Thursday, August 7, 2014

Catholicism and individualism

At church last week it struck me that we are now in the throes of something disturbing. I was watching a procession out of church and the people in the pews were faced with what ought to be a simple challenge: to stay standing in their places until the procession has reached the back of the church. Very few, probably less than five percent of the congregation, managed it.

But here is the thing: if you asked those people what they thought of individualism, they would unhesitatingly condemn it. And yet, we struggle to quell our pride long enough to allow God's priest to leave the church.

And it's not just that. Everywhere, Catholics rebel against anything that threatens their physical and psychological comfort.

Well, that's unfair to Catholics as everybody does it. And that is the problem. There is something relentlessly conformist about this rebellion.

Every once in a while, I'll see someone reject some conventional view. For example, an animal lover I know had some dealings with the humane society a while ago in which a humane society staffer bullied a child. It was an eye-opening experience in which she suddenly saw that there was a disturbing, power-seeking element to this organization and the people who worked for it. But she only held the view for a short while and quickly reversed her tracks and went back to expressing the conventional terms of praise that were expected of her. The thought of being an outsider, of losing her cool-kid status, was too much for her.

And that is what is most disturbing about the morality I see Catholics exercise these days. It is driven by a fear of standing out.

Here is a pretty standard Catholic rejection of "individualism".
Church teaching is infused with a personalist, communitarian worldview. Each person has intrinsic dignity and worth, since we are all made in the image of God. We realize our full potential as human persons within communities -- from the family to the office to the neighborhood to the global community.
What strikes me about it is the casual non-sequitir. In no way does it follow from each person having intrinsic dignity and worth that we realize our full potential as human persons within communities. It's also too often the case that families, offices and neighbourhoods stifle people's development. 

The argument I cite above is just lazy, sloppy thinking. Like the person whose pride prevents him from standing still for sixty seconds while the priest processes out of the sanctuary, it's a way of dodging an argument rather than confronting it and it's driven by an ugly pride.

No comments:

Post a Comment