The Christian Answer to Individualism, the Liberal Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
It is often taken as a given that the "conservative" emphasis on "the individual" as the core basis of political formation is the antidote to left wing politics of "the group." This is a mistake.
Now that I am not scrolling through Twitter all the time so as to keep myself in “the flow,” I have found myself once again reading more mainstream conservative publications. While it is useful to reconnect with ideas floating out in the “mainstream-o-sphere,” and while getting in touch with things written to catch and hold the interest of the “average” conservative or right-wing reader has been instructive, it has also reminded me once again how many of the ideas that we take to be “conservative” are in fact actually destructive left wing ideas. They are often earlier iterations of liberal ideas, old enough now that clinging to them gives the illusion of conservatism without its reality. It is easy to look back at the older forms of liberalism with fondness and optimism, thinking that if we just “return” or rescue these ideas from the corrupting influence of the current left we will be able to recover a hopeful future for our society.
One such idea is “individualism.” This is the idea that for a society to be properly democratic and free, it must respect the primacy of the individual as the basis of society. Each individual is an autonomous, free decision maker endowed with inalienable rights. I am just going to say it straight out: this is a deeply liberal idea and deeply corrosive upon society. It is also deeply ingrained within the American psyche as the essential building block of a free, democratic society. This is doubly true for many of us who are Christians. We confuse the notion of the human person, a personal salvation, and a personal God, with that of the modern, nominalist view of the autonomous individual, much to our, and our society’s, detriment.
People tend to gravitate toward simple schema, especially when it comes to politics. We want nice neat categories. We want to know, without complexity and nuance, who is friend and who is enemy. For much of the 20th century, America was seen to be at the forefront of battling the “Communist menace.” When faced with the collectivism of Communism, and it’s technocratic stepsister socialism, is was easy to slip into a straightforward taxonomy: anything that emphasized the primacy of the collective over the individual was bad. That which set the individual ahead of the collective is good. Looking at people as individuals based on their own merit is good. Considering their worth in terms of group identity is bad. You will often hear in normie circles that the way to battle group identity politics is to re-focus on the primacy of the individual. This, I would argue, has been a colossal, and socially destructive mistake. It arises out of a misunderstanding of the philosophical underpinning of individualism and its implications; as well as the nature of groups in “mass” society. All is not as it seems.
The article which touched off my need to flip open my laptop and begin the writing process recently appeared in the pages of American Mind. It was Robert C. Thornett’s “Identity Alchemy.” He gives a fairly commonplace recitation of intersectional identity politics, drawing on a recent book by Joshua Mitchell, and his explanation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s writings, to sketch out the binary between the individual and intersectional group politics as one between an identity which is stamped on us by others due to our falling into some group categorization, and those associations which are generated freely and voluntarily by the individual and thus freely become part of our human signature. The binary here is one of an identity and a sense of belong to a group which emerges from the free, voluntary actions of an individual vs. those identity markers which are assigned to us by others, stamped upon us whether we want them or not. These then become our identity markers, almost like brand labels. For many, most I dare say, on the right, this is fairly straightforward recitation of the received wisdom of the way things are and how to think rightly about the world and politics as a “conservative.” The problem is, there really isn’t that much “conservative” about it at all.
The Group in the Age of “Mass Man”
The difficulty we run into when discussing this is that what we think of as “groups” today are not really true “groups.” They are a collection or classification of individuals. That may seem obvious, but it is a subtle, important point that is essential to understand. The groups which we associate with the politics of collectivism in its various forms are not true unities. They are a simulacrum of a true group, a true community. The problem has a long history, one which has been percolating over a significant period of time. It has to do with how we understand the very fabric of reality and the nature of human beings. The offending philosophy is that of “nominalism.”
Prior to the introduction of nominalism, it was commonly understood that all human beings were joined together by a shared human nature. There was something unseen which tied all of humanity together and connected us as human beings. In Christian teaching specifically, the idea of original sin operates at the level of “human nature.” Because of the evil done by one man, due to the shared connection through our human nature, all humanity is thus tainted by this evil. At the same time, there are no private sins. The perversions you commit in the privacy your bedroom, taint all of society. The suffering of one man affects us all. On the flip side of redemption, it was vitally important for the Church Fathers to establish that Christ has a full human nature. Our shared human nature was essential for Christ to redeem humanity. In this, Christ is able to mirror Adam’s fall into sin. Without this shared human nature, salvation would not be possible.
