An attempt to compare and contrast the secular viewpoints that are dominant in the contemporary society and traditional Christian perspective are made in the current research. It was decided to conduct the research on the example of an urgent problem that concerns both atheists and faithful Christians. The secular and Christian points of view on the self-concept are analyzed. The research shows that, despite the great number of works that the theologians and the psychologists wrote about the human mind or soul, there is still no definite answer to the questions about the functioning and the nature of those notions. However, the truth might be somewhere at the intersection of the Christian doctrine and secular dissecting of the human consciousness and subconsciousness.
The world is constantly developing, and the worldview of people undergoes significant changes in this context, as well. The 21st century cannot be called the age of the Christian domination as it used to be in the Middle Ages. The majority of people does not pay much attention to the religion and consider it a tradition that can be followed in certain convenient situations. For example, even those, who do not believe in God, enjoy Christmas and gorgeous wedding ceremonies and have no problem with becoming a faithful person for several days. The dominant philosophy that determines the worldview of modern people is postmodernism. It is characterized by hedonism and consumerism, as its result, relativism of everything (even the morals and truth), and skepticism that often does not have any logical explanation.
The Church has to cope with this situation and make all possible attempts to retain the faithful followers and adapt to the consumerist postmodern society. The challenge that Christianity faces is difficult to deal with, because the problem consists of numerous aspects that are the results of the postmodernist ideology. In the current paper, an attempt to analyze the position of the Church and postmodern society on the problem of self-determination is made. It was decided to investigate into this issue because it is pressing for all people without exceptions, and theologians must be able to provide the faithful Christians with explanations of the basic questions like who they are, what they are living for, and what they have to do in order to improve their lives.
The problem of self-perception and determination of the self-concept are analyzed from both secular and religious points of view. It is crucial for understanding what ideas influence an average modern person if he/she attempts to search for the truth in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and religion.
Secular View on the Self-Concept
It is possible to state that the more developed the society is, the more people fix on the idea of their individuality and try to find the ways to express themselves in original ways. The contemporary media understands these desires and popularizes the image of a successful original personality. For example, one should post thousands of personal photos in social media, so that all his/her friends comment on how beautiful he/she is. This tendency is developing with the time, and sometimes it seems that the majority of people has lost their path completely and cannot understand that showing off in the social media cannot be the sense of their life. From an objective perspective, these ideas popularize the image of a completely selfish person, whose only goal is to look good and attend parties wearing fashionable clothes. A religious person might certainly find such life senseless; therefore, it is not strange that those people, who do not believe in God, often go to psychiatrists to cope with apathy and depressions, asking the doctors to help them find the reason for their existence.
The mechanisms that make the human consciousness and unconsciousness function are still unknown for the science, despite numerous researches that were conducted in this sphere. It is considered that the conscious level of the personality is influenced by the basic behavioristic patterns, culture, schemes of cognition, and community. The unconscious level of the human psyche is less researched than the conscious one. It is supposed to be mainly influenced by the collective unconscious, and archetypal symbols that all people share, as well as personal associations that appear in the process of cognition, among many other issues.
As it was mentioned earlier, culture is one of the most important notions that influence the concept of self. It participates in the development and formation of individuality. For many centuries already, sociologists and philosophers have studied the interconnections of the concept of self, the culture, and the inner processes that occur in a person's mind in a certain context. One of the most prominent researchers in this field was s French sociologist Emile Durkheim. He studied the self-concept according to the collectivist approach. He emphasized that the community is a key issue that determines the individual's behavior, his/her desires, beliefs, and perception of life.
Durkheim wrote that, despite the fact that people could not be called the integral parts of the community, all of them existed outside of it and interacted with the society during all their life. The community is considered the set of beliefs, attitudes, and imagery that are imposed on all its members from the early childhood. According to Durkheim, the collective conscious is the phenomenon that determines the self-concept, and the person often does not understand that he/she is influenced by it.
Religion is considered by sociologists a part of the collective conscious just like the ideology, mentality, and traditions. They are important in the formation of the self-concept, though none of them is the major one. Shinobu Kitayama and Hazel Rose Markus give an example of the differences in mentality of the Japanese and the Americans, which reveal the impact that the society has on the self -formation:
In America, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” In Japan, “the nail that stands out gets pounded down.” American parents who are trying to induce their children to eat their suppers are fond of saying “think of the starving kids in Ethiopia, and appreciate how lucky you are to be different from them.” Japanese parents are likely to say, "Think about the farmer who worked so hard to produce this rice for you; if you don't eat it, he will feel bad, for his efforts will have been in vain.
Other aspects of the personality that are emphasized by the researchers of the topic include the desire of the person to learn and his/her life experience. These concepts received much attention in the essay by the French philosopher Derrida, “Theorie d'Ensemble.” He introduces the notion of the denial of all initial experience and states that the personality already exists without the knowledge it acquires from life.
This concept is called the différance, and the mistake in its graphical representation is considered to show the priority of speech over writing, because the word is misspelled, but it sounds the same as the right variant. It is impossible to explain the meaning of this différance with the help of traditional notions and signs, just as it is impossible to be sure in the nature of differences between people. The work of Derrida is proximate to the Christian viewpoint on the nature of the personality that cannot be dissected in the search for the answers.
