Camera Obscura

Yesterday, as it happened, our congregational choir sang a song called “In His Hand,” by Marty Parks.  The opening lyrics, sung by the ladies, goes as follows:  “In my darkness He is light, in my weakness He is might.  In my doubting He is sure.  In His hand I am secure.”  These lyrics may not seem particularly deep or profound, but sometimes the layers of depth one thinks about something depends on context, and today I would like to talk a bit about that context, a context that is far deeper than one would imagine if one looks at the lyrics to this song alone.  Indeed, to give some warning to unwary readers who may not know what they are about to get into, today I will be looking at the question of the interior self and our conception of it, using these lyrics as an entrance, because they speak of our darkness and our insecurity and our doubting as opposed to the reality of God’s light, strength, and security.

Since the time of Locke, at least, Western thinkers have viewed the self as a camera obscura, a dark, enclosed room with no window to the outside world.  This view of the self has had all kinds of implications for the way that we view questions of epistemology and identity, to the point where contemporary Westerners and those strongly influenced by such thought tend to view the self as a dark and self-contained room where there is a frequent tendency to engage in solipsistic reasoning that we cannot know anything about the truth of the outside world or even communicate ourselves to others or understand anything real about that which is outside of the prison of our minds [1].  Yet this view by Locke and others afterward, which have sometimes changed metaphors to speak of the self that is an iceberg that is mostly under the surface or an irrational subconscious that cannot be understood or probed except by stealth or extreme skill, has not always been the view of thinkers in the West.

As it happens, while I was pondering over the lyrics of the song we sang, I was also listening to an audiobook on the thought of the Catholic father Augustine.  It so happens that the part of Augustine’s thought that was being discussed at the time was his view of the inner self.  He was credited by the audiobook I was listening to with having invented the idea of the interior self in Western thought, which is certainly a notable achievement, and he was without a doubt highly influenced by Neoplatonism, and was influential in aiding the Hellenization of the Western Church.  As a philosophical sort of Christian, my own views of Augustine are somewhat ambivalent, but not hostile, and I thought it was worthy at least to ponder a bit on Augustine’s view that the inner self was less like a dark inner room with no windows than a courtyard that was enclosed with various rooms like memories but that opened to the sky and so was capable of communication and insight from above.

How we view ourselves is a subject of considerable interest.  It is easy to see why we may want to view ourselves as being in a dark and private interior room that is unable to communicate with the outside world.  Part of that appeal is to think that there is something private within ourselves that other people and God cannot see.  For some people, and this is especially true of contemporary Western society, the feeling of loneliness and solitude appears to be more tolerable than the recognition that there is no aspect of ourselves that cannot be known by others, especially God.  Part of what makes the pervasive loss of privacy worth it to many younger people today is the belief, I think, that there is something about ourselves that is deep and hidden that no one can understand, and so we are truly safe inside of ourselves regardless of how little privacy the external parts of our lives have.  The fact that there are considerable numbers of people interested in the way that data can divine the secrets of our inner self ought to make us feel less confident about our ability to keep our innermost thoughts and feelings private, but it is totally unsurprising that we would wish to hide given that so often we feel vulnerable and afraid given that we are fallen beings in a world full of evil.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Camera Obscura

  1. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Augustine: Philosopher And Saint | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Rushdoony’s Compaint | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Augustine For Armchair Theologians | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Augustine In His Own Words | Edge Induced Cohesion

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