Saturday, September 17, 2005

Niebuhr and Desire

I think the main problem I have with H. Richard Niebuhr’s essay, Faith in Gods and in God, is his perspective regarding the individual. I hate to use this word, but I think it’s going to help me express what I’m trying to say. I think his perspective is too consumerist. So, I know I’m being reductionist here, but I’ll do it anyway. I think in essence he views the individual as a rational consumer, moving from product to product, never finding ultimate satisfaction. Each product works fine for a time but always seem to let us down. None of these finite products can “save us from the ultimate frustration of meaningless existence.” Then we meet with this idea of void, the destroyer of all our penultimate products/idols, but I don’t want to go into that here.

I’m going to have some trouble putting my thoughts together here, but I’m going to try anyway. Niebuhr, I think, has the understanding that this consumerist desire originates within the individual. I think we need to look at the idea that desire originates outside of the self, that it comes from an Other. I’m not talking of desire for food or water, etc., but desire on a more existential level. We form our desires in imitation of others. It’s not a coincidence that marketers use celebrities, cultural idols and very attractive people in their advertising. They understand that desire does not originate in the individual. Desire must be created from outside the individual. For the most part people want to be like celebrities, or whatever other role-model happens to be in his/her proximity.

I think if we understand desire as not originating within the individual, but coming from the culture / the group / another individual it’s going to open this essay up quite a bit. It’s going to bring us into a whole new territory that I think will be quite fruitful.

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