The “buffered self” is the name give by philosopher Charles Taylor to describe an individual in our culture who is isolated from any transcendent reality, that is, God ‘s presence. Taylor observes that, prior to 1500, almost everyone believed in God, understanding life to be meaningless without God. It was an “enchanted” world in which vulnerable souls were open to God. Taylor refers to those knowingly impacted by God as “porous” souls. In the enchanted premodern social imaginary, the self was open and susceptible to the presence of God..
But the modern “buffered self” is isolate and enclosed, wanting to protect self from any influence of transcendence. In modern social imaginary, the self is insulated within the mind, no longer vulnerable to the movements of God’s grace.. It isn’t enough to simply divest the world of spirits and demons, but the self needs to be buffered and protected from transcendence. There is a kind of “lowering of the bar” when it came to the requirements of living life well without reference to God. In our day that means you are free to be a “none” (no belief). Could it be that men today are buffering themselves not only from God but also from the negative characterizations of men in our society? How “porous” is your masculine soul?
It is quite natural for men to live simply in their heads; in what Richard Rohr calls our “control tower.” There is the ever present danger of becoming turned in on ourselves, becoming a self-referencing person. We are, “like a thin shaving of wood, curling up around the void of his inner nothingness, cut off alike from the cosmos and the creator of all things” (Theophan the Recluse). The buffered self lives in darkness with the lights out. “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God” (John 3:19-20 – Message). Here are some of the consequences of this crisis..
First, the buffered self is a lonely, isolated self, living in alienation from God, self and others. It is all to easy for men to withdraw back into their inner fortress, rather then stay engaged in vital relationships. A man may seem fully energized in everyday pursuits, but live with an inner ache of loneliness. Secondly, the sense of being trapped with no inner spiritual breathing space. This is life without any window to the spiritual realm, similar to the cave dwellers of Plato’s parable of the cave, living with their torches in the darkness, unaware of the light that is just beyond their reach.
Thirdly, the sadness of never knowing our uniqueness as men created in God’s image. We are not able to handle our uniqueness very well in the contemporary “gender wars.” “It is difficult to know how to compare myself to other people, although I am constantly tempted to do so….I oscillate between pride and anxiety that I am alone with my uniqueness.” (James Houston). Remember men, when a man buffers himself against God’s presence in his life, he can not be affirmed as the unique man God created him to be. He is insecure in his maleness.
Fourthly, the dreaded reality that we will be manipulated far beyond our comprehension by the descending cultural darkness. We simply cannot protect ourselves from being deceived. Jesus warned, “Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you” (John 12:35).. We need to walk as a porous soul in the light. The Palmist declares those blest, “who walk in the light of [God’s] presence” (Ps 89:15).