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Religion / Theology

How do the two forms of individualism Benne (2003) describes seriously challenge the church?
Benne does a great job of breaking down the threats of individualism to the church. In his text he states that “God founded the church in the past; his Spirit nurtures the church in the present and future” and that the church’s mission is to “bear witness of God” (2003, pg. 204). The church does this through “worship, baptism, Eucharist, marriage, vocation, hospitality, charity, among many others that gives them identity and definition as the people of God” (Benne, 2003, pg. 204). However, when we bring individualism into this community, we shift our focus away from teaching and passing on these traditions to others. Instead we shift the purpose of the church to focus on fulfilling our own selfish needs. Beene describes Utilitarian individualism as “turning the Christian faith into something that is useful for me” (2003, pg. 204). For this type of individual, the church’s purpose is to provide the individual with a moral boost, assist in supporting social life for the adult as well as their children, and to give the individual “insurance” of eternal life (Benne, 2003). This individual is not as concerned with learning the truth if it challenges their moral uplift. The other individualism described by Benne is Expressive Individualism. It “expects the church to fulfill their felt needs; to make the individual feel good about themselves”. Benne says that the individual wants to be “entertained, affirmed, and inspired up to the limits of their comfort zones” (2003, pg. 204). The danger to the church” is when certain traditions are picked apart for the pieces that fit the purpose of these individuals. The traditions lose their original purpose which is to bear witness of God. When this happens, the message ceases to be the God’s truth and therefore becomes very dangerous indeed.

How do they challenge society?
When members of society solely focus on the “what’s in it for me mentality” they hinder the pursuit for the greater good. However, Mark Goddard states in his article that societies that are driven by individuals. And those, such as the United States, tend to be optimistic as compared to societies that are more focused on the community as a whole (2002). The American Dream is embraced by our society and yet it is the example of the individual being able to achieve anything s/he can dream up. However, individualism can bring out an unhealthy competitiveness where people will compromise their morals and begin to view others as object to be conquered or to make the “ends justify the means”. When we as a society can balance drive of the individual with the needs of the community, we will see a great movement that will benefit us all.

How might you as an individual combat them in your own life?
As I mentioned above, I believe finding a balance is key. As the King Solomon discusses in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. There is a time when I need to work as an individual and there is a time for me to work for the community. I will, as a mom, need “me time” and I will need to spend my time and energy on my family. As an educator, I will need to focus on my professional development and at other times, I will need to focus on developing others. As a Christian, there will be times when I need to spend time in prayer talking with God about things that involve my spiritual growth and there will be time I spend time praying for others. King Solomon states in Ecclesiastes that “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God” (n.d, verses 12-13). I believe in this statement, he shows how we “eat, drink and find satisfaction in our toil” to satisfy our individual self, but also that we “do good while we live” which is to help others in our community (Ecclesiastes, n.d, verses 12-13). King Solomon says, “This is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes, n.d, verses 12-13). Finding balance is the key. We cannot allow individualism to rule our lives, but if used carefully, it can be beneficial to everyone.

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