And right after writing about individualism in religion, I come across this assessment of the “Restoring Honor” rally at Religion Dispatch:
Individually, most Tea Partiers probably are nice people, trying to do what’s right, motivated by good intentions that extend from their faith in God and in their understanding of what this nation stands for. And individualism is exactly what the rhetoric of the rally was all about; from the website: “throughout history America has seen many great leaders and noteworthy citizens change her course. It is through their personal virtues and by their example that we are able to live as a free people. Our freedom is possible only if we remain virtuous.” Mirroring their Christology, salvation for themselves and for the country is an individual act.The convenience of individualism is that others cannot be held accountable for personal failures, nor can an individual be held responsible for the actions of another. The problem with individualism is that it fails to connect the dots between a movement or ideology and how one person might interpret that ideology, thereby taking a course of action perhaps incongruous with the party’s original intent.
Individualism is beneficial for leaders to peg success or failure of a movement on each person’s virtue rather than the power of the collective to effect change. Individualism is focused on personal attainment, personal happiness, and personal livelihood, and fails to see how each relies on a system that empowers, privileges, or dispossess either the individual or others in the process. As I discovered at the rally, to shift the conversation from “I” to “we” in speaking of a collective liberation was quickly flagged as anti-American and dismissed.
Since when did “we the people” become synonymous with Socialism? How can we convince people that “loving their neighbor” means more than just praying for them, that it means supporting a system that raises each of us up through access to education, health care, jobs, and a livable life? How can we encourage people to stop thinking of themselves as living in subdivisions and start living in neighborhoods? How can we shift from the Jesus of the comfortable to the “sell all your possessions” Jesus?
I don’t think we change the nature of the conversation by berating those with whom we disagree, further sowing the seeds of resentment and faction. We change the nature of the conversation by connecting our own work to the values or faith by which it is motivated. The Christianity I practice requires that I love my neighbor even when it isn’t easy, that I work for “the least of these” even when I want to quit, that I give my two coins even if they are the last two I have, and that Jesus died not only for my sins but also those of the tax collector, the Samaritan woman, and the Pharisee.
Alex McNeill is absolutely right about what makes the rugged individualists of America so opposed to anything they see as threatening by labeling it “socialist.” Forgetting that Jesus was a “socialist” in the purest sense, it’s easy for us to ignore the bigger picture and concentrate only on ourselves. I should take a lesson from my sister and mother, who are as viciously anti-socialist as anybody I know. It is convenient to be able to just pray for people rather than actual help them, and that’s the biggest critique I have of Christianity as a movement. I’m guilty of this individualism myself probably because I see the futility of engaging in debate with entrenched ideologues, my own family among them. But what do we do when those on opposing sides refuse to do anything but berate, deride, marginalize, and curse? When do you realize you can’t have a conversation with rabid ideologues and move along? That’s my question. No one seems to be able to answer it.
- Mary Ann West: Standing In Solidarity Against Islamophobia (huffingtonpost.com)
- Can religion be apolitical? | Mary Kenny (guardian.co.uk)
- The Gospel according to Glenn Beck (geneveith.com)