June 27, 2021

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How Our Attachments Keep Us Down

How Our Attachments Keep Us Down

A major piece of my identity has involved my service in the US Navy. Nine years active, two years in the reserves. Like most people, I have strong attachment to the things that are part of my identity.

Yesterday, however, I severed the ties that had bound me to that identity. It was like cutting off a piece of my body.

You might wonder if I wrote that post lightly or in the throes of passion, so I thought I should expand a bit.

Attachments Are Weaknesses

The only enemy more dangerous than a man with unlimited resources is one with nothing to lose.

Billions

People tend to telegraph their weaknesses to their enemies. Do you post something about your wonderful children to Facebook every day? Then your children are your weakness, and the enemy will use your children to break you.

Do you identify with the company you’ve longed worked for? Then your employer is the chink in your armor.

Do you identify first with your trade or your profession? Then the enemy will attack your trade.

If you refuse to let go of any attachment, that attachment will be your downfall.

Writing coaches offer their students a common bit of advice: “Murder your darlings.” Seth Fried explains:

Of course, this expression is not meant to suggest that literally killing the people you care about will make you a better writer. If that were the case, the novels of William Burroughs wouldn’t be complete gibberish. Rather, it is a metaphor for how you should behave toward your writing while you are revising it. The idea is to proceed objectively and without sentiment. Just like you would if you were to kill a loved one.

“Murder your darlings” is good advice for all of us who have attachments to institutions that have succumbed to the influence of the enemy. Whether that enemy is communism, fascism, or (I would argue) Satanism, your attachment, your association, your identification as a member of that entity is your fatal flaw. If you attach yourself to (or refuse to detach yourself from) an evil enterprise, you are evil.

Many conservatives identify with the US military. Whether or not we served, the military became a source of price and close associate of our sense of patriotism. When President Trump hoped to rekindle America’s patriotism, he staged an enormous military parade and program on July 4th.

To many, the military represents the finest principles of the American Ideal:

  • Dedication to a purpose larger than ourselves
  • Willingness to sacrifice, even unto death, for our family, friends, and freedom
  • Discipline to keep going even when we’re terrified
  • Strength—physical, mental, and moral
  • Toughness
  • Individualism in the pursuit of the common good

But what happens when we are forced to choose between those principles and the institution that represents them? What happens when that institution goes bad?

The enemy (which I contend is Satan and not any human being) is smart. He knows that many people will never give up a large piece of thier identity, their source of pride. By corrupting that source, then, the enemy corrupts the soul.

By disavowing the institution with which I have identified for 36 years, I also eliminated one of my vulnerabilities. As Chuck Rhodes said in the quote from Billions, the man who murders a piece of his identity becomes a more dangerous enemy. Even more dangerous than the man with unlimited resources. (Unless that man is willing to sacrifice his last resource.)

I want to be a very dangerous enemy, but my material resources are limited. Therefore, I must give them up.

Giving Up Your Identity Is Hard

I lost a house once. As traumatic an event as that was, my family also learned that a loss is not a defeat. You can move on, start over, and come out stronger. Yes, you will carry the wounds of the battle for a long time. Perhaps forever. But you get through. You are changed, but, by the grace of God, the reformed you is better.

If I had been unwilling to give up an identity as a homeowner, that foreclosure would have crushed me. And, as frightening and painful as it was, I was not crushed. I gave up that identity, that attachment.

Nonetheless, giving up an identity hurts.

Perhaps this is why so many politicians disappoint us. When push comes to shove, they identify more with the privilege and prestige of their office than with the honor and truth of the principles they espouse. Perhaps this refusal to detach from identity is why Missouri Republicans, including its governor, chose to fund Planned Parenthood with taxpayer dollars. To those Senators and that governor, it seems, identifying as a friend to lobbyists means more than identity as a friend and defender of innocent lives.

Anyone who refuses to detach from their identity as a Republican, therefore, exposes his weakness to the enemy: corrupt the party, and you corrupt the souls of the party members.

Know What’s In Your Control and What Is Not

If you think you can control things over which you have no control, then you will be hindered and disturbed. You will start complaining and become a fault-finding person. But if you deal with only those things under your control, no one can force you to do anything you don’t want to do; no one can stop you. You will have no enemy and no harm will come to you.

Epictetus. The Good Life Handbook: Epictetus' Stoic Classic Enchiridion . The Stoic Gym Publications. Kindle Edition.

Epictetus was, sadly, a pagan. As such, he did not know man has an eternal enemy in Satan. But his argument is water-tight: If you worry only about those few things under your complete control, you will become that dangerous enemy with nothing to lose.

The things under your complete control are:

  • What you believe;
  • What you desire or hate;
  • What you are attracted to or avoid.

And that is all. Nothing else is under your complete control.

The list of things not under your control is long. That list includes:

  • Your body
  • Your property
  • Your reputation
  • Your status

As Epictetus says, because those things are not under your control, the are “weak, slavish, subject to restraint, and in the power of others. They do not concern you because they are outside your control.”

When the US military went bad, I could either maintain my attachment to it and go bad with it, or I could disavow the institution. Disavowal was under my control; reforming the military was not.

Practice Murdering Your Darlings

While we hope something happens to restore election integrity, we have to assume and prepare for the worst. Chances are there will never be another fair and free election in this land during my lifetime.

That means I will have to choose many more times. By disavowing one of my former identities now, I am more able to disavow other identities in the future. I don’t know what those choices will involve, but I do know they will not be easy. The only way to prepare for hard tasks is to practice. And the time to practice is early when you have time to recover, not the morning of the battle.

I have chosen to identity first as a brother of Christ and adopted son of the Father. While I am a lousy brother and wayward son, with God’s graces I will find the strength to detach myself from those worldly identities that pose a threat to my eternal identity as a human marked indelibly with the sign of the cross traced on my soul by the finger of the Holy Ghost.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam