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Not the Sin within, but Self-Sabotage

Updated on October 10, 2014

Paul the Apostle at some point in his life lamented, as is written in (Romans 7:15-24) saying,

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.

Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

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What he failed to realize, which I thought we can learn a lesson from is, none of us does what we don't want to do because of the sin within us or because good doesn't dwell in us. But, as established it is a “Problem of self-sabotage through self-mentoring…”. What I consider the heavy burden of instructed suppression of our individual naturally endowed desires that turn around to “govern an entire territory of mental activity and outward behavior”.

Traditionally, religious groups instruct faithfuls through indoctrination on many unacceptable don’ts, with full abstinence expected in determining “good standing” status. Without putting into considering the inclinations of the individuals involved. As a consequence, when a set of “thoughts and behaviors,” uniquely unavoidable to an individuals gets suppressed in an effort to belong and supposedly appease God, they end up self-sabotaging.

Professor Daniel Wegner’s “ironic process theory” explains this unfortunate denial of freedom to express real self, induced by religious tactics. According to Oliver Burkeman in his book, The antidote: Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking, this theory “explores the ways in which our efforts to suppress certain thoughts and behaviors result, ironically in their becoming more prevalent.”

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Hence, when under the pall of religious illusions, believers assiduously try to obey the order in (Romans 13:14): “…do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” for instance, its tantamount to working against themselves. This is because the desires of the flesh in this reference is a reflection of the true human self yearning for recognition. When faced with suppression, it results to what “Wegner argues, is a malfunctioning of the uniquely human capacity for metacognition, or thinking about thinking”. If triggered, “The monitoring process will start to occupy more than its fair share of the limelight on the cognitive stage. It will jump to the forefront of consciousness — and suddenly, all you will be able to think about…” and lured magnetically into is the very outcome instructed to avoid, for being wrong and contrary to God’s laws. Consider this, “Our efforts at mental suppression fail in the sexual arena, too: people instructed not to think about sex exhibit greater arousal, as measured by the electrical conductivity of their skin, than those not instructed to suppress such thoughts”.

Effect Burkeman noted was labeled by Wegner as ‘the precisely counterintuitive error’, which he explained in one paper, ‘is when we manage to do the worst possible thing, the blunder so outrageous that we think about it in advance and resolve not to let that happen. We see a rut coming up in the road ahead, and proceed to steer our bike right into it. We make a mental not to mention a sore point in conversation and then cringe in horror as we blurt out exactly that thing. We carefully cradle the glass across the room, all the while thinking “Don’t spill”, and then juggle it onto the carpet under the gaze of our host.’

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But, like Paul observed, our inner beings is where God’s true and good laws dwell. And when discovered, embraced and expressed suitably we find peace, for then we actually delight in God. Having no need for rescue as it was evident Paul desperately desired in misery. Without the acceptance that “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). As you come to the realization that, though they differ in composition, serve distinct purposes in nurturing the whole, yet, they are not in conflict or intended to lead us into misery and destruction. In the their contrary desires as implied in (Galatians 5:17), they compliment one another. Wasn't the body or flesh referred to as "God's temple" in (1 Corinthians 3:16)? We just need to learn to listen to our inner being, the Truth emanating from it and understand how to align the different desires for our good.

So, for those who still cling unto all the “Thou shall nots,” working tirelessly to adhere to them, at least now you know that the reason you steadily fail isn't because evil dwells within you and is preventing you from doing the good you so desire. There isn't any war, raging within you that’s independent of what your “internal mechanism” is being subjected to. Instead, the conflict is between what your real self wants and what you are told to hate. With being fixated on making sure you don't go contrary as instructed, self-failure becomes inevitable.

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