The problematic nature of the self


Reading McIntosh’s Mystical Theology* – it covers precisely the ground I have been thinking about lately. On the problematic nature of the self there is no doubt that Kerr** is correct. We are constituted by our human interactions – but what else goes into the mix? Is it entirely a case of co-dependent origination? Surely this is the efficient cause. What are the material and final causes? The final cause is where transcendence fits in. The origin of self lies in human interrelationships. Where those relationships are positive, co-operative and loving they are productive. Where they are negative, exploitative and selfish they are destructive. The primary dynamic is not physical, or biological but love, or some similar élan vital towards co-operation and creation. But the question still remains. Individual selves emerge from the matrix oriented through self-transcendence towards Ultimate Reality – we do not know the what and the why of this process. We do not know the relationship between the self and ultimate Reality, or indeed whether the term relationship can properly be applied. Indeed, so fundamental is co-dependent origination and the creative role of human interaction that it may be the case that this preoccupation with the individual self is an aberration. What is important is God. We need to get away from the preoccupation with inner states which keeps us locked in the prison of the existential self. But this is difficult because they are what we experience. God, by definition, cannot be part of our experience. Our experience determines the way of our living, usually. We are reactive because we do not understand what we are, or where we are going, or rather, we understand ourselves only in terms of the history of our personal experience. The transcendence of this empirical self is at worst a theory, at best a belief based on a few transitory glimpses. In the end reasoning fails and we are left before the MYSTERY – a luminous darkness, tremendum et fascinans, as Otto puts it.

[* McIntosh Mark A.; Mystical Theology, Blackwell, Oxford 1998]

[**“What constitutes us as human beings is the regular and patterned reactions that we have to one another.” Fergus Kerr;  Theology after Wittgenstein, Blackwell, Oxford 1986 quoted in McIntosh p. 21]

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