In a NY Times opinion piece, “In Search of the True Self,” Joshua Knobe, an associate professor of Cognitive Science and Philosophy at Yale University, discusses his study on humanity’s quest to find our deepest identity. Citing everything from Greek philosophy to pop culture, he rightly sees that this yearning is a “distinctive ideal of modern life.”
Knobe is wrestling with the questions: Who am I? What drives my search to discover my deepest—and hence, real—identity? And how can we find the answer?
According to Knobe, philosophy has traditionally maintained that our ability for self-reflection makes us truly human. (Remember Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” from your Western Civilization class?) Accordingly, philosophy posits that our reflections on our deepest-held beliefs is the greatest indicator of our true selves. These beliefs trump feelings and desires. (For interesting reading along these lines, see the NY Times magazine article, “Living the Good Lie,” that discusses “sexual identity therapy” and Nicholas’ blog response).
But Knobe goes on to say that outside philosophical circles, people recoil at this idea. The broader public believes the exact opposite: It is our suppressed feelings and desires that reveal our deepest identities. These desires must be obeyed for our lives to be authentic to our true selves. Hence anyone with same-sex attraction, Knobe’s opening illustration to his op-ed column, is urged to forsake religious beliefs, marriage vows, etc., in order to “come out” and express his or her true self.
So, do deep-seated, moral values, feelings, or desires determine our true selves? Rather than a strict either/or, Knobe concludes that both views are too simplistic. His initial investigation suggests that we find our true selves through a complicated process that combines both aspects—we develop a value judgment based on what we believe makes life worth living and what will create the most satisfying experience of existence.
He’s right to reject the either/or fallacy but fails to see that our true selves are only found in a radically different “third way.” Any search for our true selves that focuses on desires, personal beliefs, or a combination is still limited to the self. It elevates individual perception, with all its biases and distortions, to ultimate reality.
Fortunately, our true selves are revealed by a source outside of us. Objective truth exists, reality exists, beyond personal perception. Scripture offers our ultimate identity as those made in the image of God, created to live in a relationship of love for all eternity. In love, Jesus redeemed us while we were his enemies. The Father invites us to live within his perspective—one that sees us “in Christ,” outside of time, in our totality. Not defined by desires, behaviors, or failures, but as those who on the last day will be purified. The beautiful Bride, seated at the Wedding Feast with the Son in a marriage he arranged from before the foundation of the world.
Are you struggling with feelings and/or attractions that the world says should define who you are? Look to the objective truth of God’s Word, and in him, you will find your true self as you align yourself with his design.