Selling the Soul to the Ego

I don’t know people who have literally sold their soul, a metaphor that goes back centuries, but there are many of us who have abandoned, ignored, forgotten or dismissed the very concept of soul.  There are ancient and medieval legendary characters — Theophilus, a sixth century priest, and Faust, a medieval scholar, selling their souls to the devil in order to achieve personal gain.  In a short story published in 1936, The Devil and Daniel Webster, a fictional Daniel Webster successfully defends a hapless New Hampshire farmer who had signed a contract with the devil to improve his luck.  
Those are legends.  And the reason they have stood the test of time is because the temptation to reverse our fortunes — by getting more money or power, at the expense of a future for ourselves or — more likely, for someone else, has continued through the years, and in fact is growing at an alarming rate. People may not be selling their souls, but they are giving over a fair share of their wisdom — not to the devil, but to the ego. The ego, which wants to be right and seeks to win; is protective of status and is averse to risk or change, is being given more and more space and attention in our culture.  It is driving policy, along with legal judgments.  Examples abound, but the recent Alabama Supreme Court decision claiming that frozen embryos are children, and therefore need to be protected by law, stands out.  Under this ruling, any destruction of embryos — by accident or intent, is a criminal offense.   The immediate effect of the Court’s ruling has caused in vitro fertilization clinics in Alabama to shut down for fear of litigation, thus depriving couples who have struggled with fertility of the opportunity to engage in a process that has had a substantial success rate in helping  produce new life.
While I can understand the moral reasoning behind the conviction that embryos are children (even though I have some serious ethical concerns about it), the consequences imposed by the court’s ruling seem unnecessarily harsh, punitive — and reflect a level of righteousness that suggests that the collective egos of the Alabama Supreme Court are in hyperdrive.  The conclusion of Chief Justice Tom Parker’s decision, “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God,” reflects a theological arrogance (which is a manifestation of an inflated ego)  which implies that a judge can be a surrogate for God’s will.  To my mind, it is a moral and theological overreach, and conjoins religion and law in a way that debases both.
From my pastoral experience I have learned that couples dealing with infertility live with unrelenting emotional pain, and have to deal with the challenging biological, ethical and moral issues surrounding the various decisions about how best to proceed. The ethics and the biology of IVF are enormously complex,
What is happening with the IVF ruling and other issues that crop up on a daily basis is a hardening conviction of self righteousness; and that people who don’t subscribe to the same moral or theological conviction need to be called out and punished.  As egos seek to dominate in the public arena, the soul gets crowded out — and true hospitality gets lost.
In our ego driven culture, we place an emphasis on welcome, but that welcome is only extended beyond the initial niceties if those who are welcomed subscribe to a particular religion, ideology or political persuasion.  This is not hospitality; it is a poorly disguised effort to encourage, if not force, people to adopt a particular mindset.
True hospitality provides space for people to discover, or rediscover, their soul.  True hospitality doesn’t force people to change, but instead provides space for people to rest, to grow, and perhaps to change.  True hospitality does not dwell on outcomes for the guest, but keeps the focus on providing and protecting the open space.  Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own.  True hospitality acknowledges the guest’s soul, and does what it can to honor and nourish it
The unrelenting drive to maintain the prominence of the ego — which is being demonstrated in so many ways from no end of perspectives, threatens to co-opt the soul. It would be tempting to fight the power of the ego with the ego; and sometimes that is warranted and necessary.  But most of the time clashing egos just ends up expanding the ego’s landscape; and listening and learning get lost.  A more effective strategy is to keep offering hospitality, to provide space for the soul —  the soul being the space where creativity is generated — and love is born.  
Few of us intend to sell our soul.  But many of us end up giving it over to the ego.  The world needs the witness of the soul, and the love and creativity that flow from it — and the soul’s invitation to true hospitality.

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