Friday, July 01, 2005I was looking back on my post on individualism below and thinking about why individualism has seemingly run amuck. In a sense America is an individualistic society because we have, traditionally, relied first on ourselves, then our families, then our broader communities (churches included) to live our lives. In the scope of human history, this is individualism in that it never really involved the government. I also think we can look at individualism in the way we refer to one's tastes and values and appearances. On a certain level those are superficial things, but let's not kid ourselves and think that they don't matter. Sure, you can't judge a person by the fact that they choose Beethoven over Billie Holiday. But their decision to do so might very well be a reflection of some deeper belief or value.
There is still the broader problem of individualism in a society where it's alright to abandon your family to "find yourself." How tragic. I'm not going to sit around and point fingers at individuals, but I'd be wrong to pretend that this sort of thing isn't a problem and, at some fundamental level, a systemic issue. I think the crux of the problem is that people try to find themselves through all the wrong means. It's impossible to know the creation without knowing the Creator. We can't fully understand ourselves without knowing and making something of an attempt to know the One who made us.
It's just like art and literature. I can read Auden and think it's nice; the structure is good, the imagery is pretty. But if I know nothing of the subject matter or the time and place and mood in which the poem was constructed and I know nothing of the poet's life, then I can never fully appreciate it as a work of art.
In Death on a Friday Afternoon, Fr. Neuhaus refers to the story of the prodigal son. He notes that some translations speak of how, after years of squalor and dissipation, the prodigal "comes to himself." Neuhaus notes that we come to ourselves, truly, only after an encounter with He who made us and defines us.
The rub is that the questions don't end when you know God, but somehow they're easier to handle. Someone else's mileage might vary, but I think it's easier to figure out who you are in the process of discovering who God is. And I don't make any pretensions about being able to fully comprehend our Lord. That's not going to happen. Still I find that there's a link between us and our Creator, and knowing One makes it a whole lot more fulfilling to know the other.