Posted in musings

choice, identity, fatalism, and change

Sometimes the homosexual movement (and, I think, our culture as a whole) strikes me as a bit fatalistic – as if our identities were set in stone and nothing we do or choose can change them, only repress and mask them.

There is a sense in which this is true, of course; I doubt that I could change my sexual attractions, or my intellectual curiosity, or my Jekyll and Hyde combination of loyalty and jealousy. Those things form part of my personality and natural identity. Further, the core tendencies of our being seem to remain constant factors over the years. My primary identity no longer rests in my intelligence and academic prowess, but I still value my intelligence and operate out of confidence in it; on the negative side, I am no longer so frequently controlled by my anger, but it is still an ever-present struggle to be master over it. So both my strengths and my weaknesses remain with me, and although I try to favor the former over the latter in how I live and in what I express outwardly, they both form part of my essential personal identity.

On the other hand, there are deep things about myself that are chosen and could in theory change: namely, my religious and philosophical beliefs, my worldview. These beliefs are what informs my identity and causes certain aspects of it to develop and mature (or, on the contrary, atrophy and fade) over time. A belief that integrity and courage matter pits itself, in the core of my being, against my innate shyness, distaste of conflict, and anxiety. The belief of a Catholic nun that she has been called to celibacy for Christ sets itself against her natural sexual desires – for even the celibate have sexual identities, that they choose to set aside in the service of some belief. The belief that humility is valued by God over pride wars within me against my self-confidence, arrogance, and secret insecurities. The belief of an atheist in the value of independent free-thinking might war against his inner desire for an authority to trust or a guidebook to follow. So too, I would imagine, for the traditional Catholic or conservative Evangelical, the belief that homosexual actions are inherently disordered would set itself against some of the deepest desires and attractions within them.

These deeply held beliefs are not able to change our identities like a switch, or even, in many cases, like the gradual dawn of the sun. But they are able to guide and shape those identities – to prune and direct them as we grow. In my examples above, most of the traits and aspects of identity being fought against are not inherently bad and could be considered good given a different set of core beliefs (it is not hard to think of cultures and religions that place a much higher value on harmonious conduct than on the confrontation brought on by principled courage, or to call to mind worldviews that consider respect for authority far more important than critical thinking). So why choose to not embrace those aspects of our identity just as much as some other aspects? Again, it goes back to the framework of belief, the set of principles, that we have chosen to believe and to take as our truth. And that can change. It very often does change over the course of a person’s life!

So the language of identity need not be as fatalistic as it sometimes sounds. Perhaps we cannot ever truly change our identities without some great trauma or damage to ourselves, but we can shape their trajectory, giving more weight to some aspects and less to others. We can still choose the beliefs we hold, even if we cannot choose the components that make us up. For me, this is a great hope! I am not bound forever to the shyness, the anger, the jealousy, or the intellectual impatience that form a part of my identity, personality, and character – or, more accurately, I am not bound to be forever ruled by them. Their share of my life can decrease as the things I value more are increased.

What I have left out in this consideration is, of course, the reality of the changing power of the Holy Spirit, and the ability of Jesus to make us truly new creations in Him. I wanted to try to look at the questions of identity and choice from a less uniquely Christian viewpoint. But where I do find the most hope for personal change, as well as (rather surprisingly) the most grace for what I am right now, is in the transformative and redemptive plan of God. For that is what Christianity proclaims: that from the inside out, in the very center of our identity, we shall be changed, and everything that is wrong or disordered or confused or dead within us shall be removed, and what is good shall be made to flourish in ways we never dreamed.

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