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The Conflicting Self

The more I read Amia Srinivasan’s sermon from last Sunday, the more brilliant I think it is. She talks about the ambiguity of experience: being a stranger as opposed to being assimilated in a society, of actually wanting to be an outsider and an insider at the same time. Right at the end she mentions psychoanalysis as a further example of this paradox in a reference that seems to be to Melanie Klein’s work on the child’s conflicting relationship with its mother as it experiences acceptance and rejection in the process of breast feeding. By the age of four years the child can begin to come to terms with this. But to be able to feel ambivalent about someone is, for Kleinians, an enormous psychological achievement and the first marker on the path to genuine maturity. Amia Srinivasan said, ‘This is a desperate, unbearable situation. It is why we all, at some level, have the urge to destroy those we love, to assimilate the beloved into ourselves, to annihilate him or her completely.’

Not only does this give us an insight into the paradoxical nature of self, but it provides a fresh model for exploring the big theological questions of sin and redemption, our seemingly innate violence versus the gospel of Love, and the grand paradox of the nature of God: the creative one who stands apart and the one who suffers helplessly on the cross. (Amia’s sermon is on

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