The new principalities and powers #3: The mythical self

Principalities and powers: the controllers of our destinies—forces beyond ourselves.

But how ‘beyond’ ourselves are they really? And what is the ‘ourselves’ that they are beyond? The question of identity is a big one. The old ‘who am I?’ question has been around for as long as the human being. The question stays the same, but the answers appear to change, for better or for worse, in sickness …

So apparently modernism was wrong and postmodernism is, well, we can’t say it’s ‘right’ (that would be far too strong a declaration), but at least it’s a general mood that is now all around. The mainstream has become so mainstream. The real action is in the underground. Some still speak of cultures. The real action is amongst the subcultures. Countries still hope for some grand federal vision. People exist in their local tribes.

But who am I? We are who we want to be. We are in the process of evolution. We might be one thing today, and reinvent ourselves tomorrow. Madonna has given birth to many like her. Reinvention of the self. Evolution of the self. Never conforming to the mainstream, but finding a tribe according to which I can shape myself. What music should I listen to? What should I wear? How should I do my hair? What parts of the city should I hang out in? Which people are ‘mine’? Where is my tribe who will provide the primeval slime out of which my self will evolve?

Some psychological views speak of a ‘true self’ and a ‘false self’. If there is deep pain and trauma in the ‘true self’, there can be a retreat to the ‘false self’ that we construct for our future protection. This may be an upmarket false self, or it may be a downmarket false self, or perhaps it’s a somewhere just in the middle kind of false self. But whatever kind is chosen, it is chosen. And whatever kind of false self is chosen, it is still the false self. It is put on with an eye on the rest of the world—what they might think, how they might react. It is the construction of a self in the image of what others project upon you. It is all about appearances.

God, however, is not on about appearances. He sees the heart. He is on about the deep reality of the human soul. He wants faith that springs from the heart, the renewal of the inner person. The heart is desperately wicked, who can understand it (Jer 17:9)? God can and wants to transform it! He wants to make it a new self (Col 3:10)—the true self. On the other hand, the form of this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:31)—that is, the false self.

When it comes to ‘ourselves’, postmodernism hasn’t done anybody any favours. By focusing upon appearances and encouraging personal re-invention (according to the tribe in which we happen or hope to be), the postmodern mood encourages the construction of the ‘false self’, rather than the discovery of the ‘true self’. The biggest lie that can happen is when we think the ‘false self’ is actually the ‘true self’. Postmodernism fuels the lie, fostering appearance, not reality.

Appearances, according to the Bible, are the devil’s domain. When Satan tested Jesus in the desert, he told him that all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (that is, their outward appearance) was his (Luke 4:6). Peter learned that just to think like a human being (that is, to think according to what can be seen and touched and felt in this world), is to be on the side of Satan (Mark 8:33). Religion of the surface—of the appearances—is a rotten sham and an offensive in God’s eyes (2 Tim 3:5).

The postmodern mood is a bad one. It catches us up in the present form of this world. And that is passing away. Forces beyond ourselves: they have taken us beyond ourselves—away from ourselves. The new principalities and powers have deleted in order to destroy.

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