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Really thought-provoking. I'm not sure I agree with *everything* you wrote above, but as I've gotten older, I find myself turning less to self-help books, articles, etc., and more to just hanging out with friends and family. Even if we don't talk directly about what's bothering me, I find that the simple act of connection with another human being is healing in its own way. We can talk about the weather, sports, books, anything -- just the act of connecting seems to help more than anything else.

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I read this right after reading the Free Press article written by Aayan Hirsi Ali about becoming Christian after years as a Muslim and then atheist. It was brilliantly timed. I loved this essay (both hers and yours). But I almost disagree about Christianity being on the rise (speaking as a Christian) and would rather call it- liturgical practices based in orthodoxy. At least that’s my observation. I think the newest comfort is not exactly a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord but the desire for routine, structure, rules, and the quiet, wholesome aesthetic of being church goers. Catholicism-esque religion seems to be on the rise, I agree with that.

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Nov 16, 2023Liked by Sherry Ning

Wow, incredibly thought-provoking.

How you are able to think about such ideas and articulate them in the way you do is wildly admirable and captivating.

Great read ❤️🙏🏽

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good stuff! Have you read Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard? Touches on faith and resignation, overlaps with what you're saying imo

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Nov 16, 2023Liked by Sherry Ning

Totally see this — we're entering the era of post-self help

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Nov 16, 2023Liked by Sherry Ning

In what ways is Christianity on the rise? I loved the piece, but I thought by all metrics, Christianity is on the decline

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Wow, straight to the point! Love it!

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I loce when after reading, I don't know what to comment. Good writing but I don't know the direction. (which is awesome)

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Excellent piece 👏

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In everything you write there is a sentence (at least) that makes me slap my desk. The mirror analogy is brilliant. Thank you.

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Sherry, I loved this so much. You’re one of the most intellectual writers I follow on Substack and it’s not particularly close.

One part I got confused on was your note on Girard. While I agree with the conclusion (that the ideal self is continually beyond grasp) I was under the idea we don’t strive to be our best selves, rather choose exterior models who seem to possess a fullness of being that we lack (paradoxically in the act of selecting those models we strip ourselves of the fullness of being through desire).

But loved this line of thinking. You can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, as they say.

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Super interesting piece!! I didn’t know Christianity is on the rise, but it’s not hard to believe. However, I don’t think that efforts toward self-actualization and self-transcendence (making room for a Savior or something less “hollow” than our individual selves) are necessarily mutually exclusive. I agree that the thirst to ease our existential despair is misled by “becoming our best selves,” but only when our best selves fail to self-transcend. I think the effort to self-actualize can be helpful in this regard, because it allows us to self-transcend in a way that’s a good contextual fit (our personal strengths, the community we live in, etc).

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Well-put. I've come to this realization through my own roundabout self-help journey. We are born broken into a broken world. Believing that we can save ourselves is akin to making ourselves God, which we are not. I worry that we are placing too much faith in this techno-optimist future by encoding self-deity like aspects into our tools, which is sure to disappoint. We will not save ourselves.

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Psychoanalysis as a modern religion is an interesting concept. Do you think humans have a religious instinct? If so I see self help, psychoanalysis, etc. as all modern failures for us to have our death anxiety calmed by anything other than a religious awakening . I think religion has failed at this too. To me this is what the existentialists really got at: if we are hollow inside than digging deeper is about breaking through that shallow pit and making it mean something. I’d prefer that over accepting the hollowness and filling it with something else off the shelf.

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We tend to gravitate towards certain set of values when things are all over the place. We want order from the chaos we created ourselves. I dig the idea of "self can not help itself." There is no way a machine can repair itself-it should be done by someone else. And yes, there is always that "somebody" or "something" that can only do the job. And too, perhaps, the chaos we created can only be put into order with an intervention- outside of the self. And too, our gravitation to certain values is evidence enough that self indeed can not help itself.

Great read!

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You make an interesting rhetorical argument which has some validity, but the self is clearly not one thing, and pretending that is is for the sake of argument makes a weak argument. So in that sense, the circularity of self-improvement you point out isn't actually circular or impossible. However, I do like the point about an external and objectively good role model (Christ). Imagining a better, nonexistent self is fuzzy and vague, and a clear external model may be better for some people, but this isn't a hard rule, and it might just betray your own imaginative abilities. Some people can vividly imagine a better self and become [closer to] that.

I'd be interested to see how you handle integrating nuances -- if you can see my above points -- because writing rhetorical like you have is much more straightforward and easy. You're a good writer, but I'd like to see how you handle a challenging, complex thesis.

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