we will allow our internal resources (i.e. “Spirit”) to be tapped and give meaning to this persona.  And in my spiritual tradition, Christianity, the Christian persona is difficult to grasp as our ego does not want us to get a glimpse of just how much our faith has been an example of performance art.  This is what Jesus recognized with the established religion of his day and called them “hypocrites” or “actors.”  He, being a keen spiritual observer of his world, immediately recognized that their spiritual tradition had become merely performance art.  I think that today he would call most Christians something like “Christian-oids.”

Truth is elusive and to put it into words is difficult, technically impossible.  Words are only “pointers” in the spiritual realm and human nature is to take these words superficially and mistake the word for the thing.  Truth is a process, not a thing, and in my spiritual tradition this process is described as a “Person” and this is a meaningful way of seeing and intuitively grasping Truth.  But when at the core of our heart we perceive ourselves as a “thing” it takes a miracle for us to see any dimension of spiritual life, and life as a whole, as anything but a “thing.”  Until we see and understand this, our relationships…even the closest and dearest relationships…will be one “thing” relating to another “thing” without the presence of any dynamic process that is the essential feature of the life process.  Life is not static.  We live in a flux and we are a flux but our ego resists understanding this as doing so requires a heart that has become “petal open” and therefore aware of its fluidity and the fluidity of the whole of life.

(I almost got carried away here.  My ultimate point was the spiritual emptiness of our culture which has facilitated and even encouraged the development of Trumpism, with our President being only a symptom.  I pose the question I so often pose here, and in real time, “Where is the church?”  I could even say, “Where is God?”  Yes, God has disappeared and one could even say “dead” as did Nietzsche presciently note in the 19th century but that is only because those purporting to believe in Him have turned him into a sterile concept, the “letter of the law” and as the Apostle Paul told us, this “letter” always kills anything it touches.  Instead of droning on further, you might want to see a further amplification of this concern in another blog I posted yesterday.  Here is the link:  https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/)

Humility is Often an Exaggerated Virtue

Yes, I remember so well how wonderful it is to be humble!  I had learned that this was so very early in my life, knew that I certainly did not appear to be arrogant, was generous to others, and was just an all around nice guy!  And I still think this description of my self was true…and I hope it is still true today!  But there is a profound difference in the “knowledge” of humility and “be-ing” humble, the latter not an acquisition but an on-going process.

BUT, I now realize that the “humility” described above was a learned life-style instilled into me from an “humble” rural Arkansas culture and an “humble” fundamentalist Baptist culture.   The “humility” certainly did include a socio-economic dimension as I was the product of what historians called the Southern white “dispossessed” who were still suffering from the collapse of the pre-Civil War Southern culture, a pronounced historical “humiliation.”

But, one could still use the label “humble” to describe me and still could I hope.  However, I now think that humility is not something that you can acquire by social pressure or education or a spiritual culture.  In fact, I don’t even believe in “humility” in a certain sense but I do firmly believe in a phenomena which I like to call “humility-ization.”

Humility-ization is something that came to me, and is still coming to me, as a result of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”  I prefer, however, to describe it as “the Grace of God.”  Humiliti-zation is a life long process of being stripped of the superficies of our existence, including the extremely superficial accoutrements of our “spiritual life.”  It entailed learning that my “humility” was mostly performance art, a role that I had subscribed to in return for the approbation of my family and community.  AND, that was good and I’m pleased that I acquired that persona for I now realize it kept me from a lot of mischief.  But, it took me way too long to realize that this “performance art” was very superficial, essentially inauthentic, and thus an act.  Even more so, it dawned on me that the New Testament word “hypocrite” was merely a term for one who was “acting” virtuous.

I emphasize that performance art is just a natural part of life and there is nothing necessarily wrong with it.  But, in a Christian culture, if one lives his whole life being “good” basically because he has learned it is the way to earn social approbation, then these words of Jesus would apply to him, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”  In my culture it would give one a good “send off” with lots of lavish praise. But what about the unlived life which could certainly have been lived as a Christian but one who was sincerely living out of the “abundance of his own heart” and not just from listening to shrill dogma he had listened to since early youth.

For, Jesus was not here to provide us fire insurance.  Jesus was not here to prop up an empty life, to give the shell of a human being a “suit of clothes” to wear, but to empower one to become authentic, to give expression to his inner-most essence which might be described as “the Christ child” within us all.  “Becoming a Christian” in the culture I was raised in, and lived in most of my life, was merely part of a persona and that, I might add, a very worthwhile persona.  But, to live one’s whole life as a mere Christian persona, as a Christian marionette (or Christian-ette) is to miss the point of the wonderful spiritual teacher who left us so much wisdom if we would find the courage to explore it more fully.

 

The Crisis in Modern Faith

My Christian faith has really matured in the past year.  Specifically, I have no faith in the Christian tradition but I do firmly believe that there was a man named Jesus who walked the face of this earth some 2100 years ago and he left behind teachings that I find of great value.  I do not know how much of the story of Jesus that we have in the Bible is valid but I firmly believe that there was some young man who was attuned with what I still call “the Spirit of God” and his story is a story of redemption.  There is so much to explore here.  So much to “cuss and discuss,” and yes I’m familiar with all the debate about the “historical Jesus,” and don’t find that vein of thought threatening to my faith.  But I firmly believe, in the midst of all my doubts, that there is a wisdom in the teachings of this man that we call Jesus though allowing this wisdom to filter through our ego-ridden mind requires a lot of work.

But then there is the conflict between his teachings and my experience in church and what I observe in the “performance art” of modern Christianity.  And I think that the whole of life is performance art in some sort and that is necessary.  But sometimes the performance art that is our life gains such primacy that we totally disregard the other dimensions of life which I like to call “spiritual.”  The whole of the performance art that is our life, our identity itself is often called our persona.  When this persona becomes the whole of who we know ourselves to be, and if we live our whole life ensconced in this “pretend-me” that famous question of Jesus becomes relevant, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul.”  For one who makes this mistake has lived his life on the surface and never done the “soul work” that would allow his soul, his inner-most essence, to find expression.  He will live his life as “The Hollow Man” that T.S. Eliot made famous in a poem.  And, emphatically I state, “This does not mean that losing his soul means he will burn for eternity in hell.”  In some sense, never having escaped the fantasy of his superficial reality, he has spent his life there.

Jean Paul Sartre described “bad faith” as one of such naivety that it perpetuated great darkness even while sincerely assuming to be promoting Truth.  Just because we are sure of our faith tradition, and of our practice, does not mean that the ego is not in control and if so ugliness will abound.  But then if the ego is in control, its primary objective will always be keeping one from awareness of its tyranny.