Thursday, April 19, 2007

Desire, Death and Sin

Sebastian Moore argues that desire, our progressive connection with the mystery in which we find our identity, occasions crises of growth in which we must die to our ego to embrace a more truthful and compassionate sense of self-in-relation. He goes on to say that
It is impossible to deal with the growth crises of desire without thinking about death - for death is what we are talking about when we describe the swallowing up by the mystery that characterizes a severe crisis. Let us never forget that the incomprehensibility of God, which can be experienced philosophically with pleasure, can be for the mystic the darkest of nights, and for the bereaved lover death in the soul. It is quite erroneous to think that we do not experience death until we die. If we have lived at all, we know it well. And our memory of having come into fuller life through it should affect the way we think about our certain final death. And if a person's growth is a progressive liberation of desire, and if the person's life moves inexorably toward death, then it would seem natural to regard death as the climax of this process . . . The liberation of desire would then be the meaning of the ending of our space-time confinement. (Jesus the Liberator of Desire, p. 22).
Contra Freud, death is not the final equilibrium, the end; it is the final passage into union with the mystery in which our desire is liberated. This is the truth revealed to the disciples in their encounter with the Risen Christ. Yet, we experience a pervasive resistance to the growth crises that liberate our desire from bondage to the ego; we fear change and so we fear death. Here, Moore makes an important distinction between our normal resistance to change, to ego-death, and sin, our willful refusal of ego-death. He notes that
. . . dying to ego is not the same as dying to sin. It is the dying to present ego-consciousness, a kind of consciousness that is indispensable but comes to a point where growth demands that we move beyond it, at which point sin tries to keep it in place. So dying to ego is dying to sin's anchorage, sin's pretext that one is only human. The fully liberated human being is one in whom the death to ego, undeterred by sin, proceeds with far more vigor. The sinless person dies to ego a great deal more totally than we sinful people do . . . (pp. 31-32)

The difference between sin and the reluctance we experience in face of a challenge to grow is that sin systematically prevents the challenge from presenting itself. Sin idolizes the ego at its present stage of development, whether of the individual or of the whole society, and declares this to be the reality of things. It does this for the individual: The way I have come to see myself and be comfortable with myself - my tastes, my preferences in friends, my sense of gender identity - that is who I am, period. It does it for society: The homogeneity, the like-with-like, of a class, a race, a gender, in which there is nothing wrong per se, gets absolutized into elitism, racism, sexism, and the like. (pp. 32-33)

There is an important difference between the fear of the unknown which is characteristically and beautifully human, and saying that the known is enough. The latter is the pervasive sin of the world, the denial of desire . . . It is the opposition to change in a family, a class, a nation, a race a gender group. Underlying it, assuredly, is the fear of the unknown, of the love into which we are being drawn. But to the extent that that fear is recognized, change becomes possible. Thus the explosive confrontations of the racial drama of the sixties in the South mark the beginning of change - as does the crucifixion of Jesus. A really sinful situation is without fear, except in the unconscious. It is characterized by a huge complacency, a triumphant assertion of the status quo that is unaware of its vulgarity and banality. Some find it epitomized in the shopping mall. (pp. 34-35)
Well, I think you get the picture. There is a certain amount of fear and suffering that accompany normal human growth, that is simply unavoidable. If we are to die to self, to move beyond infantile ego-consciousness into the expansive and embracing love at the heart of the mystery in which we are, there will be challenges and suffering. This is different from the suffering due to sin, the refusal to undergo the progressive death of the ego that liberates our desire for realization of our union with God and God's creation. That is the suffering of the addict, who refuses to grow, and it is the suffering of the poor of the earth, the victims who are denied opportunity to grow so that other's can maintain the status quo.

This, I think, provides us the sense in which we are to understand the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom: the healthy fear that accompanies the risk of vulnerability and love as we find ourselves by giving ourselves away. It is not condemnation that we are to fear, but the process of letting go into God, the realization of the identity that God is giving us that is a kind of death. It is the fear of jumping off a cliff. Sin is the refusal to jump, to acknowledge and move beyond our fear. It is the refusal to allow our hearts to be broken.

Jesus did not refuse the suffering that comes with union with God. He died to ego but without needing to die so sin. We must die to both. How Christ crucified and risen gives us the grace to undergo both of these deaths is at the heart of Moore's theological project.

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