The Synthesis of Actualizing and Escaping the Self in Christian Identity and Conversion

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The Synthesis of Actualizing and Escaping the Self in Christian Identity and Conversion Ever since encountering Socrates’ simplistic but profound maxim, “know thyself,” I have taken intentional steps along the journey of my own self-discovery. However, the more I attempt to analyze the complex integration of motives, thoughts, actions, unconscious memories, sensual experiences, emotional reactions, etc. that composes my “self,” the more I realize the infinite depths into which Socrates’ seemingly simple saying has plunged me. Nevertheless, my curious mind, whether a curse or a gift, craves any tidbit of wisdom someone wishes to impart about how/where/with what means one can come to “know thyself” better. Perhaps it’s a result of growing up in a capitalistic, progressive, individualistic society, but my continual search proves I believe more knowledge will somehow lead to a fuller life. I want to improve, upgrade, supersize, maximize! Along this journey, I have stumbled upon many recent psychologists who propose that to help someone know the self more fully, the psychologist must provide “unconditional positive regard” for the personhood of the other, that is, identify with the client without questioning the position from which she or he speaks (McAdams 440-1). Allowing clients to talk, these psychologists believe, provides them opportunity to access their own self-knowledge. They already possess the answers they need to improve their lives; they simply need someone to affirm that truth so they can begin to believe it themselves. No outside authority needs to tell them what they’re thinking or feeling, let alone what they ought to do to change themselves. Since I believe in and have experienced unconditional positive regard as a catalyst to personal empowerment, I wanted to stand up and cheer, “Yes!” with these professionals. But another professional caused me to reconsider. Paul Vitz, a Christian psychologist, authors Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, a response to the self-actualization and self-help movements popularized by these psychologists. He criticizes Rogers’ client-centered therapy as encouraging a narrowly-focused, self-centered lifestyle that excludes broader cultural and historical themes (Vitz 21). “Selfism” as he labels this movement, simply encourages people to feed their own egos and ignore both the reality of their fallenness and the responsibility to love others. Not only that, but selfism defames God, for it places self at the center of one’s focus, thus creating an idol: “To worship one’s self (in self-realization) or to worship all humanity is, in Christian terms, simple idolatry operating from the usual motive of unconscious egotism”(Vitz 93).

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