Within this basic metaphysic, there are greater and lesser degrees of connection. Thus a people living together in the same land, sharing blood relationships, worshiping the same god, speaking the same language and engaging in the same rituals forge between themselves, an unseen bond. Though unseen, this bond is something real, metaphysical. The people can even be said to have a single soul. It is like the marriage bond but not as deep. In the marriage bond, through intercourse, the two become one being. They are distinct persons who come to share a single life, they become a single spiritual entity. They are still on the one hand unique persons, yet at the same time there is a real bond of oneness. They are two persons with one essence. There is a certain mystical quality to the relationship. The construction of the language mirroring that of the Trinity is not accidental, but intentional. We are made in the image of God. This spiritual bond between people manifests itself in archetypes, symbols and stories. And communities, real communities, to a greater or lesser degree, share a similar bond. While they are made up of unique distinct persons, a community in many ways is itself a kind of person writ large with its own collective “soul,” a spiritual, metaphysical bond that unites them and makes them a single entity. They are not “individuals” living in a community, rather they are “persons-in-community.” In some sense it is impossible for people to be full human unless they are “persons-in-community.” Even when we want to think of ourselves as individuals, we often are not so. The urge and desire to become such, is a drive towards alienation and dehumanization. This is vital to understand.
Beginning early in the history of the West, Peter Abelard and William of Ockham and others began to challenge the idea that material reality is bound together by unseen metaphysical and spiritual bonds. As the idea develops up through thinkers like Hobbes and John Stuart Mill they began to assert that whatever categories and groupings and associations we see between things are merely names and concepts that we impose upon reality to make sense of it. There are no unseen metaphysical realities. Whatever sense and meaning the world has, it has it because we identify and label that order as order. This idea was essential in the development of scientific thinking, allowing people to rid themselves of the idea that there is an inherent purpose, or telos in the world out there that imposes itself upon us. It also sheers the connection with the supernatural. Nominalism liberated mankind to place himself conceptually at the center of his universe as the one who determines the meaning of things. Man could now name and manipulate things as he wished.
Nominalism essentially frees man from his spiritual bond to other human beings. Each of us is now an individual monad, autonomous. The idea of natural law is largely impossible in a nominalist world. In this world, what I do in privacy of my own home has no effect on anyone else. I am an isolated monad who makes his own decisions and is able to name the world as I see fit. The height of this kind of thinking is trans and transhumanist thinking. There is nothing inherent in reality that is “man” or “woman” or even the “human.” It can be named and shaped as I choose. As an independent free and autonomous individual, reality is what I determine it to be.
This also places enormous pressure upon us. This thrusts upon us the burden of history, the burden of meaning upon each and every one of us. Each and every moment of every day it is our responsibility to give the world around us meaning, to name it and make ours. Science, technology and technical thinking, the market place, all aim at reinforcing this world view that has empowered the modern world as we know it. If there is no underlying order limiting our actions, we are emancipated to explore and pursue knowledge without limit, impose technique without limit, make money without limit, indulge our desires and passions without limits. Every choice is our own and we make them as free human beings. We can be whom and whatever we want without limits as long as we have the will to name it and then shape it. Autonomous individualism built the modern world.
But there is dark side. Because most of humanity cannot carry the burden of nominalistic autonomy without breaking down, this renders them vulnerable to the demagogue and the propagandist. Ellul documents for us that the propagandist needs individuals to whom he can give a group identity. But it is not a real group like the one above. It is a simulacrum of a group. The person is made to feel like they belong, but they must always remain an individual, isolated. The individual encircled within the mass, within some group or another, is essential for enabling the propagandistic programing necessary for modern life to do its work, as modern living is profoundly unnatural, even anti-natural. Ellul explains:
“Any modern propaganda will, first of all, address itself at once and at the same time to the individual and to the masses. It cannot separate the two elements. For propaganda to address itself to the individual in his isolation, apart from the crowd, is impossible. The individual is of no interest to the propagandist; an isolated unit he presents too much resistance to external action.”
