Friday 28 October 2016

The contiguity of Love: Christians should not seek to extinguish the Self, nor to destroy the Ego - but to transcend a strong Self in Love

This is controversial; but I regard it as a serious error for Christians to be trying to extinguish their Self or Ego - I think it a serious error because Christianity is par excellence the religion which retains the Self: the divine Self was, indeed, incarnated as a mortal Man to emphasise the point...

What Christians often do, what they feel they are instructed to do, is to press down the Self - so that they may become utterly un-selfish, may live for others.

They do this by a weird, paradoxical self-monitoring (the self keeping watch on the Self; the Self trying to suppress the Self - a futile activity); and by trying not-to-think - for example living a life of absolute Obedience (never making one's own decisions, regarding one's life as dictated and mapped out by scripture, the church, a religious superior...).

Others do this by habit - by trying to ingrain good habits so deeply that they just happen, automatically, without intervention of the Self.

All of these common strategies seem to be ways of un-Manning - ways of making ourselves into less-than Men.

And they all seem to be based on the idea that the Self is intrinsically and always depraved - so that (they argue) we cannot become wholly Good without altogether getting rid of it.

Against this, I would emphasise that the Self is indeed depraved to some extent; yet it is also partly divine - and for us each to become a Son of God the divine without must join with that divine within.

This means we must retain the Self.

Yet clearly the Self or Ego is a problem - that is where Love comes-in.

In Christianity Love is primary, and Love is what enables us to retain the Self without being selfish; to be united without losing distinctness...

The model is a husband and wife in close and perfect embrace: they are united by Love, and that Love depends on their separateness (the spouse must be another person for us to love them).

Abstractly put: Love is neither separateness nor merging; but contiguous.


ted said...

Bruce, I sense the idea of extinguishing the self is a distortion of the first turning of the wheel in Buddhism. The later schools did not negate world or self in the traditional sense. But you are correct that eastern teachings place less emphasis on being in the world than Christianity. I heard one eastern teacher say he never liked the term non-duality, but preferred trans-duality. In that, he said we can see all the value in all worldly distinctions, but at the same time be grounded in the Infinite Love of Being.

Peter said...

Why is it wrong to suggest that it is a reduction of ego but not it's elimination.

Love clearly reduces ego - you are thinking of the interests of another rather than your own. It's clearly a partial loss of distinctness.

Contiguity is also a partial loss of distinctness...

God incarnated as flesh in order to show man "the way" to reduce his ego and return to his home as part of a larger whole, as man had clearly lost his way (the Jews had become by that time very egoistic). It was not intended to show man that being a self is good, but rather to show how a being such as man might transcend his self (giving up ones family and all things dear to self and following Christ, the Way)..if the incarnation was to show the goodness of selfhood, Christ in his new Self would not have been cricified and He would have ruled men as a self among selves...

One thing is clear to me, the question of Ego is THE basic religious question...

Bruce, I think your ideas on ego would find a better fit in Judaism and perhaps non-Sufi Islam, as your natural bent seems more materialistic, positivistic, and this worldly than regular Christianity can readily accomodate.

Christianity is quite close to oriental religions despite cardinal differences and I don't think it can really be twisted into accommodating the a materialistic, worldly, self based attitude even in attenuated form, which seems to be your goal.

But that's just my perspective, and of course we each must chart our own path.

Dualist said...

I think once again your article may be hinting that monasticism aims to totally ERADICATE the self, when it ‘merely’ aims for exactly the process you described. Read any of the Contemplative masters, from Sts. Gregory of Nyssa (his mystical Life of Moses), John Climacus (Ladder of Divine Ascent), John Cassian (Conferences) and Benedict (his Rule) through to Richard of St. Victor (The Mystical Ark), Romuald (his very short Rule), Bruno (the spirituality of his Order), Bernard (any) and continuing with Meister Eckhart (especially) and Blessed Denis the Carthusian (De Meditatione, but you’ll have to borrow a Latin edition), with any others you care to mention in between. The message is always the same.

