March 25, 2006

Managing Desires Within a Community

Posted in church, non-fiction, philosophy of religion, psychology of religion at 2:37 pm by Jerry

Just finished reading On DesireWhy We Want What We Want by William B. Irvine.

We are awash in desire at virtually every waking moment. If we fall asleep, we temporarily subdue our desires–unless we dream, in which case our dreams will likely be shaped by our desires. p.1 (introduction)

Banish desire from the world, and you get a world of frozen beings who have no reason to live and no reason to die. p.2 (introduction)

Those who know me, know I like to know "Why". I like to know the root cause of things, the first mover, the original initiator, and the ultimate goal. Many of the desires we experience, Irvine explains, are "Instrumental desires, wanted not for their own sake, but so I can fulfill some other desire," what Irvine calls a "Terminal desire." p.57.

In the past, I wanted to know if my beliefs were just human constructions. So I tested my faith by asking myself, "What is the real reason I believe what I believe? What do I want to gain from it?" Eventually I ended up at "just because," wondering if the "just because" was a result of divine intervention. (I still ask myself these questions. I don't trust myself to maintain my faith as a terminal desire.)

I find it interesting that the practical purpose for intellect (creating instrumental desires that will direct a person to the fulfillment of terminal desires) ends when my terminal desire is fulfilled. It reminds me that there is something beyond the rational and irrational.

And then there are the unwanted desires. Irvine devotes two chapters to explaining what kind of religious advice is available to deal with unwanted desires. I found it interesting when he talked about the Amish…

Anyone who wishes to deal with desire must adopt semiarbitrary rules for living. Indeed, if we look at our own lives, we can discover any number of self-imposed, semiarbitrary rules. With respect to alcohol, we might forbid ourselves to drink alone, to drink before sunset, to drink hard liquor, or to drink wine costing more than a certain amount per bottle. With respect to credit cards…. ….with respect to entertainment…. …It is, to be sure, difficult to justify the exact place at which we draw the line with respect to our behavior, but slippery slope reasoning can be invoked to show the importance of drawing some line–even an arbitrary one–in order to prevent a gradual deterioration of our lifestyle. p.218-219 (italics Irvine's, bolded mine)

I bolded the word "our" because that word can include those who need the "semiarbitrary rules" and those who don't. I get frustrated anytime I belong to a group or community that patronizes me or others with "slippery-slope" and "err-on-the-side-of-caution" arguments that others may legitimately need. Of course, if the context is an emotionally sensitive one, I will try to comply for awhile, but if the context is just a matter of idealogies and weak will power trumping my complete lifestyle, I will want my healthy desire for freedom to be met. If not in the group, then it will have to be outside of the group (while still belonging to the group?).

Is it lacking compassion to want to remove myself from the restrictions of others' weaknesses in order to allow my strengths to mature? In Irvine's portrayal of the Amish, if you don't comply to the semiarbitrary rules, you are breaking up the community. Does this mean – when I don't maintain a self-denial of who I am, I'm anti-community?

I admit I often have a problem with authority, that is, people who consider themselves to have authority over me without my consent. But I do value community, that is, a community that values everybody belonging to said community. I know self-sacrifice is often a pre-requisite to belonging to any family/group/community, but there must be a limit. I have a hard time imagining a healthy community wanting its members to be ingenuine or inauthentic. Besides, can a community of ingenuine individuals mature spiritually?

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1 Comment »

  1. Shuana said,

    Hmm, an interesting blog. As an INT/FP , I find it very difficult to balance autonomy and individuality within community. My desire for freedom often causes me to take marginal roles in a community–either that or central roles where I have influence. I guess I’m not good at community, or restricting my desires for self-determination and expression. I think I might have to read this book.


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