Thoughts on Being and Essence (but not Heidegger)

My tastes and preferences are important and significant to me. I really enjoy reading fantasy and supernatural thrillers. Chili is one of my favorite foods, well, anything tomato-based is on my list. Does this make me me? Is this essential to my identity? Can I be myself without these preferences? What if I was asked to give up these desires for fantasy worlds? What if I was told that sitting down at lunch with A Game of Thrones in one hand and a big bowl of chili and cheese in the other was somehow wrong and I was forbidden from doing it?

No doubt I would have a crisis of conscience. I like those things. I’ve always liked those things from my earliest memories. It feels like I was born liking it. Besides, what harm is there, after all? If half the population of this country were telling me this day in and day out, I would feel persecuted and personally attacked.

Philosophically speaking, I would have to admit that perhaps these two preferences are not essential to me. I would still be me without them, or at least without indulging in them. Someday perhaps I might get tired of chili and fantasy novels. And to be honest, there have been years, even decades, where I have not picked up one genre novel.

Of course the examples I chose are banal. What about deeper preferences? Are there such things? Are there inclinations that cleave to the heart of your being? Your “you-ness?” Most likely. Sexual preference is what we are really talking about here, and I think most people would say this goes much deeper than genre fiction or taste buds. And I would agree.

But there is a deeper truth than all of this, a level below and above these tastes and identities and inclinations. There is a level above it all. Christians believe that we are created in the image of a God who created everything, and then assumed our nature into His Own, becoming a God-Man. And this God-Man who rules over the atoms and particles, galaxies and nebulae, is in the process of changing us, of calling us to be something far greater and different than we are right now and to share with Him in His reign both now and forever, in glories everlasting.

But it comes at a price for us. What we are must pass. What we cling to so desperately must be relinquished. This is the way of the God-Man. To be like Him, we must first loose ourselves. To be truly us, to be the full human He created us to be, we must first lose all that would claim sacrosanct. We are called to deny self. Not just this or that pleasure, not just this or that behavior or inkling or predilection. Self. Whatever it is we think is essential to us is that which He calls us to strip away so that we may be His.

On this level nothing is sacred about ourselves and our personalities and orientations and excitements. All must be erased before Him if we are to be His. For the Christian, there is no such thing as a heterosexual person or a homosexual person. There is no such thing even as a jock or a geek. These and every identity, every label is meaningless. There is only baptized and unbaptized for the God-man. Baptism is that peculiar act wherein we die to self, and make the beginning of this until the End comes. We loose everything in those waters, and are called to drown the rest and whatever rears its ugly head in the future.

Of course this is not to say that same-sex acts are equal to different-sex acts. To the point: the serious issue is not the acts themselves, but the idolatry of identity that our culture has promoted, from those pro and con, and even the most adamant Evangelicals. For the Christian, an act may or may not be sinful. Repetitive sinful acts are particularly dangerous, whether gossip, promiscuity or foul jokes. They are dangerous because the Creator and God-Man reveals them to be so. And any act can take on a dangerous prominence in the temple of the soul, displacing the Creator.

What the Christian must define is the idolatry of identity, wherein our self and all meaning is found in something other than the Creator.