Monday, July 26, 2004

In Man's Image

It has always worried me that many zealous Christians usually refer to human superiority by quoting a certain passage in the Bible: “God created man in his image…” To me, that statement, while possibly containing several theological truths, only proves the humanity (in both a positive and negative way) of the writer. Because such a philosophy is far from unique. Or rather, it’s a juxtaposition of our innate wishes.

What I mean by our “innate wishes” is that within each and every person is a sense of pride. And along with that pride contains to one degree or another a certain narcissism. To put it in another way, the closer something resembles us, the more appealing we find it to be. In the case of Christianity, our God appears to be like us. The only difference between Christianity’s God and the Greek’s gods is that we resemble the latter not through the power of the deities but rather plainly assumes it to be so. Of course there is a big development from the latter to the former. Greek gods, after all, are pretty much like super-powered humans, with all the flaws and weaknesses that go along with humanity. That’s not present with Christianity’s God, although following along those lines, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that in order for us to be saved, God took on a human form. Jesus could be understood as a reconciliation between what we wanted our God to be and our innate form. God did not create man in his image but rather we created God in the image we wanted to fashion.

So humanity is a narcissist society. It is not only reflected in our religion but in the way we live life. One has to merely look around our surroundings to find that we usually associate with people who have, at the very least, one thing in common with us. It could take the form of blood (because like it or not, we do share characteristics with our ancestors, siblings, and most probably, descendants) in the case of family, or land or an ideal, in the case of country. Some people even have loyalty to their alma matter, and form a certain kinship with complete strangers upon the utterance that they came from the same school (or suffered under the hands of the same teacher).

Taking it to another level, what people usually look for in their husbands or wives is something that resembles them. The most stated characteristic (at least in my experience) of the traits we want in our boyfriends or girlfriends is understanding. And someone similar to us, at the very least in attitude and perspective, is in the best position to tolerate and understand our needs and habits. We’re attracted to people who are more like us than not. That’s why people usually start off with common interests in introducing themselves. Because anything common usually paves the way for close bonds. Even common adversity (such as a common enemy or being stuck in an elevator with no way out) can be a stepping stone for relationships.

Of course the other attitude we could take is that we’re not looking for people who have common traits as us but people who fulfill our wishes or fantasies. I mean the Christian God is like that. We’re not perfect, so we want him to be perfect. But in that relationship, we’re still inevitably relating to ourselves since a part of God is what we want ourselves to be. Similarly, that’s also something that could happen in the pursuit of our partners. We’re not looking for someone like our flawed selves but someone who can transcend us, someone who can solve our problems. In other words, we want to change, but since a particular change is beyond us, we hope to find it in someone else. Yet in the end, that trait is only important because it’s important to us. Once, say, we’ve gained a certain characteristic we previously did not have (such as being popular in college when you were unpopular in high school), that trait in the other person seems less attractive and exotic. At the very least, that shared experience becomes a common ground for you and someone else.

The interplay of who we are and who we want to be is carried over to our offspring. Parents usually have two mentalities when it comes to their child: either their child becomes like them (such as the pride one feels when your son or daughter takes up the same profession as you did), or that their child becomes someone they aren’t (such as a poor man wanting his son to become a rich doctor, or the housewife wishing that her daughter won’t get pregnant at an early age). Again, it really isn’t surprising that this is the stance most people take. The greatest hurdle of empathizing with other people is that for even just a few moments, we must feel what the other person is feeling rather than feel what we are feeling (of course the talent of the best empathic people is that there is no “other”; what the other person feels, they feel). And raising a child is a full-time job, and the only experiences we can draw upon are those we’ve personally experienced.

I’m not really condemning our tendency to gravitate towards what’s similar to us. In fact, a probable reason that we’re still alive on this Earth and haven’t blown up each other is the fact that we associate ourselves with humanity as a whole and find something similar in one another. We all have shared experiences; each and everyone of us, for example, knows what it is to laugh, what it is to cry. But as much as we share something in common, our differences sometimes gets the better of us. We wage wars because the other nation is different from ours. We ostracize people because they’re strange and queer. We even don’t get along with other people because they have an opinion. What we forget is that while there are things that can’t be changed, there are still lots of things that can be. We have free will and can overcome hurdles. If we killed someone just because they’re different, then we’d truly be alone in the world. And in the end, that is a narcissist’s greatest fear, to realize that you’re alone in the world not because you’re unique, but because other people found you to be repellant.


The Knitting Poet said...

I debated as to whether I should comment on this after reading...but I have to say that christianity, is not about what God can do for's about a relationship. A journey that takes the true believer through life, and hopefully, arriving by the end of it.
Being a christian isn't like having some sort of a magic wand, and, saying ok, God give me this, give me that, wouldn't that be nice. As Christians we have to learn to face the harsh realities of life, and live a life according to the one layed out in the Bible. I wish this tiny little comment could wrap christianity up in a tiny little can't.

Charles said...

Hi! Considering I wrote this a few years ago, I'm actually surprised that you found this moving enough to comment.

Here's what I wrote a few months later regarding Christianity: Christianity is Difficult which best sums up my opinion on Christianity.