Guest post: from Volnaiskra

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. –John 12:25

//An Australian acquaintance, David Bleja, happened to post this comment on my blog, in response to my review of John J. McGraw’s book, Brian & Belief. After you read his insightful comments, check out his excellent blog at http://www.volnaiskra.com/

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I share McGraw’s distaste for an idea of the afterlife that revolves around the slavish stroking of a divine ego. But the general death of self that he seems to consider so abhorrent is, for many, a sublime prize worth devoting one’s life to.

Many faiths, philosophies and scientific traditions stress that selfhood is a lie – a distortion of reality at best, a lonely prison at worst.

For example, Buddhism rightly points out that if a wave were to be obsessed about how unique and independent it was, it would be both wrong and unhappy, forever afraid of its imminent annihilation. If, however, it learned to see itself not as a wave but as a part of a great ocean, it would appreciate the true purpose, majesty and timelessness of its existence. Or, as Jesus said, a person obsessed with selfhood is to be pitied, just like a seed that frets so much about ceasing to be a seed that it never lets itself become a tree.

It’s not just the mystics searching for nirvana who long for dissolution of self. It’s also the lovers who long to lose themselves in orgasm, the parents whose focus on children gives their lives higher meaning, the fans who yearn to melt into the crowd in a rock concert, the patrons of S&M clubs who long to surrender entirely to the will of another, or the hippies who cultivate a sense of oneness with Gaia.

Of course on a basic, default level, we all have a strong instinct for self-preservation, and this is what McGraw seems to speak to in the quoted paragraph. That’s just part of human nature – but a part that comes largely from the more primitive, reptilian part of the brain. Many have found a worldview that centers around a preservation of selfhood is actually deeply unsatisfactory.

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