Tag Archives: self-awareness

God, Time, and 2 x 3 x 11

It’s my birthday, my 2 x 3 x 11 birthday! June 1 has always been a special day to me. It symbolizes the gifts of life, time, opportunity, and responsibility. Of all the days of the year, it’s the time when I reflect most on my life, what I owe, what I have accomplished, where I have failed, and what I should do with the time remaining. I remember that I owe more than I can repay, have accomplished less than I could have, and have failed more often than I wish to recall. And I still wonder what I should do with my life.

We don’t exist in time. Time is the way we exist. To ask, “What should I do with my time?” is the same as asking, “What should I do with my existence, with myself?” How can I know when I am wasting it? Should I continue to do what I have been doing or should I make a change? Is it best to act boldly or cautiously?

How can we enjoy peace while reflecting honestly on our lives? Such small successes! Such immense failures! A burdened present borders an uncertain future! Come to think of it, how can we achieve a perspective from which to assess our lives? We either exaggerate our strengths and minimize our weaknesses or inflate our failures and shrink our successes. And can I really know what I should do with my time until the moment arrives when I must act?

I find no comfort, no joy, and no hope other than in this thought: God gives me life, time, opportunity, and responsibility. God’s eternity spans and encompasses my time from beginning to end. God knows why he gave me time; for my life was his project long before it was mine. My project will unfold as a mixture of success and failure. I stumble into the future not knowing where I am going or what to do when I arrive. But God’s project will not fail. God works through our “failures” as efficiently as through our “successes,” and for God, our staggering steps make a straight line to glory.

So, on this 2 x 3 x 11 birthday, I will not allow the weight of past failures, or the pride of past successes, or the darkness of a future unknown keep me from thanking God for his gifts of life and time, or placing my life at his disposal, or looking ahead to glory. And I pray that this day will find you in the same frame of mind.

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The Godless Self and The Selfless God: God and the Modern Self (Part 4)

In parts 2-3 of this series we examined two common attitudes the modern self takes toward God: defiance and subservience. Now we will consider the third, indifference. In my view indifference is the most common and most tempting of the three.

People are not indifferent to God because, having thought about it, they decide indifference toward God makes the most sense. Such a stance would not be indifference at all but a kind of hostility. If you decide to ignore someone it’s usually because you want to hurt them. True indifference is not a conscious attitude but a habit of thoughtlessness. You are indifferent to one thing because you are totally focused on something else. You don’t think about it at all. And that is what I mean by indifference to God. We become so immersed in the practical affairs of life, in the search for pleasure, success and attention that we never raise our heads to heaven and turn minds to God to ask how it stands between God and us.

Let’s consider three common forms of indifference to God. The first arises as a byproduct of the search for pleasure, the second derives from the single-minded quest for success, and the third results from the all-consuming desire for attention. We can label them the esthete, the conformist and the celebrity.

1. Esthetes seek only pleasure, excitement, and sensual stimulation. When they are not experiencing it they are planning their next adventure; or they are bored. In sensual pleasure we lose consciousness of ourselves and God and become absorbed in experiencing the object of pleasure. To get the most pleasure out of dark chocolate or great music you must shut down all thought and close off the other senses. You have to let the experience take over completely. Everyone wants to have such experiences. They can be reorienting and renewing. But the esthete wants nothing else.

Esthetes are bored with themselves and their thoughts. They have no consciousness of God and desire none. They depend on external objects to fill their consciousness through sensual stimulation. Only in this way do they feel alive. In pleasure, they achieve the momentary illusion of power, of eternity in a timeless moment, and of oneness with the All. Above all, however, they escape the boredom and emptiness of themselves, they forget about finiteness and death, and they rid themselves of their persistent anxiety about the future. And they forget God or even the question of God. It never enters their thoughts that God himself may be the good they seek. But the godless self will never find rest until it finds the selfless God.

2. Conformists seek only success—social status, material possessions and other external signs of wellbeing. Since success is relative to what other people consider success, conformists always seek to look like others. They want nothing merely because of its usefulness or its beauty. They want it because others have it or don’t have it. They spend their life’s energy working for bigger houses, fancier cars, higher degrees, and better paying jobs. They seek to impress others, excite their envy and earn their approval. Like esthetes, they are bored with their empty selves, and they have no consciousness of God. They are only what they have, and their sense of self-worth is determined by how they measure up to others’ expectations.

Conformists never enjoy peace and contentment; they are always wrenched between pride and shame, disdain and envy. In such a mind there is no room for consciousness of God or self examination in awareness of God. It never dawns on conformists that what God thinks of us is the unchanging ground of our worth. But the godless self will never feel its worth until it finds the selfless God.

3. The celebrity seeks only attention. Celebrities exist only in the minds of admiring fans and exist only as long as people are thinking about them. A celebrity works to create and maintain an exciting, glamorous, super human identity in the minds of others and to associate this imaginary identity with themselves. The financial advantages to celebrity status are obvious but not central to the celebrity view of existence. Fans love celebrities for the stimulation they give to their imaginations; the fan enjoys living vicariously in an imaginary identity projected on the celebrity.