You might think this offers a counter against the point I making. Ellul continues, talking about the person embedded within a small living community:
“Any propaganda aimed only at groups as such—as if a mass were a specific body having a soul and reactions and feelings entirely different from individual’s souls, reactions and feelings—would be an abstract propaganda that likewise would have no effectiveness.”
What Ellul is saying here is that any community that is a real community acts like an individual, like a single being. Thus the propagandist cannot reach the persons within that unity and they are immune to his manipulations. One only has to remember our recent experience with Covid. Which groups were most likely to resist mandates? Small, tightly knit church communities. Ellul says it is essential to the propaganda masters that they break down these communities.
“Only when very small groups are thus annihilated, when the individual finds no more defenses, no equilibrium, no resistance exercised by the group to which he belongs, does total action by propaganda become possible.”
It is vital that we properly understand what is happening. Mass propaganda culture gives two simultaneous and false feelings at the same time. One is that an individual in charge of ones own thoughts, not influenced by the propagandist. The other is that one belongs to various groups which then give one meaning, but they are only the meaning given the group by the propagandist. They are not the old metaphysical meanings. They are simulacrum of the true singular unity of the old society which was destroyed.
“Each one must feel individualized, each must have the impression that he is being looked at, that he is being addressed personally. Only then will he respond and cease to be anonymous (although in reality remaining anonymous). Thus all modern propaganda profits from the structure of the mass, but exploits the individual’s need for self-affirmation; and the two actions must be conducted jointly, simultaneously. Of course this operation is greatly facilitated by the existence of modern mass media communication, which have precisely this remarkable effect of reaching the whole crowd at once, and yet reaching each one in that crowd. Readers of the evening paper, radio listeners, movie or TV viewers certainly constitute a mass…these individuals are moved by the same impulses and impressions, find themselves focused on the same centers of interest, experience the same feelings, have generally the same reactions and ideas—and all this at the same time. … Yet each one is alone. … This is the situation of the “lonely crowd,” or of isolation in the mass, which is a natural product of present day society and which is both used and deepened by mass media. The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass: it is at this point that propaganda can be most effective.”
What Ellul is detailing here and elsewhere is the two twin simulacrums, that we are truly autonomous individuals and that we belong to group. Whether that group is the thing of identity politics like gender or race (which is a construct of propaganda) or class or some newer political construct like “Chud” or even some generational thing like Boomer or Zoomer it is all manufactured for us by propaganda. They are all invariably labels, constructs of the propagandist. In this sense, the American Mind piece is correct, but the analysis was too superficial. The sense of belonging to these groups is merely the encirclement of the propagandist. It is not a real spiritual bond between people. The individual cannot be propagandized. But the true individual is largely the creation of myth. In a mass society almost every single one of us is encircled in some way by some group identity even while we try to convince ourselves that we are staunch independent individuals. Yet, this sense of belonging is but an illusion. The key to making propaganda work at its fullest is to leave people with the sense that they are autonomous individuals thinking for themselves, yet letting them at the time feel like they belong to something larger than themselves. Often, they will have the feeling of choosing to belong to the group which encircles them. All these feelings are illusions. The individual is neither autonomous, nor is he spiritually connected in the way we described above to a real community with a collective “soul.” Neither did he really choose his identity on his own. He is at the mercy of the propagandist. His life, his thoughts, are entirely shaped by propaganda. Yes, that includes you and me. At this point in the history of the west we are so completely propagandized, so completely adapted to life under propaganda that the idea we have thoughts of our own is almost laughable.
This is why the individual vs. group binary as we most often encounter it is so dangerous. It fails to grasp the true nature of the problem of modern technical society, dependent as it is every moment of every day upon constant propaganda just to continue to function. It also does not show us what modernity has taken from us. Modern, technical, scientific, market oriented society needs to break down real living communities so as to make us ready for the market and for technique. It is also why, when we insist on arguing for the individual as the basis for a free society, when we insist on personal autonomy and unchosen bonds and even “individual rights,” we are doing the work of the Western system for it. We are aiding the forces that have been breaking down society since at least the Industrial Revolution, and even before, while naming them as essential for “conservatism.” We are actively aiding the forces which have enslaved us within a protective bubble of propaganda so as to keep us bound to technique and to the market.
