Monday, June 8, 2009

Over Ego Into God

In the recent UU World article entitled 'The Human Condition,' Kenneth Collier draws the distinction between ego and spirit as two modes of existence. The former, he maintains, centers on individual autonomy - our separation from others. The latter, in contrast, deals with connectedness and relatedness. He is careful to characterize this dualism not in terms of metaphysical ontology but rather in terms of perception (i.e. less theological anthropology, more spiritual attitude and awareness):

Notice that I am not suggesting that either the ego or the spirit is in any way a disembodied being temporarily trapped in our flesh. They are but ways of conceiving of ourselves and of relating both to ourselves and to the world. They are both essential to our understanding of how it is that we exist: We are separate and we are connected. After all, it takes binocular vision to see depth.

Indeed, in religion we seek to bind together (lit. religare) - to infuse the ego with that which is more and beyond. However, where Collier takes the turn towards gnosis (i.e. knowledge), I am more inclined to tend towards the affective - to view the binding-together as a dispositional afficere, or 'acting-on' in compassionate connection. By attuning us to the spirit, religion cultivates a holistic orientation that fully saturates our being-in-the-world. Such newfound emotional awareness kindles the heart and soul. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib opines:

ਨਾਨਕ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰਿ ਮਿਲਾਇਆ
O Nanak, conquering egoism, we are absorbed into the Divine. [153]

On the one hand, this image of being drawn out of the self and into the collective speaks to Rev. Forrest Church's definition of God as the "power that is greater than all and yet present in each"; I consider this an appropriate addendum to Collier's call for human interconnection - we must also strive for connection with the more-than-human. On the other hand, this Sikh description of being engrossed in the Holy plays with my suggestion that religion works towards an affective transformation of the whole. In short, 'genuine religion' (I might prefer 'life-affirming religion') re-shapes our way-of-being by connecting us to and through humanity with God.

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