Know thyself and to thyself be trueIntroduction
I was after a load of soil. Gardens need soil and I had long since discovered that the easiest way to create a garden was to poison the grass and dump a load of soil on it. Where to get the soil, that was the problem.
Although the business of perceiving self-evident truth seems simple enough, in practice it is far from simple. The human brain just does not process information analytically. Mind you, we think we do, and that's half the problem. For many people it is not "I think and therefore I am", rather, "I think and therefore it's true." So, when it comes to understanding what motivates us to behave the way we do, the self-evident is far from evident.
In a recent sociological work, "Dining Out", the author sought to show that to a great part, eating out at restaurants is little more than the working out of a fantasy in the lives of those who "eat out". It feeds the ego, more than the body. It's all about being seen at the right place with the right people. It's all about image, an image that we desire of ourselves, but which will always remain a fantasy only ever lived out in the theatre of life. Underling her observation of the eating habits of the "well to do", the author sees human contentment dependent upon a clear and reasoned understanding of self. It is better to face and deal with personal issues which prompt fantasy in our lives, rather than live out the fantasy. So you see, even the simple act of going to a restaurant is clouded by more subtle motivations than just feeling hungry. There are many motivations behind each and every action.
A believer tends to identify sin (particularly selfishness) as the most evident motivator in life. It is true that we are fallen creatures and that our fallenness influences our behaviour. Yet, believers often make a false equation between the flesh and sin. Fleshliness is not necessarily sinfulness. Remember, when God created us he said "it is good." Our natural human motivations are what make us human, not what make us sinful.
Consider for a moment the "nature / nurture" debated. Behaviorist philosophy is still in vogue. Most of the popularist movements of our age are driven by behaviorist philosophy. As our lady friends from the feminist movement put it, "a woman is not created, she is made". Popular magazines, film, all pump the line that a girl child is shaped a female by her environment. Some years ago a geneticist was invited to Australia to lecture on his theories that humankind is greatly influenced by genetic coding. His lectures at Sydney University were constantly disrupted by demonstrators who labeled him as a Nazi. Yet, here lies that other element of our being which sits beside our environmental conditioning - coded behavior.
How does it all work? The code, or programme, runs, producing stimulant chemicals (hormones) and the body responds accordingly. Action prompting reaction. For a male it is: strutting, dominating, defining territory, herding ...... For a female it is: nesting, protecting, nurturing...... These natural genetic traits, for the maintenance of the species, soon become socialized into respectable patterns of behavior. The male goes to work and the female raises the family at home. Excesses, such as male dominance or female jealousy, are simply overdriven hormonal reactions which the wider society seeks to contain by declaring them socially unacceptable.
Recently, a study was undertaken on the house dog which was later turned into a Television documentary. It showed that all the common traits of our family pets can be traced to the original dog family in the wild. Only a limited number of wild dogs were domesticated, the wolf being in the forefront. And now, thousands of years later, with our so many different breeds, the dog still carries the behaviour traits of the wild. Many of the behaviour quirks of our dogs, so entertaining, are nothing more than genetically coded behaviour -responses carried though the gene pool from the wild. Above all, it is not learnt behaviour. In fact, many of the so called trained dog tricks are nothing more than a called up genetically driven response. For example, "The Singing Dog" act. Given a prompt in the right pitch, and any dog will croon as does the wolf in the wild. They walk in a circle before settling down to sleep, making a bed in the leaves. They gulp their food, getting in for their cut before the rest of the pack. They obey their master, tail between their legs, or on their back, legs up, submitting to the pack leader. So, when we commend a dog for its obedience, as if it has made a choice to obey, we need to remember that it obeyed because it was "bred" to obey. There was no choice in it. It was but a genetic response. In the breeding of the Australian blue cattle dog, all the traits necessary for a good working dog were sought out in other breeds and bred into the line. For example. The early breed tended to wander a bit and so by genetic selection and breeding, a strain was produced which stayed with its master's gear - the saddle and bed role. For the dog, there is no choice but to respond to its genetic coding.
The primal hormonal drives are for the maintenance of the species. For that purpose, men and women are driven differently and the various cultures of our world give shape to those different drives. We may immediately react to this view, but we need to remember that we are all influenced by socialist dogma. The basic socialist philosophical stance of egalitarianism in Marxism/Lenanism has denied sexual differences, but it is very unwise to give credence to a nineteenth century doctrine which evolved in the slums of England in the early years of the industrial revolution and which flies in the face of the scientific and sociological advances of our century. Just because educators want to ban dollies corner, doesn't mean they know what they are doing. The different male and female drives produce within us different feelings in the face of similar stimuli. Males and females end up thinking differently about a whole range of things, the different perspectives are hormonally driven.
