Pascal writes, “…mankind is not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves, within our own being, Instead, we want to lead an imaginary life in the eyes of others, and so we are constantly trying to make impressions. We strive to embellish and improve our image, and so neglect the true self…” [Page 60, Mind on Fire, edited by James M. Houston, Bethany, 1997].
The Gospel liberates us from self-delusion by giving us understanding of our fallenness, sinfulness, vanity, and propensity to engage in self-delusion. Of course another great Gospel liberator, as Pascal discusses elsewhere, is the knowledge that mankind has fallen from greatness (the image of God) and that Christ has come to restore us to God’s image.
There is a sense in which we are all born crazy and that those in asylums are only there because their craziness is too crazy for the rest of us, too disruptive. Those in asylums are there because their views of reality and of themselves are warped beyond our own views, as disparate as our own views might be. We tend to think we are better than we are, even those who appear to be down on themselves are often down on themselves because they think too much of themselves – their problem isn’t low self-esteem, it’s preoccupation with themselves.
The Gospel teaches us that we are sinful; the fact that we sin is, in a sense, secondary – the Gospel message is that we sin because we are sinners not that we are sinners because we sin. This is a relief to us because now that the dis-ease has a name we can seek a remedy; now we can discover that the remedy, Jesus Christ, is seeking us this very day.
A few years ago a camera company had as its slogan, “Image is Everything”; that is the banner under which we live, we’ve convinced ourselves that perception is reality. While perception is important in that there are consequences to our perceptions, the ultimate consequences occur when perceptions are judged by reality. The objective truth of things is often not the issue in our thinking, it is image; and if the image fails the test of reality then we conjure another image to replace the image shattered.
What does money do except allow us to improve and flaunt our image? What do advertisers sell? Whether they produce cars or phones or clothes or drink or food or drugs, they sell image and their advertising has little if anything to do with their products and everything to do with image. We are like children in a amusement park enticed by this ride and that, pretending that we are pilots in planes or engineers on trains or captains of ships or explorers reaching new heights – we spend our money in pursuit of image – instead of dressing up dolls or donning super-hero custumes, we dress ourselves up in images. Dare we look in the mirror and confess, “I’m acting like a child”?
The Gospel liberates us because it allows us to see ourselves for who we are outside of Christ, people engaged in self-deception, creating imaginary selves that we can worship and nurture and that we can try to convince others actually exist. “Do you like my imaginary self? If you like mine I’ll like yours. Let’s create a collective imaginary self, a collective image that will give us identity and security, and we’ll vie with other collective images the way sports teams compete against each other.”
It is not the impression I make on others that matters; it is the impression Jesus Christ makes on me.