nothing but an unformed gaze

There is an interesting article in this month's First Things that argues there is no such thing as natural desires. Every desire, he contends, is not natural in that it has been deformed by original sin. A discussion of this contention forms the main part of the article. Desires, the author contends are infinite, of every variety and can take any form. This largely rings true to experience, but I think the language he employs overreaches. He seems to suggest that natural law theory does not recognize or account for this sense in which all desires are "unnatural," and this is not true. Despite this petty criticism of mine, the author demonstrates deep wisdom and learning throughout.

My favorite part comes at the end and is a distillation of his argument into a neat anthropological/psychological insight:
Among the strongest currents of thought these days is one that encourages us to discover who we are and to act accordingly - to gaze with the inward eye on our glassy essence and respond to what we find there. That gaze yields a vast range of identities: of gender and sex and ethnicity, of trait and temperment and passion. If what I have argued is right, when we attempt to discover who we are in that way, we find only phantasms - creatures of the imagination that wither when we turn our imaginations away from them.

This rejection of the language of natural desire opens us, instead, to the truth that we are creatures - inchoate, unformed, and hovering over the void from which were made - who must seek either to return to that void or to find happiness in the arms of the one who brought us forth from it. There is no glassy essence to discover; there is nothing but an unformed gaze that receives form only by looking away from itself and receiving the gift of being looked at by God.

- Paul J. Griffiths, "The Nature of Desire"
The last image is an especially beautiful one, and one that is entirely true. Philosophy agrees. Socrates devoted his life to answering the Oracle's riddle: Know thyself - his somewhat paradoxical answer was that one can only know oneself by looking outside oneself, by asking questions and practicing the virtue of humility. Humility is openness to the truth. This is another way of saying one can only find oneself by looking outside oneself; we must look at God.

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