The collective Christian psyche is conflicted on the topic of individualism.
It’s often tied to words which carry equal baggage: consumerism and materialism. There is a regular, nearly constant, declaration regarding individualism, that people just want what they want (e.g. ease, comfort and novelty), and nothing seems to be good enough for them.
First, it makes sense that there would be conflictedness. There is biblical support for individualism and collectivism. Like with other aspects of the considered life, it is irresponsible to simplistically dichotomise those in the formation of our worldview.
My first knock is that this complaint is clearly the manifestation of said speaker’s individualism. People who aggressively point the individualism finger seldom acknowledge how inherently hypocritical that is.
A lot of griping would be undermined with a little bit of Golden-rule self-awareness:
- How would you like to be spoken about like that?
- Can your ideas successfully withstand the kind of scrutiny you’re exercising?
- If someone else approached you with the attitude you’re exhibiting, would you think it helpful?
There is an odd quirk in this: scripture tells us that we must die to self. That means that our shallow, greedy desires should not be the core drivers of our lives. Unfortunately, I believe that people often apply this to dying to their self-awareness, instead of their selfishness.
The same Bible that insists on dying to self, also talks pretty earnestly about standing alone. It’s simple human nature to get those switched.
Here’s another knock: Does God love individuals? Or does love only get activated when people achieve a sufficient mass that they become worthy of God’s attention?
There is a deep, functional reason why this is so serious. People are told to be advocates for their faith. But their individual self has been so subordinated, and even demeaned, that they have no inner confidence left with which to share. Indeed, many churches embrace a model of faith-sharing that says that it’s the pastor’s job; you simply bring people to church, and the church will do the rest.
In my experience, pastors actively, vocally resist this perception.
They can’t do all of this engagement and contextualisation — they know it, and they tell their people so. But resisting it is futile when the entire architecture of church is set up to propagate this mentality.
Here’s the challenging truth (#UnpopularOpinion): You are the only true advocate for your faith.
You’re it! Whatever you believe, however it’s come to you, whatever influences have been introduced to your consciousness, and however you prioritise them — they are uniquely yours. Your uniqueness extends to what you value, what you do not value, and what you do and do not believe.
You are on the hook.
You are in the hot-seat.
You are responsible to test your ideas, to think and dream and remember as richly and articulately as you can.
If there’s anything true about faith, there must be revelations — even small, seemingly innocuous ones — in individual’s lives.
If there aren’t revelations, then it either is not true, or it cannot matter very much.
So, not only is this permission, it’s impetus — study and reflect on your own story. And share it. And recognise that by sharing it, you may be opening yourself up to alternative interpretations of your story — some of which you may even feel are worth internalising.
For people who follow scripture, we’re used to thinking in terms of fixed and rigid.
That’s unfortunate, because I believe scripture itself argues against that. I’ve come to think that Jesus said “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” — not because kids are gullible and trusting (as I was taught), but because kids are curious, and their minds are malleable.
We should love community. But we should not love community when it prevents us becoming who we should be, or twists us into becoming who we should not be.
Indeed, I’m coming to believe that we can only really, truly love a community which is made out of individuals.
It takes space, allowances, candour, freedom, engagement, honesty, challenge and lots and lots of humility. Hey, who wouldn’t love a community like that?