We should also consider the volunteer associations and institutions—civic organizations, the lodge, clubs, and even voluntary church and parachurch organizations to some extent—that many conservatives look to as part of the bedrock of a flourishing society, recognizing in them a transitional stage from true community to the current alienated propagandized individual-within-the-mass. While they can create a bond between people and can provide buffer between the individual and mass man, they should be seen as an intentional replacement, a substitute for something that was already slipping away. In some ways, they live in a space between worlds. They are not quite the communities of old, in that they are voluntary and attempt to provide what people sensed was missing as their communities came under increasing threat from industrial and market based society. It’s a rational, somewhat technical approach to building community. And while they provide some of the benefits of the communities of old, and were able even stabilize and strengthen real communities for a while, they were ultimately unable to resist the corrosive effects of modernity because as mere institutions they lacked the spiritual strength to resist the reward system of the technical, industrial, market based society. They were a “horizontal” solution for a problem that is essentially spiritual, that is, vertical and transcendent in nature, as we will discuss later in this this essay. Pursuing the power of technique and the wealth of the market, we let these institutions go, allowing ourselves to be both massified and individualized.
The Post-Nietzschean Spirit of the People
Communism and Socialism are not the only philosophies and ideologies of the group. Both of those are materialist in nature, emphasizing a world conception without metaphysics. But there are those who steer away from class analysis, emphasizing instead what can only be called a more “mystical” approach. They emphasize that there are unseen realities and connections. They recognize that people do create a spiritual bond with each other. They acknowledge that cultures have meta-structures which reveal themselves in symbols and stories. They are willing to embrace the power of myth and story. Many of these thinkers, because they fall outside the stark materialism of our technical, scientific and market based world and way of thinking, are often branded as esoteric.
We can see these ideas a play in a number of thinkers from Rene Guenon, to Julius Evola, to Carl Jung, to Oswald Spengler, to Mircea Eliade, to Giovanni Genitle, to Alexander Dugin, or even a figure like Jordan Peterson. There are a number of threads which broadly bind these thinkers together. As far as I know, all of them live firmly in a world which is both post-Nietzschean and post-Heideggerian. Even when they acknowledge that a people can develop its own collective soul or spirit which can manifest itself within symbols and stories, they do so in a world in which “being” is no longer related to a transcendent “Being.” Being to them is historical, worked out actively on the event horizon of history. This is the world of dasein, of being-there, in the moment. It is the world of “becoming,” in which the essence of who we are is built out of our actions; rather than our actions flowing out of the essence of who we are.
As soon as that is said, though, we must acknowledge that there are those like Spengler who very much see actions flowing out the essence, the spirit, the great idea of a culture. But, as with all these thinkers, this being is not something which is derived from a Being, but is generated historically. It is not transcendent. And with synthetic thinkers like Guenon, Eliade or even Peterson, these realities expressed through symbols and stories are not truly transcendent. They are the product of a long evolutionary process or they are result of the different ways in which people have striven to understand the unseen realities all around us. But what you do not find among these thinkers, as far as I am aware, and I am far from an expert, so reader beware, is the argument that the claims of one faith, the Christian, reflect the Truth of reality as best as can be, while all these others are false, or shadows or what not. There is a denial that there is something out there, God and the order which he has woven into the fabric of creation, that is the standard by which we can judge the merit of various spiritual and metaphysical claims of the different culture groups.