And the celebrity also enjoys the fanatical admiration of their fans for a similar reason. The irrational adulation of others gives momentary plausibility to a feeling of superior worth. Celebrities project false images and fans treat celebrities as if these images were real. Because celebrities live by attention alone, they are tempted to forget themselves and God in their frantic and futile efforts to hold the interest of their fans.

The celebrity view of existence is very seductive. Everyone desires the approval of others, and to receive approval we need to get noticed. And, if we have no other basis to accept ourselves and feel our worth, we may spend all our waking moments concentrating on getting attention. We may work so hard to create a false image of ourselves in other people’s minds that we forget to ask who we really are. We forget that we are known by God. The godless self will never feel accepted until it finds the selfless God.

The three attitudes display two common features, one negative, the other positive. (1) None of the three possesses awareness that God alone is greatest good of human beings and that his love for us in the true measure of our worth. If God alone were the object of our seeking we would be free from the desperate search for pleasure, the futile quest for success and the vain search for attention. (2) All three attitudes assume that our immediate desires and wants are reliable guides to what is good and what will produce happiness. By nature, everyone seeks pleasure, approval and attention. But when these natural inclinations are institutionalized in a culture of consumption, social ranking and celebrity, they begin to sound like the voice of God. But reason guided by faith points us higher, to God alone. If only the godless self could find the selfless God of Jesus Christ!

Note: This post can be used as a companion to Chapter 4 of my book God, Freedom & Human Dignity (“Indifference: A Study in Thoughtlessness”).

 

Questions for Discussion

1. Explore the differences between indifference toward God and the previous attitudes of defiance and subservience. Are there any likenesses among the three?

2. How does the attitude of the esthete lead to indifference toward God? Give examples.

3. How does the attitude of the conformist lead to indifference toward God? Give examples.

4. How does the attitude of the celebrity lead to indifference toward God? Give examples.

5. Consider all three forms of indifference together and reflect on the how modern culture tempts us to live in indifference toward God and thoughtlessness about our relationship to God.

6. Name and discuss some strategies to overcome the temptation to love in indifference to God.

Next time we will examine the (false) image of God toward which the attitudes of defiance, subservience and indifference are directed.

Thinking and Thoughtfulness: Thoughtlessness Part 5

Thoughtlessness

We can best grasp the concept of thoughtlessness by contrasting it to the idea of thoughtfulness developed in Part 4 of this series. We are thoughtless when we don’t think about our involvement with the object of experience. One falls into thoughtless by becoming absorbed in the process of observation, common sense, scientific thought or introspection…or in any other activity in which something displaces our self-awareness with itself. Thoughtlessness is the absence of awareness of the self and the character of its relations with other things.

Thoughtless people immerse themselves in work or objective thought or the search for pleasure or attention to the point that they do not question, do not become aware of themselves as distinct from their activities. They don’t ask ethical, existential or religious questions of themselves. They don’t ask about their identity, the meaning of their activities, and the morality of their actions. They don’t see the deeper dimensions of things or people and their relationships to them.

In chapter four of my recent book, God, Freedom & Dignity, I examine three images of thoughtlessness: the esthete, the conformist and the celebrity. The esthete seeks only pleasure while the conformist seeks only success as measured by what other people consider success; and the celebrity seeks only attention and lives only in the minds of others. They have no time for self-examination and no space for awareness of God.

It’s like they don’t really exist as selves, as self-aware subjects. They observe their lives but don’t live them as their own free action; they are whatever they are doing…without any awareness of the meaning of what they are doing! They may wake up one day and realize that they have not been consciously living their lives. They’ve been on automatic pilot, asleep at the wheel, while their lives pass before them like a dream. Other things determine what they feel, love and do. They move through life unaware of whole dimensions of what is happening around them and within them. They can’t see through the reflective surfaces into the real substance of things and the meaning of the relations among them.

Most disturbing of all, thoughtless people have no awareness of God as really present and active as their Creator, Lord, Judge and Savior. And in my view, lack of awareness of God and our relation to God is the root of all thoughtlessness. If people were aware of God they would also be aware of themselves as dependent, responsible, unworthy and yet loved. Awareness of God, who is the absolute ground of our existence, opens our minds to depths of ourselves we could not know otherwise.  And if we gain deeper self-awareness before God we will also become aware of the God-relatedness and interrelatedness of all things; that is, we will become thoughtful.

I conclude this series with Søren Kierkegaard’s observations about the lives of the thoughtless:

[The thoughtless person is] “a sort of marionette, very deceptively imitating everything human—even to the extent of having children by his wife. At the end of his life, one would have to say that one thing had escaped him: his consciousness had taken no note of God” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript).

“By seeing the multitude of men about it, by getting engaged in all sorts of worldly affairs, by becoming wise about how things go in this world, such a man forgets himself, forgets what his name is (in the divine understanding of it), does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier to be like others, to become an imitation, a number, a cipher in the crowd… spiritually understood, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self before God—however selfish they may be for all that” (Sickness Unto Death).

 

Please share this five-part series with others.

 

Until next week…