Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Individualism As By-Product Of Communalism

One of the things often preached against in today's culture, from many sources, is the ism known as individualism. While it is true that many people today are so concerned about themselves as individuals, that they would put the concerns of the individual above the concerns of community, there is also the reality that many put the concerns of the community above the legitimate concerns of the individual. Enough so that many of the concerns of the individual can be labeled as individualism, or even radical individualism. Putting the concerns of the community above the concern of individual can be called communalism.

Often this communalism can identify individuals that don't fit in, i.e. misfits, loners or those who simply don't identify with some of the beliefs of the community, and incorrectly name them as individualists. This can occur when somebody doesn't agree with the particular form of church government, or of specific doctrines that are hashed out differently in different traditions.

I've heard the charge against Martin Luther, for example, that he was guilty of individualism. But Luther wasn't somebody who wanted to leave the church, or who made the claim that he had no need for church. He wanted the church to come to a better understanding of what he thought the truth was. That he placed an importance on the individual that was not previously granted by the church does not mean that he believed in individualism over and above the community. The opposite extreme of communalism may have been the cause of the charge.

If a community adds rules or regulations that are not warranted by an orthodox understanding of the faith, and is willing to exclude or minimize those individuals who fail to come to the same understanding - even through no fault of their own - it may just be that the community has its own ism to deal with. So, a labeled individualism may in reality be communalism run amok. When understandings of a certain type are widespread just because most people believe in them, those who are on the fringes are often without a solution. Communalism is just as dangerous, if not more so, than individualism. A lone individual can fade out as irrelevant and might have no affect on others, but a community that forces its not-so-correct beliefs on everybody might do harm to many more individuals.

1 comment:

  1. It's especially silly when the beliefs in question have no overt manifestations. If I have a divergent view of the nature of Christ as divine or human or some combo, that's not likely to signify in terms of how I interact with others as long as I follow the teachings of Jesus. I reckon that's true of a lot of theological propositions. We enforce beliefs in arcane mysteries that, in the end, don't matter to how we live in community.