The behavioristic patterns are also considered the basis for the personality formation. Behaviorism is a part of scientific psychology and is employed by the majority of educational institutions nowadays. From the early childhood, the students are taught according to the idea of praising and punishing for good and bad performance respectively. Such system of education results in the creation of certain reflexes that turn to the unconscious from the conscious actions with the time.
The self-concept is also influenced by internal processes that occur on the subconscious level of the human mind. The scientists can only suppose that the psyche really works in the way they think it does. Perhaps, Freud was among the most prominent researchers in the problems of subconscious. While the conscience (the ego) is not very important in the process of formation and perception of self and has only an epistemological role, the subconscious (the id) gathers and processes all information from the outer world in an individual manner.
These notions of the ego and id were developed by Karl Jung. With time, they transformed into the theory of archetypes and collective unconscious. It is necessary to give a definition of an archetype in order to understand what is considered the basic ideas of contemporary psychology and psychiatry. According to Jung, the archetype is a deeply subconscious behavioral pattern or image that can be found in the folklore throughout human history and is common to all people despite their race or age.
Among the widely known examples of the archetypal symbols are the ones of the Shadow that is a metaphor for all secret and evil sides of personality, the Damsel in Distress, who is expecting the Hero to come and to save her from the mighty dragon, and the Great Mother, who is personifying both birth and death. There are also the archetypes of the Self, the Persona, the Anima, the Animus, and the Ego. This set of symbols is crucial in understanding the ideas of Jung concerning the self-concept.
For example, the Ego is responsible for processing the data from consciousness and forming the personality. The image of the desired self is also called the super-ego and can be named the archetype of the Persona or the mask. The archetypal symbols of the Anima and the Animus represent the female and male subconscious thoughts of the person about the desired partner of the opposite sex. All archetypes are gathered around the Self, and they make it versatile. Everyone can find these aspects in his/her personality. They assure that, despite visible similarity of life experience, cultural background, and common behavioristic patterns, all people are unique because their subconsciousness percepts the reality in various ways.
Nevertheless, the development and further functioning of the self are not determined only by the archetypes. According to Lévi-Strauss, the self-concept can be viewed from the perspective of systematic analysis. He suggested a new branch of sociological science and called it the structural anthropology. The researcher also differentiates the conscious representations of the things and their unconscious infrastructures. Lévi-Strauss emphasizes that the unconscious elements of the human psyche determine the way a person behaves and percepts him/herself.
Christian View on the Self-Concept
The secular view on the problem of determining and understanding the self-concept is rather extended and detailed. However, even the division of the human psyche into the conscious and subconscious levels and further analysis do not answer the main questions about how exactly the psyche works, why people are so different from each other, and what makes people percept the same experience from various points of view. The Bible suggests people to believe that their individuality is not the result of unconscious mechanisms, teaching methods, and collective knowledge, but an immortal soul created by God.
In the period from the second to the nineteenth century, the theologists of the classical Christian tradition considered the dichotomy of the body and soul to be the only right one. There are six main theories that explain the relationship that connects the body and the soul. The first theory belongs to Plato. The antique philosopher considered the body a prison for his immortal soul. Plato described this idea on the example of Socrates, who finally released his immortal soul at the moment he drank poison. Plato believed the body to be a source of evil, an obstacle that does not allow the philosophy to develop, and at last, it was the reason for the wars and homicides. The ideas of the Roman philosopher correlated with the worldview of the Early Church Fathers, and they became the part of the Christian doctrine with the time.
The second theory was developed by Thomas Aquinas. He viewed the soul as another form of the body just as his predecessor Aristotle did. Aristotle started to develop this idea, asserting that a person was similar to the building, in which the formula was the plan, and the matter was the lumber. Thomas Aquinas merged the ideas of Aristotle and Plato about the nature of the individuality. He continued mull over this matter and arrived at the conclusion that the person was the unity of the corporal substance and spiritual component.
There are certain variations of the doctrine of the self, offered by Thomas Aquinas. The theologians of the twentieth-century doubted that it was possible for the soul to leave the body when the person died as it was the part of the body. Aristotle stated that the death of the soul came in the same moment as the body finished its existence. This idea was taken by the twentieth-century theologians as the doctrine.
Another theory concerning the relations of the body and soul is traditional for the Catholic Church. The Catholics consider the fact that the soul continues to live after the body dies a holy mystery. The soul is also believed to be the subsistent essence that exists without end while the body is the result of the soul's work. That is why, the soul cannot die, unlike the body. In general, according to the scholastic and traditional Catholic understanding of the issue, the soul and body form a unity, in which the soul is primary while the body is secondary.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this phenomenon in the following way:
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity... The unity of the soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body; i.e., it is because of the spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.
The second part of the twentieth century was the age of reformation in many aspects of the Church life. The Christian theologians, among whom the Protestants hold the majority, insisted on the initiative that the Aristotelian and Platonic ideas about theological anthropology have to be changed. They thought that the interpretation of purely religious questions, among which there was the question of the soul-body connection, should be made only on the basis of the Bible without using any other sources.
