“[Paul] came to see that his wholehearted complicity in the system of goodness was something much more like being a fraud than it was like being a good person, and that in order to receive the goodness to which the system pointed, he had to let go of the system completely. …
“He had to lose ‘goodness’, belonging, worth, reputation, everything which was something he had held; in order … to find himself being held by someone: trusting someone else to do something that includes you, taking you somewhere else.
“Identity, belonging, goodness, safety, are not things we can hold onto from our past. They are all things that come down to us and draw us on from a future which has already started to manifest in us -– it is already something we have attained through our being held, but attained as something towards which we are marching in our creative living out.”
— from James Alison’s paper, The Priestly pattern of Creation and a fraudulent reading of St Paul: A Catholic reads some Pauline texts in the light of Mimetic Theory, examining Hebrews 5:5-11 and Philippians 2:5b-11, delivered in a colloquium on St. Paul last month
Then today I read this in an article in Psychology Today (in 2006) about narcissism, and it seems that what’s talked about here as normal — the tendency to take credit for good things and offload blame for bad things — is the essence of identity that comes not from being held tightly by Another but from holding tightly to a system of goodness:
“Psychologically healthy people generally twist the world to their advantage just a little bit. If we do well on a test, for example, we’re likely to congratulate ourselves. If we do poorly, we’ll claim the test was badly written, unfair or wrong. It’s normal, perhaps even necessary. By telling ourselves that our faults are universal but our strengths are unique, we can get through life’s trials without losing faith in our own abilities.
“These biases are only faint echoes of the serious distortions that a narcissist creates.”