Monday, January 30, 2012

Who Am I?

I woke up Sunday morning feeling really sick and kinda melancholy. I spent most of the day in bed eating soup and watching both Boondock Saints movies. When I wasn't being a huge baby (which was most of the day), I spent some time writing this blog entry. I have to warn you: I ramble on a bit, and I reference philosophers and concepts without explaining or defining anything, and in the end I never really answer my initial question. I blame it on my illness and severe dehydration. I would understand completely if you didn't read it. For those of you who choose to skip this entry, I offer you this awesome image I created as compensation:


Who Am I?

One of my biggest struggles in life - maybe my biggest struggle over all - has been trying to figure out who I am. I'm not sure whether my education in philosophy has helped me find an answer or thrown more mud into the water. I've gained some perspective in the writings of Heidegger, and I've been a semi-follower of Nietzsche since long before I left Christianity (cherry-picking his moments of brilliance from his more questionable content), but I've been left still wanting a more satisfying answer.

I place much of the blame on my religious background. Sunday School and Bible Study filled my head with thoughts of a "higher purpose" and a "divine calling." Oh yes, I was "fearfully and wonderfully made" in "the image of god." Not only did I have a mission in life, but the most important mission of all. I eventually realized/accepted my agnosticism, and then that mission - my life's purpose, and the relevance of the theology degree I earned that went with it - blew away with the winds of reality as nothing more than the ashes of a false hope.

In attempting to answer the "who am I?" question, I integrated into my paradigm the idea that who I am is a question of identity, and, to borrow from the Buddhist concepts of nothingness and conditioned arising (which I learned during my extensive theoretical and experiential study of Buddhism), nothing is ontologically independent. That is, every thing (person, place, idea, object, et cetera) is the result of numerous causes, conditions, associations, and other things; therefore, who I am is the amalgam of numerous influences, experiences, and stimuli that are atomic, biological, psychological, cultural and social in nature (to name a few).

I take from this that trying to figure out who I am is a bit silly since, as David Hume might ask if he were here, what exactly is this "who" and how is it distinct or unique at all? Seems to me that the "who" is (to borrow again from my Buddist influences) ontologically empty, and is best understood as all the causes and associations of an entity within its given context (which takes my mind back to Heidegger's understanding of dasein). Simply put, who I am is the aggregate of what I think, how I feel, and what I do, when(ever) and where(ever) I am.

Great! I feel so enlightened now. Problem is, I still have no answer for what I should do or how I should think or feel. Here's where the little Easy-Bake Oven lightbulb goes off in my head: I've been asking "who am I?" when the actual question I want answered is, "what should I do?" The loss of my life's purpose - or rather the loss of confidence that my life had a cosmic purpose that occurred when I discarded my religion - left me feeling lost and confused.

This is the rear naked choke of Christianity: it tells us we are a soul - a unique snowflake - with an absolute and eternal purpose that transcends what we apprehend with our senses, and that a being far above and beyond our universe loves us and watches over us individually, listening to and answering our petitions and loving us personally, thus making us the ideological center of the universe (even if science has demonstrated that we're not the physical center of the cosmos). Few have the wherewithal to break free from such an emotional lock; fewer still see the need to do so.

I am not saying the alternative to religion is worse: indeed, to borrow Darwin's words, "there is grandeur in this view of life," and I have never felt more myself than I have since I escaped my religion. Perhaps I should qualify my statement: I have experienced real freedom since escaping from the prison of unquestioned dogma and embracing a life of freethought. I am free to question everything, to seek truth, to embrace knowledge without fear, and even to borrow from any source I find that offers principles I find true or at least verisimilitudinous; for example, in this article I have borrowed concepts from a Buddhist tradition without pledging my allegiance to any dogma, embracing any cosmology or joining any group. I have the liberty to maintain an open mind, challenge the ideas of others and have them challenge mine, without finding demons in those with whom I disagree.

I can share an essay written by my Christian friend without feeling the need to warn people of the content before they read it. How many Christians would feel safe posting one of my articles on their blogs? They wouldn't want me to lead any of the sheep astray. That says something about the veracity of their belief system. I'm free to not worry about being wrong. When I was a Christian apologist, I had to be right. Everything counted on my beliefs being correct. Now, if something I think or believe is shown to be false, I'm free to simply correct my thinking.

Perhaps I'm getting a bit off topic, but I haven't strayed too far. I may not have all the answers yet, and I may not know what exactly I should do with my life, but I think I'm at least on the right track, because I understand that I have the freedom to choose what's best for me.

No comments: