Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Merton's Insights on the False Self

I have been rereading James Finley’s monumental book on Merton’s theology of spiritual identity, this week: “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere”. The section dealing with the False Self continues to shape my thinking and writing on authentic Christian identity and in turn our quest for true Christian leadership, free from selfish ambition and inordinate competitiveness.

Here follows three of Finley’s probing insights on Merton’s understanding of the false self:
  • The False Self is a whole syndrome of lies and illusions that spring from a radical rejection of God in Whom alone we find our own truth and ultimate identity.
  • Merton equates sin with the identity-giving structures of the False Self – thus the focus of sin is shifted from the realm of morality to that of ontology.
  • Sin, and therefore the False Self, is a fundamental stance of wanting to be what we are not. Sin is thus an orientation to falsity, a basic lie concerning our own deepest reality.

For Merton, our deep and truest identity is found in our rediscovery of God through the revelation of His Son, Jesus of Nazareth:

“The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God….Ultimately the only way that I can be myself is to become identified with Him in whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence. Therefore, there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.”

Finley, J. 2003. Merton’s Palace of Nowhere. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press.
Merton, T. 1961. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions.