Relationality over Individualism

June 4th, 2019 / 3 Comments

I’ve been asking lately what fundamental ideas we need to establish a loving civilization. By “loving civilization” I mean what Christians often call “the kingdom of God.” I think it’s possible for civilization to become oriented around love.

In a previous blog, I argued that the “kingdom of God” phrase has liabilities. I’m not the first or only to make this argument. And I’ve heard many good alternative phrases to replace kingdom of God. I listed many of those phrases in that blog.

The members of a loving civilization will see themselves as relational. They will know they interrelate with others. By “interrelate,” I mean the actions of one affect others – both human and nonhuman – and others affect them.

I think it's possible for civilization to become oriented around love. Click To Tweet

Interrelated

In fact, all creatures are inevitably shaped by their relationships. We are selves engaged in relational responses; we are not isolated individuals impervious to others.

The Apostle Paul used the body analogy to say this. He argued the body’s many parts must function together for the body to thrive. One part should not say to another, “I don’t need you!”

Paul assumes, in other words, the good of the one and the good of the whole intertwine. The leadership of that body, he said, is Christ (1 Cor. 12:15-26).

Individualism

It’s common to claim individualism emerged as a philosophy in modernity. But the problems of individualism precede the modern period. They manifest in the penchant some have for being self-oriented or thinking in terms of personal gain at the expense of others.

Thinking, “I must defeat you” or “we must defeat them” prevails in civilizations oriented around individualism. Civilizations with individualism as their orienting concern encourage people or groups to secure short-term power or pleasure instead of long-term flourishing for all people, creatures, and the planet.

A recent poll of Americans indicated that 75% thought the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible.[1] While one can find biblical passages that speak of proper care for oneself, the preponderance of biblical passages speak of neighbor love, community love, and even enemy love.

The common biblical injunction to “love one another” assumes the priority of relationality and serves as a core belief for a loving civilization.


Self Love

While lovers realize their own well-being is affected by the well-being of others, a loving civilization also affirms proper self-love. A person’s own needs, desires, and dreams aren’t ignored. Instead, citizens of a loving civilization consider their own good when acting for the good of the whole.

Self-love is rightly called “love” when promoting one’s own well-being has overall well-being in mind. Actions to benefit oneself at the overall expense of others are not loving. Lovers seek to integrate the personal and political, the individual and the social, the one and the many.

Justice

The justice element of love plays a key role in discerning how the good of one or a few aligns with the common good. A loving civilization has no place for systems and individuals that act only for the good of one or a few to the obvious detriment of the many.

Radical individualism leads to income inequality and resource hogging. That’s unjust. A loving civilization promotes care for all people, communities, and societies. And it recognizes special care for the neediest.

Conclusion

In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis spoke of the relationality aspect central to what I call a loving civilization. He uses the phrase “integral ecology.” He writes:

“Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis,” he says, “I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, which clearly respects human and social dimensions.”[2]

Francis develops these ideas in ways that fit nicely with claims about relationality I’ve made above. I think he’d agree with me that a loving civilization assumes the centrality of relationships.

Would you join me in thinking about life in terms of relations?


A loving civilization assumes the centrality of relationships. I aim to think relationally as I try to live a life of love. Click To Tweet

[1] George Barna and Mark Hatch, Boiling Point: How Coming Cultural Shifts will Change Your Life (Regal Books, 2001), 90.

[2] Pope Francis, Laudato Si, paragraph 137. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html [Accessed 3/7/19].

Add comment

Comments

Dan Held

Find myself wondering how our western “zero sum game” theology, with its opposing winners and losers, works to impede the social holiness we Wesleyans pay lip service toward. Relationally, are we trying to win over instead of serving with others?


thomasjayoord

Great question, Dan!


Dave Edgren

When I changed from church pastoring to working in the secular work force, I changed my email signature from:
“Keep growing the Kingdom of God!”
to
“Keep changing the world!”
It means the same thing but with expanded territory.
“Keep changing the world!” recognises the life-altering work for good of everyone and welcomes growth in the work of resilience and reconciliation from anyone.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.