Individualism vs. Person

Individualism vs. Person April 4, 2013

There is a radical difference between treating someone as an individual vs. treating someone as a person. That’s a strong claim, and there’s plenty of overlap — after all we’ve got an “I” and a “You” either way — but Andrew Root, in The Relational Pastor, sketches a thick description of the differences, and in this post we will look at six considerations.

What happens to family, work and ministry when personhood rises to the focus?

The problem we encounter all the time is that leaders — pastors in particular for this book and post — want to influence, but the mode of influencing others is the mode of individualism not personhood. “Personhood demands that I see the other as a mystery to encounter, and not as a will to mold through influence” (46).

1. You are your interests.  “Individualism is constructed around the core commitment of seeing people as fundamentally rational animals that are loyal to what enhances or fulfills their individual self-interest” (48). You are your interests; personalism says you are  your relationships. Individualism, either to the right or to the left, doesn’t want someone imposing or restricting the will.

2. Your interests are expressed in wants. Our wants are the tentacles of our interests. Pastoring too often become ministering to the wants (and interests) of others. The congregation becomes consumers — seeing itself as consumers and treated as consumers.

3. Interests and wants reshape people into objects. When interests and wants get framed into individualism then we treat humans as objects who help us meet our interests and wants.

4. Cooperation of mutual participation is the way of personhood. Individualism does not permit or encourage mutual indwelling, the heart of personhood.

5. There is no relationship with objects. We cannot indwell objects; we can only indwell other persons. We lose our humanity and create faux relationships when we treat others as objects and seek to have relationship with objects.

6. Idealism leads to the pursuit of individualism. It’s about an idea not a concrete person. “The personal, as opposed to individualism, holds not to an idea perspective but to the concrete life of the other before us” (56).

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