We're All Individuals Important Update:A


We're All Individuals
Important Update:A correspondent pointed out an error in the blog below--St. Catherine of Siena is not a contemporary of Sts. Aquinas, Albert, and Bonaventure. My apologies to all and my thanks to the person who caught my error.

I know that Monty Python, most particularly Life of Brian is regarded with some horror in Christian circles, and perhaps some of that is warranted. However, what Monty Python most successfully skewered in their very sharp satire was not Christianity, but certain kinds of Christians and society in general.

There is a moment in the film when Brian is lecturing the crowd. He says to them "We're all individuals." The crowd intones back "We're all individuals," except for one lone voice that says, "I'm not." I love this because it is the story of America in so many ways. We are the rugged individualists, each making our own way through the wilderness, each forging a path through whatever is the new frontier (Frederick Jackson Turner is probably terribly outmoded at this point, but early in history, he may have had a number of valid points.). I doubt this was ever true. There have always been isolated individuals--Daniel Boones who did their own thing. However, these truly were the "I'm not" part of the crowd. Frontier life in fact demanded a certain conformity for the sake of safety. There may have been rugged individualism, but it was an individualism en masse. Which is why I don't find the lack of individualism today surprising, even though I do find it lamentable.

Continuing on some of the thoughts of Stephen Carter (earlier post) and Dylan's eloquent panegyric ici. Now I talk about one of the root causes of the problem and how Christianity addresses or fails to address it.

The lack of ability to break away from what others are doing, to set your own standards and adhere to them, to be something different and hold your ground, is a defining characteristic of modern American individualism. We are individual Goths, who all are completely different--their piercings, black clothing, taste in music, moribund attitude toward life being the defining individualism. We're angry brothers, or we're Angry privileged white middle class kids. This I have never understood. I can understand some of the anger simmering and seething out of some forms of rap and other music, but what do privileged, upper middle class, silver-spoon-in-the-mouth, spring-break-in-Cancun kids have to do with this anger and this culture. In what way are they disenfranchised? No Mercedes? I don't understand. But I also don't understand the reluctance to stand tall on your own. There are remarkably few Alan Keyes and Stephen L. Carters. When an African American makes it to the Supreme Court and stands on his conservative rulings he is immediately an "Uncle Tom." I'm not part of those most affected, so I suppose I cannot understand the problem "from the inside" as it were.

The problem is that we are all individuals, and not a single one of us wants to step out in any significant way. Now, I understand not wanting to bring attention to yourself, and I'm not suggesting that it is a good idea to do so. However, Christianity, the way Jesus would have it, doesn't allow us the luxury of being like everyone else in a culture of death--it simply isn't an option. Moreover, if we are to live our Christian life to the fullest, we have no choice but to be who we are in Christ, and that will always call us to stand out from the crowd--even a crowd of Christians. Our unique identities in Jesus makes each of us stellar and a leading light in a different way. Proof? Look at the saints. Look at saints who were very close in proximity and time--Didn't St. Albert, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure teach at the same university? Didn't St. Catherine of Siena wander through Europe at about the same time? What, besides a deep and abiding love of Christ do these saints have in common? Almost nothing. What woman in her right mind wandered through Europe virtually alone in the 13th century?

Christianity, properly practiced is not the religion of sheep, even though we are all part of the flock. Christianity does not allow us a moment of conformity, but constantly calls us to challenge society and even individuals in the deep way that Jesus Christ did when He was among us. We are called to question and correct in love. We are called to challenge each other to grow and to leave behind our pet prejudices and beliefs. We are called to preach Jesus Christ, if not in words, in our lives, in our actions, and most of all in the love we show our wayward, and terribly conformist brothers.

Anyone who has had army training knows that an Army is trained to march out of step over a bridge because all of those feet moving in the same rhythm could potentially set up a resonance that would destroy the bridge and send everyone "into the drink." Our conformist society is busy crossing the bridge of civilization--without a few stalwarts to disturb the rhythm of all of those lockstep "individuals" we stand in great danger of losing it all.

But we must remember, God is all merciful, all kind, all loving, all compassionate, and He is constantly with us--if we only pay attention. And in paying attention to God we cannot help but be different from all of those around us. So our Salvation lies in Jesus Christ, in the still, small voice that replies to the claim, "We're all Individuals," with a squeaky, "I'm not!" We don't need to push our individuality in Christ into people's faces, but we do have to live it out faithfully and continue our constant striving in prayer for Union with God.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 22, 2002 4:28 PM.

Another Very Old Poem was the previous entry in this blog.

Update on Prayer Request Well, is the next entry in this blog.

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