Individualism and Post-Ideological Thinking: A Response
Thank you to a couple of my readers who offered constructive criticism of my previous posts on post-ideological religion. I offered Killing the Buddha as a potential reference of this way of thinking. If I understand the criticisms correctly, they are saying that post-ideological religion runs the risk of collapsing into individualism. And, though this isn't stated, I assume (hopefully correctly!) that this would eventually lead to religious solipisism. In lay terms, I'll pick and choose what I want to believe, when I want to believe it, and what I believe is always subject to my personal whim.
I will admit that this is possible. But, that said, it is always possible in any religious "system." Let's face it: societities, churches, communities, religious groups, temples, etc. etc. are formed from individuals. Religion in its "purest" form is a group of believers who congregate as individuals-in-community. The essence of religion is experienced as individuals. We cannot get beyond these few simple statements : I don't "know" what you really believe because I'm not you. And, you don't really "know" what I believe because you are not me (though you might have an idea if you've been reading my blog ;). Thus, for me, the distinction I make between individualism and group orientation isn't necessarily a negative/positive shift. Rather, it's trying to see a group for what it is: a cohesive group of individuals. Solipisism is always a risk - but communal experience hopefully prevents such thinking.
When I speak of post-ideological religion, I don't draw a distinction between individuals and groups. Rather, I'm looking for authenticity, either as an individual or as a group. I can delude myself as an individual just as much as I can be apart of a group that's deluded. Or, I can be as authentic in my experience as part of a group as I can as an individual. So why go to Church? Well, besides the obvious (to worship, to partake in sacraments, etc.), I go more to the "man/woman is not an island" thinking. No matter how introverted you may be, you need other people at some point. Jesus knew this - frankly I think Jesus has some introverted tendencies, yet he flourished around other people. What's the point? We gain insight, renewed strength, and religious vigor from worshiping with other people. Though we may not all get along all of the time, we are called by God to act as a community.
So, what's my concise response? Well, I believe community is central - central to spiritual/religious growth, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it. However, we have to be realistic enough to admit that this is done as individuals. Though we can share experiences, we never existentially experience another. This is a careful distinction, I think. It preserves the integrity of the individual as well as the group. Each has their rightful place in life - and it's important to prevent blurring the two. We must function as groups but think as individuals (lest history show us what happens if we ignore this imperative).
What do you think?