Why is it important to acknowledge this? Because many of these “spiritual” and “mystical” claims also manifest themselves in the other major western ideology, that of Fascism. And, when push comes to shove, Communism, Socialism and Liberalism tend to find their most favorable ground among the educated and the elites of society; whereas this idea of “the spirit of the people” tends to find a more receptive home among the common man. Nationalism is one form of this. The dirty little secret of the major Western ideologies is that in response to the negative effects of industrialization and liberal market economics, the common man generally preferred Fascism over Communism. People understand more viscerally the idea of the greatness of their own nation and the spirit of their people than they do class associations which tend to be more abstract. Why do you think Democrats still cling to class warfare tropes? Why do you think “Make America Great Again” had such a broad appeal to the common man? This is also why there is a quest on the right today to parse out and identify the essence of the true American spirit in the midst of the attempts to destroy such a thing through immigration and economic warfare. Is there such a thing as a collective American “soul”? Do some possess it and others do not? If it is a thing, who possesses it and why? Or is this so-called American “soul” just the last remnants, the last gasp, of Western culture before it is finally a fully dead thing?
But as we talk about the spirit, the soul of a people, even someone like Spengler who acknowledges the collective spirit of a culture, is still, in the end, a nominalist. In volume 2, chapter 3 section 1 of The Decline of the West, Spengler makes the argument that the soul of each culture is incommensurate with every other culture. The nominalism is shifted from the person to the culture. There is no larger metaphysical reality outside of the culture which connects and binds the people from two cultures together. Any connection or transfer between them is illusory.
“In reality these systems only exist in the human waking-consciousness, and they exist as modes of activity. Religion, science, art, are activities of waking consciousness that are based on a being. Faith, meditation, creation, and whatever of visible activity is required as outcomes of these invisibles—as sacrifice, prayer, the physical experiment, the carving of a statue, the statement of an experience in communicable words—are activities of the waking consciousness and nothing else. Other men only see the visible and hear only words. In so doing they experience something in themselves, but they cannot give any account of the relation between this experience and that which the creator lived in himself. We see a form, but we do not know what in the other’s soul begat that form; we can only have some belief about the matter, and we believe by putting it into our own soul. However definitely and distinctly a religion may express itself in words, they are words, and the hearer puts his own sense into them. However impressive the artist’s notes or colors, the beholder sees and hears in them only himself, and if he cannot do so, the work is for him meaningless. … The German whom Boniface converted did not transfer himself into the missionary’s soul. It was a springtide quiver that passed in those days through the whole young world of the North, and what it meant was that each man found suddenly in conversion a language wherein to express his own religiousness.” [emphasis mine]
This notion of incommensurability is essential to his argument against the idea that there is a continuous unbroken cultural history of cause and effect from the classical period up through to the modern. In the above paragraph he makes a point that he repeats multiple times, that in spite of an organic birth-youth-mature-old age development similarity between different cultures, and that it appears that cultural elements transfer from one culture to another, this is largely an illusion. In many ways I think that Spengler, and others like Dugin, are correct in emphasizing cultural multi-polarity, but my reasons are largely theological in nature.
Spengler makes the point that when the emergent Western culture takes up Christianity into itself, it does not do so in a continuous line of development back to the early church. The early Christian church, he argues, was birthed in and developed within the Magian culture and thus it is a uniquely Magian phenomenon. When the Christian faith is brought into the Faustian West, it fundamentally changes Christianity in specifically Western ways. In this, I both agree and disagree with Spengler. Even though Spengler often details what he calls the Magian understanding of the Christian faith correctly, I would argue that this is not a phenomenon of the Magian culture per se, but rather that Christianity is its own thing and these characteristics detail the Christian faith before it was corrupted by its contact with the Faustian West. This is why, when you read the Bible as a Westerner, it can at times feel alien and like it comes from a different world. Christian culture was, and has always been intended to be, something very different from the Christianity we know it today in the West. Lets talk about this now, because I believe that recovering this knowledge shows us a way through the current tangle of problems we encounter in the post Nietzschean West in regards to the individual and the group.
