The False Self and The Journey Progression of The Hebrew Scriptures

I recently described the Enneagram as a false-self typology. In other words, it tells us who we are not. The Enneagram tells us who we pretending to be because we have forgotten our true identity in Christ.

In our day-in-day out lives we are aware that we occupy roles as, friends, spouses, children, siblings and parents. We are aware, usually when we are in a good mood, that we have talents and abilities. We are also aware that we have personalities and its true, at least in part, that these personalities can be plotted on schematics like Myers-Briggs, StrengthFinder and the Enneagram.   

All of this is a kind of “the false self stew.” These are ingredients of the false self and they are important to know early on in life. It's good to name them. They are sources of identity with a small “i” and they tend to answer questions about competency, belonging, and belief.

Parents, good parents, instinctively know how important it is to help a child know these things. They message their children in powerful ways by saying things like: “You're such a good artist… We're Baptist and here's what we believe… We're Joneses and that's not the way Joneses act.”[1]

It appears that parents are not the only ones who know about how badly we need to hear about own competency, belonging and belief. The Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann has discovered that the progression of the Hebrew Scriptures mirrors that of our own human development. Brueggemann likens the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) to an early stage of human development where we must hear that we are safe, secure and special. Richard Rohr comments on Brueggemann’s theory claiming: “The possibility of divine election is first mediated and made possible through the loving gaze of your parents and those around you.” This stage best captures the mindset of young people who are so enamored with their own specialness. Now “specialness” gets a bad wrap in our narcissistic society and often for good reason, but Rohr rightly contends that this stage is the necessary starting point for all human development. This is the level of consciousness where most personality schematic discourse occurs and it sounds something like this: “My personality type is so special and I am so gifted and I just really enjoy hearing about my strengths.” Now this isn’t all bad. In fact it is a necessary stage to occupy, but it is also necessary stage to leave.

The second major section of the Hebrew Bible is called the Prophets. This cohort of authors routinely criticized the nation of Israel for their complacency and basic failure to be faithful to YHWH. Complacency and even arrogance is the eventual outcome of chosenness without self-criticism. Again Rohr is helpful here: “Without [prophecy] most people (and most of religion) never move beyond tribal thinking, which is the belief that they and their group are the best, and really the ‘only.’ It creates narcissism instead of any possibility of enlightenment.” 

Thankfully, the Hebrew Scriptures and (hopefully) the human psyche moves into the third and final stage—wisdom. In scripture the books of Psalms Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job represent this stage of development. In these texts we see the language of mystery and paradox. In human development we see this same pattern in elders who can live with the messiness of life. They have moved beyond the compulsion for neat and tidy answers to the questions within themselves and in the world. They hold the tension of life’s contradictions with compassion, forgiveness, patience and tolerance.

When the Enneagram is its best it is carrying us through this same process, where we hear how the best thing about us is also the worst thing about us. When the Enneagram is at its best it is helping us hold the best and worst parts of ourselves in tension in the spirit of the Hebrew wisdom literature.  


[1]These lines are borrowed from a friend and mentor of mine.