Then there are the life stages we go through, stages in the breeding cycle. Each stage packaged in a different bundle of chemicals which stimulate particular feelings suitable for that stage. Puberty is the most noticeable, noticeable to the observer that is, but not to the person going through it. The young pubic male or female is driven by the sexual urge to copulate. In Western society, where the gap between puberty and marriage is ever widening, the young person is forced to release their pent-up energy in some form or other. Pre marital sex is the choice of most, but masturbation, rock music and aggression can help "let it all out". For the Christian young person, pre marital sex is still the favoured choice (although denied), but the "spunky" youth worker, the "orgasmic" preacher and the hype "Praise the Lord" service, all help to relieve sexual drives, at least on Sunday. Life's stages tend to center around childhood, puberty, finding a sexual partner, raising a family, watching others raise their family.
I have reached the last stage in my life, and now my body is telling me to go off and die somewhere so that I won't be in competition with the young for the limited amount of proteins in the world. Of course, I protest and I hope my struggle against this chemical time-clock tolling my end, will see me with many years to come. None-the-less, the body has been given the order to disintegrate, and disintegrate is what it is doing. I am reminded of one of our Australian marsupials. Immediately after copulation the poor little fellow goes off and dies. At least the girls get to stay around awhile to raise the young.
So, we humans are powerfully motivated by our genetic inclinations as well as our environmental conditioning. The fact is, these motivators are not necessarily evil in themselves.
The hormonal games people play
If we are going to sit easily with our humanness throughout our Christian life, we must learn to understand why we feel the way we feel. We must come to identify the many feelings we have that are natural prompts toward behaviour which is designed to maintain the species, feelings that are not evil in themselves. Failure to do this forces us to place positive or negative pseudo-Christian ethical values on the motivation, and it is these values (ethical do's and don'ts) which may well prompt us into real sin.
Probably the worst example I have seen of spiritualizing hormones, was a lady in her early fifties who was sure she was being regularly touched by the Spirit and which therefore gave her some special right to act as a prophet in the church. The touch of the Spirit was evidenced by her being overwhelmed by a flooding sense of warmth. A doctor might want to call it a hot flush associated with menopause (or personpause in non sexist language). Of course, the spiritualizing is usually much more subtle than this.
The sexual, or mating drive, can be very much part of friendships we establish across the sexes. It is very easy to call these feelings Christian love or oneness, but these bonding feelings are much more primal than that. Intertwined with friendship (a sense of identity with another because of compatibility and respect for that individual), and Christian love (a sense of oneness with another because of the image of Christ in them), there is sensual attraction. Sensual attraction toward another does not necessarily involve either mental or physical consummation of that attraction, but failure to recognize it is one of the best ways to lead in that direction. The "we are just good friends", or "our relationship is purely platonic", is one of the best ways to end up in bed.
Mid-life crisis is no longer the mystery it once used to be, but it still rates as the roughest time a male has to go through. The breeding task completed, the time clock chiming the end, and all of a sudden we are faced with the mortality of self; we are going to die. In fact, as I said, I think the body actually tells us to go off and die - preserve the proteins. As can be expected, this causes a fairly heavy reaction in most men. The common response is to have an affair and so deny our mortality. We tell the time clock to go jump in the lake. The stupidity of our generation lies in not only having an affair, but leaving the wife and kids and starting a new family.
There are of course, other ways of dissipating the energy produced by the fear of death. We may change our job, buy a new house, buy a red sports car, etc. One piece of secular advice for this period in life is, "whatever you do, don't sell property. Have an affair, but don't sell property". I would suggest that buying the red sports car is a less painful option. Christians can feel "called of God" during this time to undertake a new work for Jesus. The trick is knowing when it is hormones and when it is the call of God.
Commenting on the mysteries of womanhood is always a dangerous task for any male, none-the-less I do so with some trepidation. The female equivalent for mid-life crises is associated with the cessation of the menstrual cycle and the major chemical changes which take place in her body at that time. Yet, it is more subtle than just a change in one or two chemicals. With males, some medicos deny the physiological base of mid-life crises, as there is only a marginal lowering of the male hormone level with the onset of age. Yet, it's all a bit more complex than that. With females, the body seems to recognize that the breeding and raring process has ended. She now, like the male, has served her purpose. She is valueless and only a useless competitor for the limited resources of nature. Her nest is crumbling before her and she begins to grasp and hold together a rotting whole. Whereas the male fears impotence (the end of creativity) the female fears bareness. She becomes possessive of her husband and family. She becomes murderess if the kids don't come together for Christmas dinner, antagonistic toward daughters-in-law, suspicious of her husbands friends (especially if female), overly focused on the family home, etc. Again, the trick in all this is knowing why we feel the way we feel. If we don't identify the ground of our motivations we end up blindly reacting to them, or as I have said of believers, we give them a religious justification. Mums can easily demand that the kids stick together as a family, visit regularly, fulfil certain rituals common when they were young, all on the basis that "Jesus wants us to stick together " - supported with lots of verses. Family solidarity is then maintained by moral blackmail and a whole lot of guilt. Mum feels better because the nest is still holding together through her own determination. The kids end up getting very busy and her husband takes up golf.
