The Widely Recognized Problem of the Ego
As I continue to work through the idea of the reflected-self and how it becomes self-obsession, selfishness, self-righteousness, how it makes us unable to love or to engage the material world in a healthy way it’s important to ask how it relates to the ego. In some ways the reflected-self can be seen as nearly synonymous with the concept of the ego. As I continue to work the concept I’ll have to continue to process the inter-relation of the two concepts.
The term “ego” of course came from Freud by has been used in religious contexts to describe sources of evil in our lives. You can find other religious traditions grappling with the ego, especially those stemming from the root of Hinduism and Buddhism. The ego is a source of misery, conflict, hatred, fighting, violence and warfare and human community, not just Christian community, has been grappling with how to approach the ego and often simply get it under control.
My View of Other Religions
As a Christian I believe that the triune creator of the universe reveals himself in two ways, through general and special revelation. Because general revelation is available to all, and because the imago dei (image of God) is universal to all human beings, all human beings have the potential to know something of their author and his creation. This is not a new idea, the Apostle Paul lays it out in Romans 1. Christians have long debated how this gets played out, but the principle is commonly embraced by Christians. In my tradition it comes together in the concept of “common grace”, that God blesses the whole world with his own riches.
It seems reasonable that because religious traditions are human traditions that their founders and participants use general revelation (as we all do) in developing their teachings. This idea is not isolated to religion. All people use general revelation to build the corpus of human knowledge and so this body of information is available to all and subject to evaluation by all.
Should Christians learn from other religions? Yes. Just like Christians should learn from all other observers of general revelation.
What Christians bring to the conversation is not only what they learn from general revelation but also what they learn from special revelation. So Christians will sift through the contributions of other religions and evaluate them (as all people evaluate all contributions by others) according to their own traditions and practices.
The Ego is a Common Problem
Many religious traditions deal with the ego in their tradition in some way, shape or form.
- In Islam submission to the will of Allah is a foundational principle.
- Jesus says to deny your self, take up your cross and follow him. Mortification, dying to self is a centerpiece of the practice and experience of Christian piety.
- The recognition of the problem of attachment or desire, which are deeply connected with ego and the will is one articulation of Buddhism’s second noble truth.
I can’t say that will and ego again are synonymous, but they clearly are connected.
The ego fills us with self-importance. It propels us to fight for ourselves or for the things we want. It lead us to bind ourselves to things in the world and to try to construct our identities upon them. It is important for self-preservation and this instinct for self-preservation brings us to subjugate others around us, to use them rather than to love them.
In many ways the ego is an unexamined reflected self let loose upon the world.
Each religious traditions will grapple with the ego, and the reflected self in practical ways. There will be commonality in how they address the ego and the reflected self. Exploring those ways will be important in terms of elucidating what is distinct in those religious traditions.