A comment on "Seeing beyond Identities"

Friend Jim Wilson has a helpful comment on my post, "Seeing beyond Identities":

Mike, I wonder if your statement, "identities are figments of human conceptualization, not real boundary markers", makes sense.  It sounds to me like postmodernist sloganeering.

For example, if I am hungry I want to distinguish, that is to say, 'identify', a pizza and distinguish it from a rock.  Are you saying the boundary between a pizza and a rock is a figment of human conceptualization?  That doesn't make sense to me.  A pizza belongs in the concept 'food', a rock belongs in the concept 'non-food'.  What is the problem?

In a similar way, I don't see a problem in identifying different spiritualities.  Not all spiritual traditions are the same and it serves a useful purpose to clarify how they differ and where their views overlap.

Thanks again, Jim.  I see I still need to say more clearly what I am addressing here.

"Identities are figments of human conceptualization, not real boundary markers" is not meant to be postmodernist sloganeering. If anything, it is premodern Buddhist psychology, confirmed in many ways by modern neurobiology of consciousness research.

Certainly human beings need to be able to "identify" distinctions between different objects (pizza :: rock), different concepts (food :: non-food)  and spiritual traditions (Universalist Quakerism :: creedal Christianity).  Our use of language depends upon distinguishing and naming categories as helpfully as we can.

I therefore agree with your statement: "I don't see a problem in identifying different spiritualities.  Not all spiritual traditions are the same and it serves a useful purpose to clarify how they differ and where their views overlap."

Thanks again, Jim.  I see I still need to say more clearly what I am addressing here.

"Identities are figments of human conceptualization, not real boundary markers" is not meant to be postmodernist sloganeering. If anything, it is premodern Buddhist psychology, confirmed in many ways by modern neurobiology of consciousness research.

Certainly human beings need to be able to "identify" distinctions between different objects (pizza :: rock), different conceptual categories (food :: non-food)  and different spiritual traditions (Universalist Quakerism :: creedal Christianity).  Our use of language depends upon distinguishing and naming these things as helpfully as we can.

I therefore agree with your statement: "I don't see a problem in identifying different spiritualities.  Not all spiritual traditions are the same and it serves a useful purpose to clarify how they differ and where their views overlap."

In "Seeing beyond Identities" I am using the term "identity" in a somewhat different sense.

If I say "I am a convinced Friend," that may "identify" something of my history in the first sense.  However, "convinced Friend" is not an "identity."

We are so accustomed to the language which says "I am a Christian," "I am an American," "I am a gay man."  Our common habit is to take this as affirming an "identity" between an individual human being and all people in the named category.  Obviously, though, no two "Christians" or "Americans" or "gay men" are the same.  What we are actually doing when we use those labels is ascribing to ourselves certain very loosely defined characteristics.

The problem is that to assert "gay man" as an "identity" would be to reduce all the vast, complex, constantly changing realities of my 65 plus years of life to a few culturally "identifiable" markers.  What "I am a gay man" actually says is "I belong to the widely diverse category of men, each of them unique, who are willing to publicly affirm the homosexual aspects of their lives."

In "Seeing beyond Identities" I wrote: "I usually avoid calling myself a Christian out of respect for those who experience Christianity as a creedal religion with an orthodox theological belief system."

I am trying to affirm "identity" as a matter of belonging, not as a matter of definition.

I belong to a boundless community of human beings, a community which transcends time and space—and belief systems—all of whom recognize and turn to Jesus as the center of a circle without circumference.

However, most people associate the term "Christian" with a specific, doctrinal set of beliefs—as well as with a horrendous history of violent abuse of power.  I cannot say "I am a Christian" if that misleads people into thinking I subscribe to those doctrines.  I would rather not say "I am a Christian" if to do so means others cannot see me past their personal anger and resentment and fear regarding "Christian" abuses of power.

Likewise, I do not say "I am a Universalist," because I do not want to mislead either people who claim that label as naming a belief system or those who reject that belief system and, hence, those who claim the label.

I am not dodging the issue.

I want us to see beyond identities if we are using them as boundaries between those who belong to the wholeness of humanity and those who don't.

Blessings,
Mike

Views: 126

Comment by Jim Wilson on 10th mo. 19, 2015 at 2:42pm

Mike, thanks for thy response.  I found it clear and it makes sense to me.  In fact, I find it inspiring.

Best wishes,

Jim

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 19, 2015 at 4:29pm

Hello Mike. A verse that came to mind while reading your ideas about reducing identity to "a few culturally identifiable markers" was Gal. 3:28: "There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female; for you are all one person in Christ Jesus." This verse denies the validity of using cultural, political, or sexual markers to identify ourselves or others. The apostle does, however, uphold one distinction: whether or not one is "in Christ Jesus."

Paul goes on to discuss the difference between the two states of being:  in Christ, or not. He uses metaphors: on the one hand being slaves to elements of the natural world;  minors who haven't received their inheritance; and subjects of the law, on the one hand. On the other hand, being in Christ is having become sons of God; having received our inheritance; and having been freed from under the law. Paul ends the passage delineating the difference between "in Christ" and not in Christ by cautioning against returning to cultural observance. Being in Christ is not a cultural function; it is existential.

