In Christian circles, one could be forgiven for thinking, being an individual has fallen on hard times. Or at least, anything that might be stuck with the label “individualism” is seen as axiomatically negative.
For me, this is somewhat troubling. I am an introvert, and so appreciate times of solitude to be able to work through personal and theological issues, and just exist in God’s presence. Of course, I am also a social animal, and so need time with others. But I don’t think I would be lying if I said a substantial amount of my personality has been forged in decisions I have made alone, at a desk, reading a book. I don’t deny the massive influences that parents and friends (and other media) have had on me, and truthfully, reading books is just another way of communicating with people. But, nevertheless, I don’t think I would be wrong to say that much of my character has been formed in moments of solitude, either in prayer or in study.
There are many complaints that could be made about our present socio-cultural order, and perhaps it is true that it is afflicted by a negative kind of individualism. Certainly there is something of an epidemic of loneliness. And no doubt that has something to do with our political and economic order, which prizes what people are in themselves, what they can contribute as skilled individuals to the marketplace of trade, and not what their hereditary connections are, or who they spend their leisure time with. Nevertheless, I have a hard time thinking that this economic and political order, itself, is a negative thing. I am obviously laying my political cards on the table here, but that is where I stand at the moment.
It seems to me what our society (and the church, which is not really something totally separate from society) needs is not anti-individualism, but an individualism coram deo. What it needs are spiritual practices that allow people to strip away all their secondary layers before their Creator, and truly wrestle, in the light of the Word, with their weakness, their doubts, and their sins, and then through that struggle, bring something of value back to the world. What our culture does not need is more “community”, where community is a way to hide from our selves in the pleasantries of potlucks, board games, and church programs, or for those not Christian, in clubs, bars, and the types of activities that go on there.
These are not formalized or well-refined thoughts, and I offer them in the spirit of a suggestion, not a proclamation per se. I would be curious to hear what others think here.