Ego is formed from a Greek and Latin word that means “I”. It gives a portrait of self. In psychoanalysis, it is the division of the psyche that is conscious; most immediately controls the thought and behaviour, and is most in touch with external reality. It can also be described as that part of you that defines itself as a personality, separates itself from the outside world, and considers itself distinct from the rest of nature and the ether or cosmos. It leads only to sardonic and misanthropic beliefs and delusions. It is also the image we project about ourselves on a daily basis through our jobs or work, recreation and on social media.
A school of thought believes that the ego is an identity of our own formation; an identification that we all know is false. If we take all the beliefs of what we are (beliefs about our persona and individuality, endowments, aptitudes and abilities) we have the formed configuration of our ego. The aforementioned endowments described above are summed up to be attributes of our skills, but the mental paradigm of our “self” is synthetic, non-natural and fake. And while this description might make the ego seem like a static thing, it is not; somehow, it is an active, vibrant and forceful part of our personalities, playing a colossal role in creating emotional tragedy in our lives.
Sometimes we hear statements like “boost your ego”: this clearly gives a picture of one who has a low self-esteem and needs some kind of inflation and moral structure built within oneself to enable you fit into the society or the societal proclivities. This boosting of ego could turn out to be the way we dress, how expensive are the things we wear, what car we drive, the people we associate with, the houses we live in and most importantly how we verbally communicate. In other words some picture has to be painted to give those around us a rough estimate of what they think we are or represent. So boosting your ego may turn out to be positive or negative and some have concluded that it is the language of the world.
Of recent, our ego has been subtly associated with our Faith in God. While ego is the false structure of self, born out of anxiety and defensiveness, we want to make people around us (especially people in the Church) think and believe that the false structure of ego formed is as a result of the “blessings of God”. There is also a fictional quality in the stories we project to ourselves about what we are and what we are not. These fictional qualities are a false belief that hides the truth of who we really are.
I saw the first episode of the “Preachers of LA” and really appreciated that preachers are human beings as well, but hidden in the whole concept is the false picture painted called “ego” which these preachers were not aware of. The level of egocentricity was unbelievable. The same is eating up into the church unknowingly and this whole concept of egocentricity is being ignored. Just like normal human beings, these preachers are being egoistic. And unknown to us our egos help to cover the realities of our helplessness and our weaknesses.
Spiritually speaking, it is different and the expositions from the great Apostle Paul clearly points (Philippians 3) to the fact that there is a disparity between the outward presentations and inner realities. In his letter to the Philippian church, he conveyed his disdain and aloofness on the issue of ego because he knew the dangers it portends. Let us unpack his point of view in his letter to this church and let’s see if we can get at any conclusion on this issue.
The church is solely responsible for this self-inflicted structure, called ego. The Church has not helped to expose the contingency of our various traditions, but joins with other bodies and institutions in putting these false structures as truth. The church does not tell us who we are, instead we are besieged through the forms of preaching that tells us the exact opposite.
In his conclusion to the church in this letter, he warned them to beware and look out for those dogs (the Judaizers and Legalists), he warned them to look out for mischief-makers especially for those who mutilate the flesh: the externally and materially conscious preachers, preaching circumcision as a caveat to getting into the Kingdom of God.
He spelt out that we Christians are the true circumcision (because of the finished work at Calvary), who worships God in spirit and by the auspices of the Spirit of God. We should exult and boast, priding ourselves in Jesus Christ, and having no confidence or dependence in the flesh (which is what we are) and on outward privileges coupled with physical advantages and external appearances.
In addressing these false teachers, he said of himself that if he wanted to rely and boast on the externals, he had grounds for doing such. He could develop the structure of ego but he chose not to indulge in such. One of the statements he made, which is intriguing, was “If any other man considers that he has or seems to have reason to rely on the flesh and physical and outward advantages, I have still more!” He had so many things he could boast about, some of which is mention below.
He further went on to say that, even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. “You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout aficionado to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for”. If he did all that, he has absolutely broken down the structure of ego and also any attempt to rebuild it.
By doing what the Apostle did, all the places we look to for the rebuild of our ego become obsolete and archaic. The jobs, the works, the social media and more, that helps boost out ego becomes less important to us and hence we become open and are aware to the real us. We can embrace us because none of us like to think of ourselves as broken and weak. We find it very difficult to accept us and instead of denying who we really are, we are opened to a source of help where we can get resources for succor so that we can become the better us that we need to be.
Paul proffered a solution to this problem of egocentric proclivity. He regarded that all the things he once thought were so important to him as gone from his life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as his Master, firsthand, everything he once thought he had going for him becomes insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all with the trash so that I can embrace Christ and be embraced by him.
Knowing and understanding the person of Christ through the Word of God is therefore the solution to this problem of ego. Knowing Christ will help form a spiritual self-esteem for the Christian; our identity would be in Christ (in God) and therefore the issue of building up a façade becomes defeated. Paul said he gave up all the inferior stuff (that’s what he called the structure of ego) so that he could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with Him to death.
C S Lewis mulled it when he said, “If a man thinks he is not conceited, he is very conceited indeed.”