Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where is the Self? Who Are You (Really)?

Recently, I have been reading Chris Hedges book I Don't Believe in AtheistsHedges has already distinguished himself by writing several brilliant books. He is especially adept at taking on fundamentalism (see esp. American Fascists). Hedges has produced an insightful look at the craziness and scariness of Christian fundamentalism. Now he sets his sights on atheist fundamentalism. This short series will take a chapter by chapter look and offer some commentary on I Don't Believe in Atheism.  

Final Chapter:  "The Illusive Self"

Strange that I happened to be finishing this Hedges' book at the exact same time that I was finishing Fuller's Psychology and Religion.  Of course, as advertised, these postings are my attempt at an interaction with Hedges' book.  They are sort of a commentary/dialogue.  We've looked at the book a chapter at a time, and I don't want the reader to think that this has all been some blog version of a "book report."  There is way too much James Alexander and far to little Chris Hedges here for that conclusion.  Hedges' book is quite a worthy read.  As always, he is brilliant, engaging, and provocative.

But, as a bit of an aside, Fuller's book fits right in here.  It is look at eight classical positions coming from psychology relative to religion.  It begins, as one might expect, with William James, then Freud, on to Jung, Allport, and so on.  One thing is pretty apparent,  Most of the classic voices of psychology are not hostile to religion (exception being, perhaps, Freud).  Also, many of them agree that humanity's problems are largely spiritual in nature.  They may not agree about who or what God is-- the eight theorists offer a range of opinions ranging from our own subconscious to an actual Supreme Being to uncertainty concerning the whole question. But, they all deal with Hedges' topic of the illusive self.

We really don't know the self.  We may know the ego, the "I" that the knower within us observes.  We may identify ourselves as the knower.  But, we fail to know who we really are.  As such, we are easily taken in and easily bedazzled by fast-talking car salesmen, TV preachers, and popular atheists.

The real essence is captured by Albert Camus as quoted by Hedges, "On the whole, men are more good than bad; that however isn't the real point.  They are more or less ignorant...."  It is here that the danger lies.  Being convinced that we can "fix ourselves up" with a bit of effort, we let our guard down.  Our ignorance kicks in, and we underestimate our potential for choosing the wrong.

Religion can guide folks here.  Not the institutional stuff.  That is something that all eight of the psychological gurus Fuller reviews are clear on.  Folks know that.  As Hedges points out, people all pick and choose, they choose the parts of the religious tradition that helps and ignore the crazy, unhelpful parts.  Religion, as Allport and James so clearly point out, is a living changing endeavor.  This is as true for Christians as for Muslims-- and everyone else.

But, the "new atheists" come along and, since we are ignorant of our true nature, offer a short cut:  Just let them do the driving.  They will show us the path to Nirvana.  And more of us are being suckered in to absolutist unthinking religion or absolutist unthinking atheism all of the time.  We want an easy way out of the confusion of this so confusing world.  We simply don't want to do the "work" of life.  All of the fundamentalists-- religious and atheists make it seem so easy.  It really is the opiate of the masses, you know.

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