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Individualism

In the book Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah characterizes Western society as marked by rampant individualism. This characterization touches at the very essence of North American culture.  “Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself.”  In other words, in Western society the individual is an independent unit.  Social relationships with others are viewed as a restriction of an individual’s liberty.  In such a culture the only purpose for entering social relationships is personal gain.   Kraus, in his book “The Community of the Spirit,” points out that even basic social systems such as the family and the church are seen as “a collection of individuals created by individuals for their own individual advantages.”  In this self-centered “dog-eat-dog” world, other persons are not colleagues, but competitors. The individual is of supreme importance—the rest of society must bend to the whims and wishes of the one.

The result of this excessive emphasis on individualism is a widespread feeling of isolation—individuals rejecting their link to others and even God.  The outcome of isolation is a sense of despair and loneliness. Art Gish laments our society’s disposition towards individualism, saying…

 “Often it results in a directionless wandering usually mistaken for a pilgrimage.  It means that we become our own authority, cutting ourselves off from others and the meaning of our existence.”

 In his book, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace, James Torrance (rightly, I believe) suggests that we must return to “the forgotten Trinity.” He says we must return…

 …to an understanding of the Holy Spirit, who delivers us from a narcissistic preoccupation with the self to find our one true being in loving communion with god and one another – to hear God’s call to us, in our day, to participate through the Spirit of Christ’s communion with the Father and his mission from the Father to the world – to create in our day a new humanity of persons who find true fulfillment in other-centered communion and service in the kingdom of God.

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