As with many animals, the human species tends to be tribal and territorial. The species is maintained through tribal association over a claimed food resource. Although today we are highly sophisticated, we still act out our primal urges of tribe and territory. The suburban block is a perfect example - a nest on a small piece of territory. The male is most concerned with the boundaries and the female with the nest, the house. When we get a new property, the bloke is on about getting the fences up while the girl is focused on the house and its furnishings.
Over the years I have been fascinated with the way ministers function with each other and with their congregation. It is indeed very tribal and territorial. When a new minister takes over he goes to great lengths to cover the "scent" of the previous bloke. It is a very tense time, for he has to establish himself as the head of the tribe. And not only does he have to eradicate the image of the previous pack leader, but he has to shape up to the other males in the group who all move around determining pecking order and testing his credentials as the leader. The first Parish Council meeting can be a horror with all the men playing their games. And if there is an assistant minister, it becomes even more complex. A number of ministers have said to me they would never allow an existing assistant to remain in their new Parish. Always good Biblical reasons support their case, but it has more to do with hormones than the Bible. Curate-Rector troubles are very common, and they usually come down to the young heifer testing himself against the old bull. So, issues of Biblical authority and congregational structures can easily become nothing more than a vale to hide baser feelings and instincts.
So, hormones drive us, and if we fail to recognize these motivators, or worse still, give them a positive or negative ethical value, then that which was no sin may well become sin for us.
Accepting our humanity
There are a number of ways of responding to our fleshly humanity. We may seek to satisfy, we may deny or bury, or we may simply appreciate the way we are.
My observation is that the vast majority just goes with the flow. Depending on their sophistication, they may or may not justify their behaviour. Recently, a friend of mine left his wife after a long disintegration in their relationship. He then developed a new relationship with another woman. He admitted he just wanted to be happy. His relationship had broken down with his wife and his new girlfriend now satisfied him mentally, emotionally and physically. His moral failure was real, but at least he was honest, and his honesty gained him access to the grace of God.
People with a religious faith usually can't explain their motivations. If our marriage is breaking down we will often blame our partner, find some "specks" to justify our feelings. We have been brought up to feel that many of our human feelings are to be viewed as less than holy. They are therefore to be denied and suppressed. We tend to form a dichotomy in life between the sacred and the secular. We then see the spiritual life as only truly experienced when our natural desires are curbed. In the face of such confusion, either a reconciliation of the marriage or a peaceful separation, is compromised.
Incarnational theology should remind us that what God made is good, and that its goodness is reaffirmed in that Christ took upon himself human flesh. Although the creation is affected by sin, it remains substantially "good". In fact, I would want to say, that not only is it "good" in itself, but that the whole creation exists for an ultimately "good" purpose. It serves as an environment to know and experience God's love. So, hormones are not just good in themselves, (even though affected by sin) they serve an eternal purpose. As we live and feel through life's stages, so we enjoy the Creator and His creation. Our God is a hedonist. Yes indeed, everything is for our joy and all we have to do is accept his gracious kindness.
Clearly, the right and proper response toward our genetically motivated feelings, is to understand why we feel the way we feel, appreciate them (for God made us that way), and enjoy. It is certainly not helpful to flee from the raw edge of our humanity. We should understand and appreciate what we are. I deny God's grace if I deny my humanity by hiding my true self and living a lie.
The best Biblical example of this approach to the Christian life is the teaching on marriage. What does a person do with their drive to perpetuate the species? "A man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh". If the person has the "gift", they may choose not to be married, to be a "eunuch" for the Lord. They may reshape their energies into marrying the church, being united, made one, bonded in love, with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, if that's not the way they feel, if their "gift" is for procreation, for union, then no matter, for "they have not sinned." "It is better to marry than burn".
The raw self, flesh and blood, humanity and hormones, are not something to fear. They can run amuck if we give free reign to the sinful nature. They will run amuck if we try to suppress or deny them as though evil. All denial will do is promote the sinful self. Let us then understand and accept the human self as good.
The issue is this, we have been created from the dust, but if we fail to notice the self-evident truth of our natural dustiness and accept it as "good" under God, we will never relax in our Christian walk.