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A True and Worthy Selfhood:
Identity as Salvation

The Problem of Identity
   Born Unfinished
   Validity of the Social Norms
   Religion as Source and Support for Identity
Worthwhile Identity and Religion
   Special Status of a Few People
   Special Status for Everyone
   Our Secret Identity
   Reassurance for a Threatened Identity
Identity in the Stages of Religiousness
   Identity in Primitive and Archaic Religions
   Identity in Historic Religion
The Long Processes of Transformation
   Hindu Yoga
   Christian Monastic Mysticism
   The Continuing Need for Long Effort

Salvation is more than the attainment of a heavenly condition; it is also the salvation from loneliness that comes from belonging to a group.  Problems of identity can often have a religious element to them and religions often address the important question of who we are.

Humans are born with an incomplete identity and we spend a great deal of time trying to understand who we are and who we are becoming.  Our individual personalities are complex mixtures of inherited traits, invented responses to specific environmental conditions, and common responses to the shared human condition.  Conformity to accepted social norms is also an important part of human identity, though this part of identity is rather unstable.  The major source of secure individual identity in human culture has been the religious traditions of the cultures.  Religion also helps to support the grand narratives of a culture and its social order.

The official roles of some people in a culture, such as religious leaders, can provide a sense of meaning and identity.  However, such identity is also afforded to the culture as a whole, sometimes in the form of rites of passage or other religious rituals.  This identity can also be a secret identity, an identity that is not how it seems, such as in the teachings of Hindus, Buddhists, and Scientologists.  The need for religious reassurance seems to be most prevalent on the fringes of society, where the numinous can give a much-needed sense of significance.

Identity in primitive society seems to be taken for granted: one must follow the correct identity ideas in order to be a part of society.  These ideas are well-established by tradition.  Archaic civilizations are more consciously concerned with identity than primitive people.  This can be seen by the common archaic desires for honor and public glory; the concept of public status signifies reflection on individual identity.  This is expanded in the historic stage, where standards beyond social status determine one’s identity.  Having proper relations to the Ultimate can be considered a historic standard of identity.  The ideal self is fully immersed in and submissive to the Ultimate.  The fact that everyone falls short of this ideal in some way can lead to humility and compassion.

Historic religions have developed methods for achieving a new and valid selfhood.  This process of change is a lifelong practice that involves the integration of idealized concepts with individual identity.  One example of these extended transformative processes is the way of yoga.  The word “yoga” describes a way to achieve union with the supreme reality.  The mystical unions of Christian holy men and women with God is another good example of this kind of process.  Whatever the means, establishing an inner transformation of one’s selfhood is a very slow process.

End of notes to Chapter 7

This page last changed Tuesday May 13, 2003

In The Presence of Mystery















A Hindu yogi on the long path of transformation