Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Individualism as serial killer

Maggi links to an incisive critique of individualism and its corrosive effects on community generally and the church especially. Good stuff. A quote lifted right from Maggi's blog, a bracing quotation from the original posting, which is an interview with author Sarah Cunningham, which talks about her new, rather interesting-looking book:
In the church, individualism is a serial killer. Individualism lures us in with promise of positives, nurturing an exaggerated sense of self-importance and personal rights. But, if we become too immersed in it, individualism eventually tricks us into detaching from human community and worse yet, Christ himself. In effect, individualism dismembers the church.

(From Paradoxology, which looks interesting enough to make the sidebar links here when I update again.)

I think this is right on, largely because this is not at all how God is; and because God is not like this, neither should the church be like this. All of which should give us rather a lot of pause when it is just this which the church is adopting as its strategy for attracting newcomers (not individualism as such, but stress on meeting individual needs, etc., in various ways stressing the individual over the community). If we do this, then either 1) we are lying, inasmuch as we are using a false message to promote ourselves, or 2) we are failing to be the church and are becoming something else. I'm not sure which alternative is better; I think we should recoil at either.

That said, the opposite extreme -- total submergence of individual identity -- is in no way the answer either. These are two extremes which are intractably bound up with each other; both ought to be rejected. Rather, just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are both distinct and interpenetrating*, so also with the church: a close community (which can nevertheless grow to include others), which honors individuals enough to incorporate them into something larger than themselves. In short, a body which is interdependent within itself and dependent on God.

* I'd like a better word for this, but I think this gets it across. Of course, humans are always vastly more unlike God than like God. This isn't a simple identity, but an attempt to take Paul at his word that we are to, in some sense, 'be imitators of God'.

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Blogger maggi said...

do you really think we are MORE unlike GOd than like? even in the image of God? that's interesting... (I would put it the other way round)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 8:49:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

H'm. I think I do mean it, although since I am rather pressed for time I might like to think it through before taking a stand.

But even an image in a mirror is more unlike what it is reflecting than like? It is useful because it is relevantly similar. And perhaps the image of God -- altogether different than an image in a mirror -- is still more different than like, but relevantly similar.

In what I would say, I would want to preserve a vocation as creatures which is different than God, (Does God have a vocation? Discuss.) and this in part because of the relvant differences. But (I think to myself) this does not necessitate a greater difference from God, only a relevant difference.

So perhaps the question devolves to 'can the difference between finite and infinite be adequately characterised as one of greater or lesser similarity?', which seems a fair question for us both.

Another thought (which questions us both) is that we cannot say, because we cannot have exhaustive knowledge of God, and do not have exhaustive knowledge of ourselves -- and so our saying one or the other is as much a function of piety and hope (I mean this in a positive sense) rather than knowledge, per se.

Anyway, thanks for the prod to keep thinking, Maggi, I appreciate it. (As usual, I said I had no time and rambled on. If I had more time I would have written less!)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 10:22:00 PM  

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