Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pondering Selfhood

A thought often hits me like a ton of bricks: "I am me, Joshua, living in Texas in the 21st century". I stand in awe of this thought. I know of a rich and vast history, an ocean time that stands before my coming. I could've been born in any other time period, in any other country, yet I am me, here, now. Somehow, in those moments, I get the sense that I am not ONLY me, that somehow who I am is inclusive of all the people that "I" am not. 

I feel all of a sudden the reality of my very self, like I am standing at the edge of the very infinite. It is not unlike the feeling I got when I was a child, pondering the possibility that we may all be just figments of God's dreams, and that His choice to continue sleeping is all that maintains our very existence. If God woke up, we'd just blink into nothingness. Or when I read one philosopher's reflection upon the possibility that all of reality may have been created just one moment ago, with the entire memory of human history intact. After all, my direct experience is only of the present. A similar feeling bubbles to the surface when I'm in a lucid dream or deep meditative states and I have conversations with dream characters who by all accounts are simply a part of me, and yet who have a strange and awe-inspiring independence.

That which is most present to me, that which I can most directly experience and which is my most common companion, is my soul, my very self. The reality of this 'something' is as palpable, indeed in many ways more palpable, as the computer in front of me or the chair I sit on. It is real, and it is present, and yet it remains a total mystery, a deep mystery, a wide mystery. For all the mysteries science has shed a light upon, for all the grandeur of it's theorizing and worldview-building, the most immediate mysteries: consciousness, and the self, all remain all but untouched. Many scientists, unable to face the essential mysteriousness of our existence, deny that these realities even exist. They 'eliminate' the self, and consciousness. Ridiculous, says I.

All religion, at it's most fundamental, struggles and ponders these most ultimately mysteries. It is here that the heart of religion has always been found, as Rodney Stark persuasively argues in his book DISCOVERING GOD. The superstitious side of religion comes from a crossing of the streams, a mixing up of experiential inputs. There is religious experience and sense experience, they must somehow reconcile, but they are not the same thing. Religion's shaping and exploration of the mysteries of the self, experience, and of simply living life, do shed some light, but not in the same way science does. They are about living within the mystery, rather than somehow trying to solve of dominate it. For the mystery of who I am retreats behind any need to know. It is like water, the harder one holds onto it, the quicker it slips through one's fingers. It must be handled with gentleness and reverence. When it is so handled, these great questions bubble to the surface, and some deeper truths are apprehended, if not completely understood. 

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