Continuing our semester study of the intersection between cultural movements and personal identity, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment by Stanford Professor Francis Fukuyama is a tour de force of the history and current reality of identity politics. The universal desire for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today argues Fukuyama, and his research certainly backs up his claim.
Providing the historical context which generated the modern concept of identity, Fukuyama writes it, “unites three different phenomena. The first is thymos, a universal aspect of human personality that craves recognition. The second is the distinction between the inner and the outer self, and the raising of the moral valuation of the inner self over outer society. . . The third is an evolving concept of dignity, in which recognition is due not just to a narrow class of people, but to everyone.” Thus, one’s identity is based on how they are recognized by others, for the dignified portrayal of their inner self. In other words, be true to who you are – and the truer you are to yourself, the more recognition one deserves.
Moving to the realm of Christianity, Fukuyama writes, “the Christian concept of dignity has revolved around the capacity for moral choice. Human beings are able to distinguish between good and evil; they can choose to do good, even if they often, like Adam and Eve, do not do so.” This struck me as being an incredibly timely (and timeless) comment by Fukuyama. Christians have the choice to ‘do good’ and the realization is that any one of us has that choice, not only a select few.
I was interviewing Dr. Paul Galbreath today as a part of my dissertation field research and he was able to sum up my entire artifact better than I have yet been able to myself. He said what is so urgent about the intersection between ecology and liturgy is that, “If we can get pastors to see the earth in the text then the earth will show up in the sermon. If the earth shows up in the sermon then the earth will be seen as by the people holy If the earth is seen as holy by the people then our relationship with it is seen as much more sacred and that is better for all our sakes and for the sake of the earth.” Can the same be said about issues of gender? About race? Class? Power imbalance? About the way different authors at different times have tried to use their imperfect language to describe their relationship with their perfect Creator? The end goal is for all Christians to choose good over evil, compassion over conflict, love over hate. But as leaders we can’t make decisions for people, so we must escort them there the best that we can.
As congregations shift from meeting face to face to only virtually, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, I wonder what this does to our identity as pastors, as congregants, as entire congregations. How can we be sure to recognize each individual through a live stream worship service? How do we emphasize the virtual gathering is benefiting not just the inner self – but also outer society? How do we live into the all too present truism that virtual worship is the choice we are all making so we can ‘do good’ by recognizing the dignity of everyone? The church often prides itself on throwing open it’s doors during a time of crisis; now that we have to reframe that conversation, what does that mean for our identity? To be determined, friends. To be determined.
 Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018) 37.
 Fukuyama, Identity, 38.
 Dr. Paul Galbreath, personal interview, March 18, 2020. Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic crisis no less!
2 responses to “Identity Flux”
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Good stuff Jacob. I agree with Fukuyama that the concept of identity plays significantly in how we view the world, especially in how that translates to behavior and attitudes towards each other.
I was curious about Fukuyama’s religious background because he inserted some Christian themes in his book which were for the most part accurate. Nothing in my cursory search pegged him into any religion, but I found out his father was a pastor. That perhaps explains his Christian worldview a bit. Although I’m not 100% sure he got the definition of “human dignity” right, at least biblically speaking. He says that human dignity is tied to our ability to make moral choices. What are your thoughts on that?
Great post! I love the imagery of the Church “throwing open its doors in times of crisis.” Yes, how do we do that in our current virtual state? What sources are you finding most helpful to you and your local congregation? Many blessings, dear pastor friend, as you navigate our current reality!