The Christian Answer to Individualism
One of the bugaboos I have with today’s right, especially the secular right, is the unwillingness to think and speak theologically and Biblically about political problems. We are quite happy to discuss Plato, Aristotle, Roman Republicanism, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, The Founders, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Marx, Burnham, Schmitt, Francis and others, but we get entirely squeamish when someone starts quoting the Bible or mentioning theologians, except for maybe Aquinas or Augustine as they have enough secular cache that they work. Because Christians have been largely forbidden from bringing theological concepts to bear on political realities (the secular state or the separation of church and state), our ability to think theologically about political problems is entirely stunted. We often let secular political, economic and even moral thinking dictate the terms of the debate. This has a corrupting and corrosive influence on Christian teaching. Often we find ourselves trying to use the Bible or theology to justify otherwise secular political positions and this ends up twisting our understanding of the faith. Far better to argue from a position which is faithful to Biblical and historical Christianity. The content of the teaching of the Fathers is almost unknown in the modern West, much to our detriment.
As I have argued in recent pieces on privacy (Let’s Talk about Privacy, the Anti-Human “Human” Right, The Digital Panopticon: The Atheist Techno-Optimist's Admission That They Need God), in order to properly understand Biblical teaching on this, we have to go back to the beginning. One of the consequences of the fall is alienation between human beings and God as well as between each other. This is symbolized by our need for clothing to cover up the shame we feel at being naked before each other and before God. We also noted that many of the sins we commit are in fact efforts at self-salvation, they are implicit soteriologies. This is part of what is at work in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. There were two explicit motivations. One was glory, that is making a name for themselves. By making a name for themselves they become god like. They would make themselves into demigods. The second motivation was to reach the heavens. They would build a tower, a mountain, a pyramid that would reach to the place where God dwells, thus overcoming their fundamental alienation from God.
God comes to see what they are doing and the end result is that he confuses their language so they will not understand each other. This results in the people becoming scattered because they cannot understand one another. Remember that the early stories of Genesis are told not so much to tell us what happened in the past, but to explain to us why things are the way they are. The existence of different cultures and languages is the result of divine judgement against humanity. This is why much can be learned by reading someone like Spengler, and why, to a certain extent he is correct about the incommensurability of different cultures. But this is not the whole picture. The complete story requires that we accept not just the idea there are metaphysical patterns and an unseen order in the world that reveals itself through stories and symbols, but we must also acknowledge that there are transcendent, supernatural realities as well. Many are comfortable with the idea of “being.” But it is another thing all together to acknowledge that there is a transcendent Being as well as created supernatural beings. And even if you can accept that, it is another level of belief to accept that there is one true presentation, revelation, teaching about this Being, and that is the Bible.
Why do we need to make this point? Because many, most, (all?) history of religions scholars, esotericists, cultural analysts, mythologists, syncretists, and so forth are quite willing to acknowledge some form of the “spirit” of the people or religious “spirit” within symbols and myths, but very few of them are willing to put forward the idea that the Biblical understanding of what we see in the world is the correct one. You will often get a “history of religions” point of view that all of these differing cultures confronted an complex and mysterious world and then allowed their imagination to create the idea of spirits and gods that then developed into the idea of one God. Similarity in themes comes because they are dealing with similar data in nature. We moderns can see what they are doing and respect them, but as we progress as humanity, we can now re-integrate the idea of God to ourselves and overcome the religious alienation that caused people to create the idea of gods in the first place. In response, the Christian needs to be able to say that, no, the Biblical stories reveal to us the fundamental Truth of the way things are. As the cultures scattered, their understanding of the creation became corrupted. This is why God chose a people for himself, to teach them and preserve for himself a nation that understands the Truth.
Getting back to Babel and the cultural divide between people and between peoples, we have to understand that part of the redemptive process is the reversal of alienation between God and between peoples. Being “in Christ” is a new state of being, in the fullest sense of “being,” in that Christ shifts you from one essence to another, in which old categories left behind and we are bonded together in a new category: “in Christ.” This is the essence of what happened on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God fell upon the disciples, and when they spoke, each person heard them as if the disciples were speaking to them in their own tongue (Acts 2:5-41). This is why unity of believers is so important. They are not just some new volunteer group or like some civic society. They are not even merely forming a new culture group, although they are doing that. They are being bonded together supernaturally.