Paul distinguishes cultural identity from spiritual identity. Cultural, racial, sexual, national, cultural religion all create useless, superficial categories, which should be cast aside. But the one category that Paul upholds as actual and relevant is whether or not the human being has come into his completion: that is whether or not he is "in Christ."

I appreciate your awareness of the difficulty of claiming to be a Christian when you believe that others will think that you blindly accept doctrine and/or approve of abusive use of power by deceitful, corrupt people who claimed the title of Christian. I feel that it is essential to my faith and person to speak the truth that I've been given, regardless of how others perceive it. Some may be convinced; many will not. Some will use the horrors that were perpetrated in the past to reject what one says; some will hide under that cover while perhaps not even to themselves admitting the real reason for their rejection of the message of Quaker Christianity (As Jesus said, "men preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil" [Jn.3:19].

We are "to shine as lights, holding fast the word of life, and this should be every true christian's duty and practice" (Works: ii, 106). If more people did this, there would soon be less concern about the demise of Quaker faith, and the emptiness that accompanies it. 

 

Comment by Keith Saylor on 10th mo. 19, 2015 at 5:18pm

Hello Mike,

Would I be mis-representing you if I were to say you do not have an issue with the process of identity, meaning, purpose, etc. anchored in religious and secular beliefs, ideologies, practices, and institutions in itself. It is merely that you take issue when people use are so identified with outward constructs that they exclude other people. Furthermore, would I be incorrect in suggesting that that you identify with a principle or rule of inclusiveness? If so, why is it okay for you to "want" others to not set up identity boundaries exclusiveness when you yourself set up the identity boundary of inclusiveness? Is it not possible that imposing the outward principle of inclusiveness is exclusive?

Comment by Mike Shell on 10th mo. 23, 2015 at 8:18am

Keith:

Is it not possible that imposing the outward principle of inclusiveness is exclusive?

LOL [no offense meant].

I'm not advocating a "principle" of inclusiveness. I'm simply saying that the whole of reality is the whole.  There is nothing which is not part of it.

Thanks,

Mike

Comment by Mike Shell on 10th mo. 23, 2015 at 8:20am

Jim Wilson:

Mike, thanks for thy response.  I found it clear and it makes sense to me.  In fact, I find it inspiring.

Thank you, in turn, Jim, for helping me to clarify what I'm struggling to articulate.

Mike

Comment by Mike Shell on 10th mo. 24, 2015 at 10:54pm

Thank you, Patricia. You write:

Being in Christ is not a cultural function; it is existential.

Yes. It is not about assertion of a belief system—or, as Fox would call it, "profession." It is about opening one's heart to the real nature of Creation.

In his latest book, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian, John Dominic Crossan writes in reference to the Wisdom tradition in the Old Testament:

Wisdom reveals to us our created destiny, discloses for us our created identity, with its rights and responsibilities. To reject Wisdom is not to break an external law and bring about divine punishments, but to destroy our internal character and bring about human consequences. (126)

Being "in Christ" means being willing to let oneself become ever more open to that inward identity to which we are created, in the "likeness of God," an innate awareness of the justice and compassion with which Creation is infused.

Blessings,
Mike

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 25, 2015 at 2:01pm

Hello Mike: I agree fully with your statement that "it is not about assertion of a belief system--or, as Fox would call it, 'profession.' "And Crossan's words about "our created identity, with its rights and responsibilities" jumped off the page with significance! I would also add that Wisdom discloses not only the rights and responsibilities of personhood, but also its limitations, and it's there that I begin to feel a difference in our understanding.

Quakerism has been affected by Greek humanism, which is different in its conception of Man from what we find in primitive Christianity and its revival in 17th century Quaker faith. It's a complex topic, and I've found Emil Brunner does a good job of explaining the difference between the two conception of Man. If you care to read his lecture "Man in the Universe," you can find it here: http://www.giffordlectures.org/books/christianity-and-civilization-....

I think that the Liberal Quakers' misrepresentation of Fox's words "that of God in every one" can be laid at the door of Friends having adopted the Greek conception of Man. For the Greeks, Man rises above the animal to Nous or the Logos, whereas in the Biblical conception of Man, he is a creature, a product of God's will. God is Man's Lord and Creator, and through Him only is Man restored from total, utter alienation--not, as the Greeks would have it, by a gradated rising of awareness accompanied by virtues. 

Here's one paragraph from that Brunner lecture: 

In Biblical revelation the continuum of primitive mind is disrupted in an entirely different manner. A three-fold barrier is erected here: the barrier between God and the world between God and man and between man and nature. God is no more the immanent principle of the world but its Lord and Creator. He the Lord-creator alone is divine. Everything which is not Himself is creature product of His will. Therefore He is opposite the world; His essence, His divine being is other-than-world; He is the Holy One.1 That is why He does not allow Himself to be depicted in any form: “ Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth”. But now—and this is the second barrier—it is not merely the nature-image of godhead which is forbidden to man but equally the man-image. By that same character of holiness by which God is distinguished from nature, He is also distinguished from and placed opposite to man. Man in spite of every thing he has and is with all his spiritual as well as natural powers is not divine. He is a creature. The barrier which separates God and the world also separates God and man.

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