As I've become more interested in other cultures during the past few years, I've compared and contrasted them with my own. Why do these people stress community over individuality? Why does a daughter's honor matter so much to this extended family that they would kill for her sexual purity? Why does everyone have to toe the line in order to be accepted? Why does it matter that much if a child apostasizes from the religion of his family?
I've also noted the community emphasis of religion. The Bible says not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together because we are to encourage and exhort each other. I guess the Lone Ranger Believer is not how God designed it. Even from Genesis, God noted it's not good for man to be alone. We are to belong to families and communities. Relationships are important to God. Perhaps it's too bad I tend to fall on the individualistic, loner side of life quite often.
Enough chitchat, read about AJ's experience . . .
While visiting Jerusalem AJ noticed the groups of Christians, Jews and Muslims and felt oddly out of place, a stranger in a strange land, alone where everyone else "belongs to his or her own gated spiritual community." He notes: "It drives home a disturbing point: My quest is a paradoxical one. I'm trying to fly solo on a route that was specifically designed for a crowd. As one of my spiritual advisers, David Bossman, a religious professor at Seton Hall University, told me: 'The people of the Bible were "groupies." You did what the group did, you observed the customs of your group. Only the crazy Europeans came up with the idea of individualism. So what you're doing is modern phenomenon.'"
He then notes how much he likes individualism, how it's been part of his life. Yet ...
This year I've tried to worship alone and find meaning alone. The solitary approach has its advantages -- I like trying to figure it out myself. I like reading the holy words unfiltered by layers of interpretation. But going it alone also has limits, and big ones. I miss out on the feeling of belonging, which is a key part of religion. I experienced this most keenly once before, during the biblical holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah back in October. I tried to do them alone. I fasted. I ate sweets. I sent portions to the poor. But I was doing it cluelessly and by myself, and it felt empty. I couldn't even bring myself to write a chapter about the holidays, because I failed to wring anything approaching the proper level of meaning from them. And many of my more profound experiences have come when I've joined a group, even momentarily....
Maybe I had to dial back my fetishizing of individualism. It'd be a good thing to do; the age of radical individualism is on the wane anyway. My guess is, the world is going the way of the Wikipedia. Everything will be collaborative. My next book will have 258 coauthors.
(I love his sense of humor which is sprinkled - or poured - liberally throughout the book.)
What do you think of AJ's musings? Mine? Do you think there is a time and place for individualism or does stressing it cause societal problems such as the breakdown of the family? Can doing things for the good of the community go too far? When is it important to stand against societal pressure - if ever? Why is being community oriented better than being individualistic? Or if you believe it's not, why? Thoughts? Comments? Questions?
(quotes from pages 213-214)