Category Archives: Identity

The Vulnerability of Genuine Community

“A community cannot be made or preserved apart from the loyalty and affection of its members and the respect and goodwill of the people outside it. And, for a long time, these conditions have not been met. As the technological, economic, and political means of exploitation have expanded, communities have been more and more victimized by opportunists outside themselves. And as salesmen, saleswomen, advertisers, and propagandists of the industrial economy have become more ubiquitous and more adept at seduction, communities have lost the loyalty and affection of their members. The community, wherever you look, is being destroyed by the desires and ambitions of both private and public life, which for want of the intervention of community interests are also destroying one another. Community life is by definition a life of cooperation and responsibility. Private life and public life, without the disciplines of community interest, necessarily gravitate toward competition and exploitation. As private life casts off all community restraints in the interest of economic exploitation or ambition or self-realization or whatever , the communal supports of public life also and by the same stroke are undercut, and public life becomes simply the arena of unrestrained private ambition and greed.”

~ Wendall Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1992), 121.

Honor & Shame Enough

“You come from the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, and that’s both honor enough to lift up the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.”

– C.S. Lewis, “Prince Caspian” in The Chronicles of Narnia (Grand Rapids, Mi: Eerdmans)

The Only Freedom Worth Having

“The only freedom worth having, a freedom that does not finally trivialize our choices, is a freedom that acknowledges its limits and does not seek to be godlike.”

~ Gilbert Meilander, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Eerdmans, 1996), 5.

We Belong to God

“We belong, to the whole extent of our being, only to God, whom we must learn to love even more than we love father or mother. What makes us true individuals therefore is that God calls us by name. Our individuality is not a personal achievement or power, and — most striking of all — it is established only in community with God. We are most ourselves not when we seek to direct or control our destiny but when we recognize and admit that our life is grounded in and sustained by God.”

~ Gilbert Meilander, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Eerdmans, 1996), 2.

Video Gaming & Virtual Identities

Here’s an excerpt from a thought-provoking article by Christine Rosen on the relationship between identity and video gaming. Thoughtful Christians need to consider the personal, social, and culture influence of moving away from a word-based to an image-saturated virtual culture.

In previous eras, games were supposed to provide more than mere play; they were supposed to improve us morally or physically. The conceit of contemporary times is that games improve our intelligence, and that they do this so well that we ought to integrate them into more spheres — the classroom, the boardroom, the playground—as replacements for less advanced ways of learning. Our embrace of video games is yet another chapter in the ongoing story of technology-as-liberation.

But this story isn’t as simple as it first appears, and we are failing to ask some important questions. With video games, we focus so much on how we can make the virtual world more like the physical world that we forget to ask about movement in the opposite direction. In an age when people are spending much of their work time and most of their leisure time in front of computers, televisions, and video-game screens, how is the virtual world affecting the physical one? Are we becoming so immersed in virtual reality that we end up devoting more time to the care and tending of our multiple, virtual identities than to the things in the real world that contribute to the formation of healthy identity? After all, there are a great many things you can’t do in virtual reality: you cannot satisfy material needs for food, water, or genuine physical affection; you cannot build character or develop true interpersonal skills; and although some people might be able to satisfy certain emotional needs, such satisfactions are rarely permanent.

Today’s video games are works of creativity, technical skill, and imagination. They are, in appropriate doses, healthy and satisfying playgrounds for experimentation with different identities and exploration of different worlds. But video games carry the risk—as all amusements do—of becoming the objects on which we lavish so much time and attention that we neglect the true and lasting things around us, such as our family, our friends, and our communities. Societies get the games they deserve. But when a society claims for its games the insights, sophistication, and deeply humane wisdom that other forms of culture and community have long offered—when it places Dickens alongside Doom and replaces the family hearth with an Xbox—it is well on its way to finding something more alarming than its identity stolen. It risks becoming a society without true loves or longings, filled with individuals who find solace only in make believe worlds where the persons they really are do not really exist.

~ Christine Rosen, “Playgrounds of the Self,” The New Atlantis (Summer 2005), 3-27.

The Irony of Modern Intellectual Progress

Richard Tarnas provides some helpful insight into the dehumanizing effects of modern scientism:

The more modern man strove to control nature by understanding its principles, to free himself from nature’s power, to separate himself from nature’s necessity and rise above it, the more completely his science metaphysically submerged man into nature, and thus into its mechanistic and impersonal character as well. For if man lived in an impersonal universe, and if his existence was entirely grounded in and subsumed by that universe, then man too was essentially impersonal, his private experience of personhood a psychological fiction. In such a light, man was becoming little more than a genetic strategy for the continuance of his species, and as the twentieth century progressed that strategy’s success was becoming yearly more uncertain. Thus it was the irony of modern intellectual progress that man’s genius discovered successive principles of determinism — Cartesian, Newtonian, Darwinian, Marxist, Freudian, behaviorist, genetic, neurophysiological, sociobiological — that steadily attenuated belief in his own rational and volitional freedom, while eliminating his sense of being anything more than a peripheral and transient accident of material evolution.

~ The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped Our World (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1991), 332.

Legendary vs Everyday Heros

“The difference between the hero of legend and the hero of everyday life may be put this way: For the traditional hero such as Ulysses of Jim Hawkins the adventure takes place away from home. Home is where you go after the adventure; it is essentially the end of the adventure. For the average adult, on the other hand, home is the adventure, the place where he lays himself on the line. The adventure consists precisely in those commitments with which the classical hero or child hero rarely allows to be entangled. The temptation for the traditional hero is to avoid the adventure and settle down; the temptation for the ordinary hero is to avoid commitment and have an adventure. For the ordinary hero it is staying home that is the hard thing, the thing that requires courage and energy. He must put aside the child’s fantasy of escaping. Once having accepted the main adventure, he cannot allow himself to be distracted.”

~ William Kilpatrick, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1992), 201.