Image by Clinton Steeds

Part One: Death.

Death to self is a major theme in christian theology.  In the churches I grew up in this was succinctly summarised in the saying, “The trouble with sin is that it has “I” in the centre”.

The christian tradition, along with many other spiritual traditions, is hostile to greed.  For those who are out only for themselves it offers a way out – but their self-interest is seen as part of the problem.  St. John speaking of all that is (evil) in the world nominates: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life (greed, possessiveness and self-sufficiency).  This is uncompromising stuff, to put it mildly.

And it is difficult to disagree with.  So much of the misery in our world comes from greed, possessiveness and self-sufficiency.  When we are greedy we care nothing for others and their needs, when possessive we are disregarding the claims of others, when self-sufficient we believe others to have no claim on us.  These three form the basis of many a political policy or sterile social debate.  They are dominant values in our society – each person able to fulfil their desires, regardless of the impact on others; each person able to acquire what they wish, for their own enjoyment alone; each individual (not even family any more) able to provide for themselves, without the need to relate to anyone else.  In short: these values create the hell of our current society and planet-killing behaviour.

And at the core of this horror is the ego – demanding, possessing, setting itself up as ruler of it all surveys.

When Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me”, his contemporaries knew what he was talking about.  The one carrying their cross was on the way to a slow, excruciatingly painful and shameful death.  I imagine a modern equivalent would be: “the firing squad is booked – who wants to join me in front of it?”  All of a sudden, after saying this, Jesus wasn’t so popular anymore.  There is no room for egotism here.

Radical surgery is the only cure.  Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the need to be born again.  That means setting aside all that we have learned, all social norms, our very identity – and starting again.

This is the message of the crucifixion as I understand it; death to self: it all has to go.  We need to be different.  To not cling to all our beloved experiences, possessions and even relationships.  We need to give up our egotistical manner of life.  No ifs, no buts, no compromise.

6 Comments to “On Easter: the death and resurrection of the ego”

  1. Cathy says:

    Evan,

    I respectfully disagree with your definition of self-sufficientcy. I believe self-sufficiency means you don’t need to be a burden to others. In the work place this means you don’t have to constantly be told what to do, and managers know you can do your work with out being watched all the time.

    In terms of finances, this means you have sufficient income not to need government assistance, the good nature of friends and family, or extensive loans.

    In your personal life this means you have an identity that makes you secure with your own self. You don’t need the input of others to make you feel good; it helps, but it’s not a requirement.

    I see self sufficiency as self confidence and the ability to take care of yourself without “mooching” off of someone else. This doesn’t mean at all that you don’t “need to relate to anyone else,” but that you don’t need to *rely* on someone else for your basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, or even love (you love yourself even if you don’t have friends, family, or a significant other to love you.)

    Therefore, being self-sufficient is not a bad state to be in at all. Rather, I see it as a desirable state.

    On the other hand, I do see your point that greed and possessiveness are blocks to social progress and environmental sustainability. Unlike self-sufficiency, greed and possessiveness aren’t a means of personal responsibility, but rather personal superiority.

    Cathy

  2. char says:

    really like your post evan~ if one is not buddhist the ego tends to be forgot nowadays in self-reflection.

    for a while i thought “giving up ego” meant “giving up caring” and that this was how to be non-attached. i got started by cutting up all my cds (i was 24), i missed them after 10 seconds…:-(

    recently i lost everything off my computer for the last 5 years (e-books coming together, masses of content writing, lesson plans blah blah). as the sensation of loss washed over me i realised that waht really cut was the “time and effort” of “all this stuff that i had”. i was mourning for my ego. once i saw things this way i dealt with it really well-friends and family very surprised. and me.

    i can see how my observation of my ego (as objective as i can be given that i’m human 🙂 has seperated me from others in fundamental ways (especially female-male realtionships and now am unable to work in a beuracratic workplace). however, the depth of my friendships with a few close to me has been enriched (mostly with women and my family).

    i have a “self-sufficient” person living with me at the mo. i opened my home to her and her family as they were destititute. the temporary arrangement is now at 2 months and i have asked them to move on in the next two weeks (if you can afford takeaways regularly, home decorations and going to the movies you can afford bond).

    my housemate bags me for calling on friends and family for aid (as they do me). she conveniently forgets that she is using most of my houselhold items, i am covering the cost of household essentials and only charging her the minimum rent to keep the roof over both our heads.

    we are social creatures, and community requires lending a hand and being there for others, even when they don’t know you are there. asking and accepting help from others keeps me humble, and makes me responsible for putting them first to pay them back or when they need a hand.

  3. Evan says:

    Hi Cathy,

    I have no problems with your understanding of self-sufficiency.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. Evan says:

    Thanks Char,

    I think it does help us to see what we are mourning. For me, seeing my ego at work has helped me process my ‘stuff’ more satisfactorily.

    Being willing to help does mean that we lay ourselves open to being taken advantage of. I hasten to say that, for me at least, this has been rare. Most people I have found treat me with respect.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. On Cathy’s comment on self-sufficiency:
    I think that’s the difference between dependency and interdependency.
    Dependency is saying that you need to rely on each others..
    Interdependency is saying that you need to learn from each others..

    Dr. Henry Cloud in his book, Changes That Heal, shared a very interesting point, when we become an adult, we are no longer see others as a person to rely upon, but to learn from.

    Just an additional thought. And btw, Evan, this is a great reflection on Easter… Thanks for sharing this!!!

    Happy Easter!
    Robert

  6. Evan says:

    Thanks Robert,

    I think talking about dependence and independence captures the difference nicely.

    Thanks for your contribution.

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