Ego Must Go
As I said recently, misunderstandings and arguments are often nothing more than differences of definition.
The word "ego" in its literal meaning is simply 'I' -- an indication of a uniqueness that we all sense. I am not you, in other words. However, "ego" is more commonly used in the sense of "self-centered" and thus means someone who bases all action upon how it affects oneself. This is an expression of the basic "instinct for survival" that is inherent in the carnal mind. It is also the premise for a variety of philosophical systems, such as Ayn Rand's objectivism.
These philosophies begin with a premise that my actions are (and should be) determined by self-interest. Thus, in their view, morality arises because of the self-interest where we realize that not harming others is the best way to not harm our self-interest. In other words, I don't steal from you since that would make you my enemy, and, as my enemy you might harm me. That won't work, however, since it leaves open the question of what I should do if stealing from you does not harm my self-interest. If I can kill and steal and defraud without anyone else knowing, then it becomes in my self-interest to do so, and all morality is reduced to a matter of convenience to me. At that point, morality ceases to exist altogether.
The basic instinct for survival is also in conflict with the reality of our mortality. The carnal nature is driven by a desire for self-survival yet is cognizant that survival will eventually fail -- the body will die in the end no matter what we do. This psychological conflict, expressed as fear of death, leads men to seek out a solution that will insure self-survival and eliminate the anxiety caused by the conflict of our desire for survival and the certainty of our demise. It is little wonder then that religion promises an eternal paradise or threatens with an eternal torment since those claims directly feed into the carnal mind's desires and fears. Religion becomes a game of playing off the carnal mind's desire in order to gain some sense of comfort by eliminating the fear of eternal death.
Eastern mysticism seeks a solution in "nirvana" by eliminating the sense of identity altogether. If I am nothing more than part of a universal reality, there is no "death" to me. That, to me, is nothing more than a rationalization. It eliminates the fear by claiming there was never a problem to begin with, only an illusion of a problem.
Various other religions build up a system of virtuous behavior in a game of reward and punishment. They teach that if you do what is right, you get the reward of heaven. If you do what is wrong, you get the punishment of hell. That is the basis of both Pagan philosophy and legalism. Those philosophies will accurately describe moral and virtuous actions, but fail to see beyond a self-centered premise. They are still thinking in terms of self-centered activities. I do what is good to get the reward for good works.
True Christian theology is very different. When we talk about dying to self, we aren't talking about losing the unique identity God created in us. We state the problem as "man's separation from God by sin." The self and its fears arise because of that separation. It is not a separation from each other (i.e. uniqueness) but the loss of God's spirit in us that is the problem. In the Bible, life is equated with the presence of God's spirit and death is the removal of the spirit. In fallen condition, man is already spiritually dead even though the physical form is animated. Without the life of the spirit, the physical form will degenerate in time, die and nothing of it will be left. The implication from the Bible, however, is that there is some consciousness that remains even after the physical form is destroyed. With no connection to its creator by spirit, that consciousness will exist in an eternity of separation from God.
Man is made in the image of God in the sense that man has a dual nature. I don't see this, however, as a soul inhabiting a body, but rather as a body-soul that is intended as the vessel of God's spirit. We have the potential to transcend the physical while existing in physical form. That transcendence exists because of, and only with, some spiritual "thing" flowing through us. It can be the spirit of God, or some demonic spirit. Demonic possession is when the soul comes under control of a spirit in rebellion to God and salvation comes when the soul is recaptured by the Holy Spirit. That spirit (and thus the soul it inhabits) is non-physical and not limited by space and time, therefore eternal in nature. It always "is" not "will be" or "was." Heaven and hell then can be seen not so much as places but rather as timeless states of being. However, I don't worry about it that much since how we must play out our lives remains the same either way.
Our goal must be to gain (or regain) spiritual union with God. We remain unique, individual expressions of Him, yet have a mystical union of the spirit with Him. This is what is meant by sanctification, regeneration of the soul, born again, saved, etc. It can only happen when we stop acting solely on the basis of self-interest, i.e. ego. It must be "Thy will be done" not "my will be done." This is the paradox of Christian doctrine. We gain life by dying. What must die in order to live is the self-centered, separated from God, rebellious nature that is in man. Thus we say, "the ego must go."