"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Community vs. Individualism; More from "The Year of Living Biblically"

So last evening I introduced The Year of Living Biblically and today I wanted to share a bit more from author AJ Jacobs.  This topic was especially interesting to me because I also have been reading a history book by Stephen Ambrose and I noticed how tribes and soldiers were parts of groups working for common goals.

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)

7 comments:

Suroor said...

I'm a loner but I greatly value collectivist societies. I always felt that humans are not called social animals for no reason. What is the use of a community if we don't take care of each other?! Collectivists don't let their parents rot in old peoples homes; they look after the needs of each other and work towards living in harmony. I really feel it is a more humane way of living that very sadly my culture of birth totally lacks.

Lat said...

I am like what the author says a loner and I do miss out in the "feeling of belonging, which is a key part of religion.." Perhaps this explains why I am what I am.

A sense of belonging to a group is important and at the same time being able to cherish individualism as well.There needs to be a balance on both needs for the mind needs to wonder freely yet be conservative at certain times.Thanks for sharing this post.I like it already!

Amber said...

I'm not a loner. Not in my religion anyway. I tried that, and I found it completely dissatisfying. Religion is meant to be practiced collectively. Even when you are performing private rituals or devotions, you do so in the knowledge that there are millions of others who practice these same devotions with you because you all have faith in the same thing.

Maybe it's just more of the herd instinct in humanity...

Susanne said...

Suroor, oddly in this book AJ is told by rabbis that honoring parents was given because in ancient bedouin culture an aged parent really had little usefulness. They couldn't peg a tent post and would have to be hauled around a lot. But God wanted the people to have mercy and compassion for the elderly and not think of them as deadweight or whatever and abandon them. I've never heard that before and don't know if it is true of societies at that time. But for sure I like that God looked out for the vulnerable of society and many Eastern cultures especially still revere and honor the aged. I think I'm like you "a loner but I greatly value collectivist societies." Not in all aspects, but in many. Thanks for your feedback!

Susanne said...

Lat, I agree! A balance would be good! I can see myself appreciating aspects of both meshed together in a balanced way!

Susanne said...

Amber, I like that you aren't a loner. I note this from the fact you wont' go to a movie by yourself and how you have best friends and you discuss things. I really love that and often wish I were more like you in this!


Thank you all for your comments!

Becky said...

I very much agree with what Lat said about keeping a balance.

For religious (and many other) issues I tend to be a loner, simply because I cannot accept any majority views, so it would be borderline impossible to find a community where I would fit. However, I think it's lovely to have a community that accepts everyone for being different, although I also tend to think that's a bit idealistic and impossible.

It is a marvelous feeling though when you are a group of people together, I just tend to feel that I have to find that outside religious issues.