The aim is to eradicate only those degenerate parts of the Self, all that is not of-God. No, the Self, or to be specific the Soul, is not viewed as WHOLLY degenerate. God would not Love such a Being, and the Soul was created solely with this aim. An impure Soul (to any degree) is, however, wholly degenerate COMPARED TO GOD.

The aim is only ever to imitate Him more fully by allowing God to purify our souls continually, further eradicating our tendency to prefer creatures over the Creator. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Artist, Whose work is achieved via the re-creation of Jesus in souls. Fundamentally, this expresses itself as a complete re-orientation away from our being self-centred towards totally Being-For. Specifically, we see the Works of the Divine Sculptor in the Gifts and Virtues.

His Masterpieces are those beacons of men we see shining so brightly from the past that they still seem to be tangibly with us, the countless great saints and sages, men whose whole purpose in life consisted in nothing but praising God by doing Good. Such had they transcended their inner howling monkey that when their friends came to see them for the last time in the Tower of London (on the morning they were due to die a traitor’s death on the scaffold, for The Faith), they were found to be soundly snoring, and upon stirring had one simple request: “do you mind if I have another two hours sleep, please?”.

As there have been several controversies about what this ‘contiguous’ state entails, however, I would urge you to read some of the above authors if you have not already done so; and I would be very surprised if you still saw the matter in the same light.

pyrrhus said...

I totally agree, humans can't function without the ego, yet it can be transcended for the special purpose of love...

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - You may be misunderstadning me to be against monasticism and the ascetic tradition -I am not. But I do Not think ascetic celibacy of an individual person should be regarded as the ideal norm or highest for of Christianity - which it is in the Catholic traditions. My contention is that the highest form of Christian life is the ideal marriage with family.

Dualist said...

Ok. I would only agree that it is the highest form for those who have the Vocation to Marriage, but for those called to Celibacy, it is not. If the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, then some are called to be the head, others the hands, others the heart. Where I disagree is that if we MUST decide which of the two is superior, then I believe this is Celibacy.

But many misunderstand this doctrine to infer we mean that Marriage is not Holy itself - it most certainly is. Perhaps if more people were aware that ALL people are called to Marriage then there would be less misunderstanding: you will notice a ring on the hands of any nuns you may meet because they are, in fact, called to be Brides of Christ. Do not forget that the Apocalypse of John, preceded by the Song of Songs, describes the End of Time as the Marriage of Heaven and Earth.

Either way, As the Lord implies in Matthew 19 and St. Paul explicitly says in 1 Corinthians, perseverance in Celibacy is possible only for those given the Grace to do so by God, 'for the sake of the Kingdom'. For a better discussion, here's a short essay on 'The theological basis for priestly celibacy' from the Vatican's website that you may find useful:

Here's another article titled 'Is Celibacy A Higher Calling than Marriage?':

(It is actually on the homepage, amusingly - they clearly know the minds of Millenials only too well!)

Here is a brief exposition on 'Virginity or Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom' by St John Paul II:

And for a history of the doctrine of celibacy of the clergy, check out the Catholic Encyclopaedia article on the subject (or on ANY subject!):

Nicholas Fulford said...

By one fractal equation - let's just choose the Mandelbrot equation - the limits are defined of what can unfold, but there are multitudinous self-similiar forms that express in their own unique and distinctive way the underlying commonality they share.

So then the seeming paradox of imminence and transcendence is resolved. By being rooted in one common essential base there is an intrinsic imminence and intimacy, and yet the unfolding presents progressive pathways involving movement forward from the current state to a future state. The self is unique to its position in the unfolding and also transcends its current place and state. Hence the two are not at odds but are complementary. The self sheds skins as a snake does with the passing of time, but it never ceases to have a cohesion. And akin to our fractal, there are a limitless number of variations that can be expressed by drilling down at any point along its arc of expression.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nick - I don't see it as a paradox, but obvious and necessary (especially if we don't use abstract Latin words)!

Also, not many people would find it easier to understand fractals (only discovered a few decades ago) than simple and familiar concepts based on family likeness etc.

But - with metaphysics - each to his own!

Dualist said...


I'd say I have a fair understanding of the Mandelbrot Set, but I'm not sure I follow you here. Are you just using a metaphor or are you referring to the actual mathematical properties of the MS?