A Few Thoughts on a lingering Post Postmodern Binary
In Christian circles, particularly the academy, there is this notion that American Christianity was far too influenced by Western modern individualism. That this RUGGED individualism was detrimental to our society and that we need to all go back to community, social salvation, the church, etc., etc. And to be honest, for a while, I joined in this call, decrying the privatization of Christianity and emphasizing more and more the social aspects of religious life. Then, one night, I was having a conversation with Rob Kashow, and we sometimes don’t see eye to eye, but occasionally we do (we are, afterall fanboys of Stanley Grenz). He made an interesting point. He asked me, to paraphrase, “What if these postmodern calls to community lead to nationalism?” It was this inquiry that made me stop in my tracks and made me re-think the oversimplistic critique of community versus individuality.
Then, last week it hit me, American individualism is not an entirely evil thing; it is actually rather ambiguous. The problem with Western individualism is that it promotes a RUGGED individualism, where the subject (the person) is seen to be able to have the most potential for growth by separating from community, as well as others that are different from herself, in order to become independent, self-sufficient and autonomous (shall we say, God-like?). It is the rugged part of the Western vision of individual subjectivity that we as Christians should take aim at. Personally I think that the Gospel (both in the First and New Testaments) promotes a biblical individualism where individuals grow in the Triune God, living out lives of mutuality, love, and self-giving, but that is for another day.