The Myth of Individualism

I came across this in the introduction to William Willimon’s Pastoral Theology. It’s written in the context of church life, but it has universal application:

We work within a culture of rugged individualists and fragmented communities. We are officially schooled in the notion that we are most fully ourselves when we are liberated, autonomous, on our own. We live under the modern myth that it is possible, even desirable, to live our lives without external, social determination. Ironically, that we think it desirable to live our lives without external, social determination is proof that our lives have been externally, socially determined by the culture of capitalist consumption. I did not on my own come up with the notion that I am a sovereign individual who has no greater purpose in life than to live exclusively for myself. Rather, this culture has formed me to believe that I have no other purpose in life other than the purpose I myself have chosen. The irony is that I did not choose the story that I have no purpose in life other than that which I have  chosen.

The issue is not, Shall I be externally determined by some community of interpretation or authorization? This issue is, Which community will have its way with my life?

It’s a bit wordy, but nevertheless well said.

4 thoughts on “The Myth of Individualism

  1. Matt

    I definitely agree with the sentiment. An extremely valid and important point is being made that needs to be more deeply considered by anyone interested in stepping beyond our conditioning. I think it stops short (which makes sense) but it’s certainly a good conversation to continue. I’d be interested in knowing if the book discusses how we should come to discern which perspective and interpretation to embrace? What do you think?

  2. Marc


    The book doesn’t address which perspective to embrace. It’s a book about pastoral theology and assumes that his audience is already a part of the Christian perspective.

    I would say, too, that his position (if I may infer a whole lot just from this paragraph and his context) would argue that we cannot step beyond our conditioning if by that you mean “outside of our conditioning” to some kind of objective position. It’s a question of which conditioning you are going to put yourself under.

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