Neurosis Or Grace

The argument I make in The Slavery of Death is that there are two paths set before us, neurosis or grace.

One path is the path of self-esteem, striving to build, perform for, achieve, and secure sense of significance and self-worth by participating in a "hero project."

The phrase "hero project" comes from the work of Ernest Becker who described how cultures give us a pathway to achieve a "heroic" identity. Cultures help us know if we are winning or losing in the eyes of those around us. How we divide up the successes versus the failures in the world around us--within families, in our workplaces, in the larger American culture--is evidence of the "hero project" at work.

You can be either winning or losing in the hero project. But either way, you'll be trapped by neurosis. The winners will be vain, self-absorbed, workaholics, competitive, selfish, egoistic, judgmental, smug, driven, contemptuous, perfectionistic, and haunted by the possibility of loss and failure. If you're losing in the hero project you are insecure, shamed, envious, depressed, and self-loathing.

Again, either way, winning or losing, you're doomed to a neurotic existence.

The other path, as I describe in The Slavery of Death, is to renounce the hero system and receive your identity as a gift. Baptism is the sacrament of this identity, we are crucified to the hero project--considering it all to be "trash" in the words of Paul--to be reborn into our identity as "Beloved," just as Jesus experienced at his baptism.

This "eccentric identity," to borrow the phrase from David Kelsey, is located outside of the matrix of self-achievement and self-esteem, outside of vanity and shame, beyond winning and losing. Buffered and immune from the evaluations of the hero system, our identities are "hidden in Christ." Neurosis is replaced by peace and grace.

As best as I can tell, those are the two paths set before us. The two ways you can live your life.

Neurosis or grace.

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