During that period, such scholars as Poul G. Lindhardt, Otto W. Heick, Krister Stendahl, Gerrit C. Berkouwer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Oscar Cullmann rejected the idea that the dualism of the body and the soul existed as the notion. They claimed that there were no evidences that the soul was immortal in the Bible itself and the majority of people, who thought that it was so, read about the idea in extra sources, which was not right.
It is also necessary to note that, in the second half of the twentieth century, it was not welcomed to write about the soul-body dualism, something Greek, Platonic, or Hellenistic. Those ideas were considered unrelated to the Bible. However, such a tendency does not necessarily mean that the ideas expressed by Plato and Aristotle about the human nature and the soul are false.
As a result, the Platonic theory about the connection of the body and the soul was dismissed, but the answer to the question about the nature of these two notions had not been studied yet. The emptiness in the doctrine was soon filled in with the new holistic interpretation of this problem; it was called the physical monism. According to this theory, all people have a common nature, and all of them form irreducible unities. The theory of physical monism supposes that the soul dies together with the body, but when the time comes, the God will resurrect all his creations ex-nihilo. These ideas are also called re-creationism by some scholars.
The fourth theory that investigates into the dualism of the human self is called interactive dualism or minimal dualism. It supposes that the personality is formed by the unity of the body and the soul that are constantly interacting with each other. This perspective on the body-soul dualism has certain differences from the Platonic ideas on this issue.
To start with, the body is not considered the source of all evil, and it depends more on the inner self of a person. Moreover, the soul exists after the body dies, though it cannot be called the eternal state of existence, but rather the incomplete one. In the end, the souls wait for their bodies after resurrection. The theory of interactive dualism emphasizes that the union of the body and soul is harmonious, and every part of it has the same rights as another one.
The fifth theory can be described as the equation of dualism and monism. The supporters of this idea think that, if there are two types of dualism: the holistic and the Platonic ones, there are also two types of monism: the spiritual and the physical one. The notion of spiritual monism is rapidly gaining popularity today. Just as the physical monism supposes that the body and the soul are interconnected by some unknown and invisible physical monad, the spiritual monism claims that this monad is the body and soul themselves. The physical world and bodies are nothing but illusions according to this theory. In the Christian tradition, there are three varieties of such spiritual monism: Gnosticism, process theology, and Christian Science.
The last theory that tries to explain the connection between the soul and the body is the trichotomy perspective. The theologians who support this point of view claim that the functional approach is the most efficient one in this question. According to it, the personality consists of three components: the body, the soul, and the spirit. With the death, only the body ends its existence.
As a result, there are six theories that make an attempt to explain the nature of the personality from the perspective of the Biblical anthropology. It is possible to say that these theories are incompatible and represent six separate ideas on the problem of the soul-body connection. However, there is one common thing in all these theories. According to the Christian point of view, the human being is not a unified creature. His/her soul cannot be analyzed without referring to the body and soul, and it is opposite to the secular understanding of the person. According to the Bible, the concept of the self implies a number of metaphysical notions.
As it was mentioned earlier, the Christian viewpoint considering the self-concept is characterized by the dualism of the body and the soul. This idea becomes evident when the person dies. However, the majority of people do feel it during their entire life. Some of the person's desires refer only to the needs of the body while some of them are perceived as the desires of the soul. For example, helping the ill and the poor is the need of the immortal soul, which tries to become better with the course of the time. The desire to watch an attractive woman dancing naked can be definitely called the desire of the body, even though someone can say that it is the esthetic need to praise the creations of God.
Both religious people and atheists try to answer one of the oldest questions in the history of humankind and finally understand who they are. However, the secular science, incorporating philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, and sociology, can explain how the personality is formed and developed. According to it, the self-concept is determined by both conscious and unconscious factors. Among the conscious elements, there are the behavioristic patterns, culture with certain mentality and traditions, and collective conscious. The unconscious level is studied mainly by the psychiatrists. Among the most influential issues, there are the collective unconscious, the archetypal theory, and the unconscious infrastructures that reconsider general information and create an individual perception of it. Despite the fact that much research has been undertaken in this field, the scientists still have no certain evidence that the self-concept is determined by all previously mentioned components. In such manner, the religious explanation of the self-concept is vague just as the secular one is. The main dichotomy in the Christian theology is the dualism of the body and soul. There are six main theories that try to understand what was the first out of these two components, what becomes with the soul after the death, and whether there are any possibilities for the future reunion of the body and soul after resurrection. It is necessary to note that the theological theories, mentioned in this paper, have no practical evidences of their rationale because the issue is entirely metaphysical. However, the theological attempts to explain the self-concept are cruel from the viewpoint of everyday ethics. Many religious people suffer from illnesses and die. They all think about their soul and sufferings of their body, and this dualism hurts them. For this reason, I would rather say that it is better to soothe the struggling person who searches for support from the faith than to explain him/her all details of this metaphysical discussion.