There is a “horizontal” process that accompanies this called “discipleship.” Because the church is being formed through conversion, the process of repentance and faith, you are shifting them from one cultural grouping to a new cultural grouping. You cease to be a Greek, or a Roman or an American and you become something different: a Christian. We recognize that in this transition time between Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension and his return on the Day of Judgement that this new status will never be perfectly realized. Some of our old identity will cling to us and will mask or veil our new essence “in Christ.” The process of discipleship is meant to be an intentional journey from who we were to revealing fully who we are “in Christ.” Looked at horizontally, it is not unlike how the culture of a football team is forged through fall camp, or a unit of soldiers are bonded together through basic training. They are made to leave behind their old identity and embrace their new identity through the formation process. This is very much like the process of discipleship when looked at horizontally or materially. It is about the formation of a people, the church. But in the church, this is not merely a material process.
The church, the ecclesia, the “gathered ones,” are forged into a unity, though, only in part through discipleship. The true unity of the church is spiritual, that is, supernatural. It is a work of the Spirit of God. It is meant to reverse not just Babel, but the curse of the Garden of Eden. The church is meant to be the place where the alienation of sin is overcome by the real working of the supernatural presence of God among his people. To understand this, let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 12 which talks about the presence of the gifts of the Spirit of God, but also how the Spirit is the source of unity within the church without erasing the uniqueness of persons. The Spirit takes us and makes us a new thing with a new identity.
“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.” (NIV-Bible Gateway)
I quoted most of the passage here in large part because it is important to see how much is going on in this one passage. The church is the body through which God instantiates historically the overcoming of the alienation between God and man. This is done through the presence of the Spirit in the people of the church. The evidence for this real presence of the Spirit of God is the presence of the various Spirit given supernatural gifts operating among the people. But it is more than that. Notice in verses 12-13 that Paul explains to us that the Spirit also makes us “one,” a single entity with a single supernatural essence. We are one being. We have one body with many parts. The image he uses here is intentional. Because of the work of the Spirit of God, all of these different people are drawn together and supernaturally made into a single entity. I would argue that this entity, the result of the redeemed image of God in humanity, is mirrored on the Trinity. We are one essence, but many persons. We are one body with many parts. This is why unity in the church is so important. This is not merely a material reality. This is a supernatural happening.
Lets then loop back to something we talked about earlier in regard to what the propagandist wishes to have happen. The propagandist wishes to isolate us as individuals so that he can then encircle us within a group identity that he assigns to us. We are mass man. The isolated man within the mass. We are always alone, spoken to alone, even when we take on the identity of the group. But the antidote to the technological market society that works always to depersonalize us, isolate us and trap us within the mass so that we are forever mailable and under the propagandist’s control, is, as Ellul taught us, to be part of community which itself is a single spiritual entity. Within this community, the propagandist has no control. So, if we wish to beat back “the machine” of “progress” of technology and the market, and with it the propagandist who keeps it all working, then embracing Christ and the move of his Spirit within the community of believers is the perhaps the most defiant act of resistance we can undertake.
But it requires letting go of this idea that we are “individuals.” Rather, the way to resist identity politics is not to emphasize our autonomous individuality, but rather to embrace our personhood within the community of Christ, becoming not an individual, but rather, with the power of the Spirit to be a person-in-community-in-Christ. The way to become fully human as God created us to be is to embrace the reversal of our alienation between God and each other “in Christ” and by the power of God’s Spirit. The discipling process is the practical coaching and training whereby we learn how be more fully part of the community of Christ. I would argue that because of this idea of “cultural Christianity” and “Christendom” we largely took for granted that everyone was “in Christ.” And so we stopped teaching ourselves how to be fully in the community of Christ. As a result we slowly began to lose the essence of who we are. Now we are surrounded by materialists churches who embrace the market and technology on the one hand or the sexual revolution on the other. The answer to the worst aspects of neo-Marxist identity politics is in fact the church community suffused with the Spirit of God. A supernaturally empowered Church, empowered by the Spirit of God, where people are forged by the Spirit into a single living entity, is the biggest weapon we have against the regime.
Thank you for writing this. I'll probably be thinking about it for a bit.
Among the Orthodox we say that we are saved together, and are condemned alone and I feel this piece echoes that. I have also noted the ersatz community substitutes, though less around nationalism and political space, and found that insightful.
Wow. This is amazing. I have no idea who you are, but this is an incredible piece of truth.