Further thoughts on individualism and community

When we are completely immersed in a society of people who consider a particular idolatrous attachment normal, it becomes almost impossible to discern it for what it is.

Tim Keller in ‘Counterfeit Gods’

In the midst of a slight ramble in my last post, I touched on individualism, saying “individualism and selfishness can be prevalent even when behaviours change.” Primarily my thoughts were relating to my prediction of disillusionment and the looking to things such as minimalism and location independent living and working – what some authors are proud to describe as ‘radical individualism’. Having now got to the end of ‘Counterfeit Gods’ I reckon I can add a bit of clarity to my thoughts. The continuing issue as I see it is summed up by Keller here:

Today the need for transcendence and meaning has detached itself from anything more important than the individual self and its freedom to be what it chooses. … Now life is about creating a self through the maximization of individual freedom from the constraints of community.

He then goes on to the consequences of making an idol out of this cultural individualism:

Western, secular cultures make an idol out of individual freedom, and this leads to the breakdown of the family, rampant materialism, careerism, and the idolization of romantic love, physical beauty and profit.

I appreciate that, without context, that can seem an incredibly sharp assertion to make. However, I don’t think there is any doubt that today’s prevalent (western) culture is as Keller describes, individualist and pursuing happiness. Equally, there can be no doubt that the symptoms above exist – families are broken, materialism and consumerism are rampant. If both are true, there is a large amount of evidence for one leading to the other – and probably for each perpetuating the other.

Off the back of challenging us as Christians to check ourselves and the church to examine itself, I firmly believe that the church needs to engage further- as Keller says, “There is no way to challenge idols without doing cultural criticism, and there is no way to do cultural criticism without discerning and challenging idols”.  I am convinced that the primary outcome of this will be a deeper exploration of community as a family. I am further convinced that this is possibly the greatest challenge and opportunity for the church as a whole in 2011.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), family (community) is something we’re looking into at CV over the coming few weeks and something I hope to reflect on and write about.  Mike Saunders spoke yesterday about conflict and creating a culture of honour. The podcast will be up soon here – it’s well worth a listen.


~ by jgebrown on 3 January 2011.

2 Responses to “Further thoughts on individualism and community”

  1. This is awesome stuff… Keep them coming! 🙂

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