Friday, 26 December 2008

Identity Issues

For my dissertation I have been reading essays on how certain characters have fictionalised others (usually the male fictionalising the female, as this line of argument is often found in feminist discourse), and this got me to thinking. To what extent am I just a figment of society’s imagination? How is my identity as an individual determined? Fortunately, I came to a reassuring conclusion, but you’re going to have to wait for that.

The question of identity is one that is an issue that is existent in our lives since about the age of two. In fact, it is the arrival of the question of identity that makes the twos so terrible. For the first years of a baby’s life they are under the impression that they are merely an extension of the primary care-giver (as it usually the mother, that is what I shall continue to call it). Their existence is bound by their mothers; the child is alive only because their mother is. Come two, however, and the baby realises that when the mother is not there they still are, and it suddenly hits them, they are an autonomous being (Not quite like that. I doubt any two-year-olds have thought ‘Hang on a second, I’m an autonomous being. I have an identity to formulate’). Then boundaries must be established and the terrible twos have begun.

But what exactly is our identity? If I were to write down who I was we would hit problems. I would have to make use of flawed and problematic labels in order to define me. I would write something along the lines of ‘I am a: twin, brother, son, grandson, boyfriend, cousin, nephew, student, blogger, citizen of the United Kingdom, inhabitant of both the New Forest and Aberystwyth’, you get the picture. These are the slightly less transient ones. However, identity is always fluid. When I enter a shop I am a customer; when I visit another country I am a tourist; when I take the bus I become a passenger. So we can already see that identity is a very complex notion.

Also, there is a question of who’s me am I? Everyone who knows me has a slightly—or sometimes drastically—different opinion of who I am exactly. My friend Kaylee, who I know from my secondary school will think I am ‘a friend, from secondary school, who is not that organised’. However, some of my friends at University (where I have had to take responsibility for myself) will say that I am one of the most organised people they know. To be honest I think that I am quite organised, but have my silly moments. But which am I: am I Kaylee’s disorganised Thomas; my university friends’ organised Thomas; or my middle-ground Thomas? You would probably tend to say that my opinion of myself is far more accurate than those around us. Kaylee hasn’t seen my new-found skills in time-management, and my friends in Aberystwyth do not know what poor Kaylee had to put up with whilst in secondary school—however I have seen it all.

Yet, it is unlikely that we have the best knowledge of who we are. Freudian psychoanalysis has dismantled that idea well enough, but I shall discuss it anyway. Mental illnesses are the most extreme instance: the delusions of grandiose that schizophrenics suffer and the distorted body-image of those with eating-disorders are two examples of how an individual’s view of themselves can be mistaken. However, there are less extreme ways this occurs. Words such as ‘arrogant’, ‘selfish’, ‘egocentric’ are there for those who believe themselves to be better, more worthy or more important than they actually are (as denoted by social standards). To use myself as a case-study, yet again, there have been numerous times that I have realised my view of myself was wrong. I believed for a good part of my life that I was born in the year of the dragon, according to Chinese zodiac. I was quite proud of that, despite not believing in its implications. However this was dispelled when I realised that Chinese New-Year was quite late in 1988, and I was born before it. This made me a rabbit. Yes, a rabbit—quite a jump (or should I say hop. Sorry, that was terrible). This is just a small incidence compared to those you hear about in trashy magazines (‘My mother was actually my father’ type headlines). So it appears that I can’t rely on myself to form my identity. This is especially difficult with the Freudian idea of denial. You could say I was just about anything, and if I tried to refute it the most effective retort is that I am in denial.

So it appears as if we have come to a brick wall. I can't form my identity, or really know what it is. Nor can anybody else I know. So it appears that I will never know who I really am. That is quite scary. I am now an undefinable entity, and impossibility, so to speak. However, we have come to my positive conclusion. I must warn you, I have been leading you all so far to a testimony of my faith, a reason why I feel I must believe in Christ. Hopefully that will not deter you from reading on.

I have an assurance identity in my faith. I have a God that knows everything that can be known about me. He knows how many hairs there are on my head (Matthew 10:30). God created me and knows all about me. In Psalm 139 it says

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

God created me and knows all about me, even before I was actually born. So my identity is formed through my belief in God, and through Christ. Colossians 1 tells me that Jesus is what holds the universe together, so it is him that holds my identity together. It is not my view of myself, it is not my friends' opinions of me, or who I think I am, but it is through Christ that I am made. This means that I must live in Christ, to have any complete identity:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,
rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ.

Colossians 2:6-10

So there it is. The fullness of my identity is found in Christ. I am free from the despair of existential philosophy (which indeeds leaves me hollow), or the denial of Freudian psychology, as long as I continue to be rooted in Christ. It as my sense of identity depends on it, I think I will.

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