Individualism, Loneliness, & the Decline of Community

Ernest Becker believes that from the ashes of individualism sown in the modern era there can emerge a true sense of community in the postmodern era.

His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, on the meaning of interdependence. Originally posted to the GlobalNewThought YouTube Channel.

The terror of history yielded one great fruit: the development of individualism, out of the decline of community… we must find a way to reunite history and individualism with the transcendent meaning in community… we need to combine Socratic self-reliance with a new life-giving myth in a new community.

The life-giving myth surely is the newly found truth of the interdependence of all beings, which is a very ancient truth as we have seen.

The Community of Rosedale gathering to plant in the community garden. Photo by Maryland GovPics on Flickr.

From this newly found sense of community there will derive a greater sense of meaning in life and of shared ethics, as Becker predicts,

The life of freemen in community must be united by a myth of the meaning of life itself, a truly dynamic and creative myth. This would unite our whole perspective by giving our education its ultimate and agreed ethical grounding in the most forceful and creative way possible.

Individualism can breed much loneliness. There is a lot of “cosmic loneliness” in the world when we are in between cosmologies or stories of how we got here and what “here” is.  Science is offering us some significant new stories today but religion, for the most part, has been slow to respond to them. An example of cosmic loneliness is the following story:

Man walks alone on the beach. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

Several years ago a theologian from Sydney was giving a lecture in Africa that was being translated live into Swahili.  He would stop every few sentences for the translation to ensue.  Near the end of his talk he said, “The number one spiritual problem in Sydney is loneliness.”  The translator went silent, huddles with some other natives, and returned to the mike and said: “I’m sorry, sir; but in our language there is no word for loneliness.”

4th-graders practice mindfulness in classroom at U.S. Army Garrison, Japan. U.S. Army photos by Noriko Kudo on Flickr.

Imagine that!  For a culture still nourished by its creation stories—including our relationships with the stars and the great cosmos and other creatures, there is no word (therefore no experience) of loneliness.  For our Western culture, loneliness is an everyday event and malady.  One more reason why “Cosmology/Ecology” are such primal dimensions to being fully human.

An overemphasis on sin and redemption can also breed loneliness.  When religion constructs ideologies of sin and salvation in preference to stories of blessing, goodness, empowerment, creativity, justice, and joy, fear abounds. Compassion goes out the stained glass window. (Thomas Aquinas says that fear is so powerful an emotion that it renders compassion impossible.)

The Kingdom Choir singing “Stand By Me” during the Royal Wedding. Originally posted to The Kingdom Choir YouTube Channel.

In the process, religion ignores its true duties such as to create  community among all peoples and all beings–“all our relations,”–all of creation.  And to teach the way to community, which is justice and compassion.  And to celebrate our common life.

This was Dr. King’s vision of a “beloved community,” one where peace, justice and compassion reigned; and where creativity was alive and well.  We will discuss King’s “beloved community” in tomorrow’s DM.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, pp. 133f.

Banner Image: Women sits alone on bench. Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you see loneliness as a great spiritual problem in our time?  How do we move beyond it? 

How does a new (and more ancient) relationship to the more-than-human world assist that healing?

Recommended Reading

The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human

The A.W.E. Project reminds us that awe is the appropriate response to the unfathomable wonder that is creation… A.W.E. is also the acronym for Fox’s proposed style of learning – an approach to balance the three R’s. This approach to learning, eldering, and mentoring is intelligent enough to honor the teachings of the Ancestors, to nurture Wisdom in addition to imparting knowledge, and to Educate through Fox’s 10 C’s. The 10 C’s are the core of the A.W.E. philosophy and process of education, and include: compassion, contemplation, and creativity. The A.W.E. Project does for the vast subject of “learning” what Fox’s Reinvention of Work did for vocation and Original Blessing did for theology. Included in the book is a dvd of the 10 C’s put to 10 video raps created and performed by Professor Pitt.
An awe-based vision of educational renewal.Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

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