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The Heresy of Individualism – A Reflection

March 21, 2020
The Big Herd at the 18 Hole Golf course next to Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies. A true lesson of unity in the midst of diversity.

During these challenging times in our community, nation, and world I have seen some disturbing trends. When one individual hoards Clorox wipes or toilet paper or food products, they are stealing from a brother or sister in the community. They are especially stealing from those who live from paycheck to paycheck or who are food and/or shelter insecure. I have been especially appalled by those who were elected to serve the people of this nation who essentially and immorally used insider knowledge to sell off stocks to enrich their larder while the people whom they were elected to serve have felt the full brunt of the economic downturn.

What is this that I am seeing? This is the immoral and outrageous individualism which says the heck with other people, I am in this for myself. Greed, Materialism, Narcissism, and the like are running roughshod over the rest of the community and world. At Tim’s like this I look to the monastic community of Our Lady of Gethsemane where Thomas Merton was a Monk and Priest from 1941 until his tragic death in 1968. Merton (or Father M Louis which was the name he took upon taking his solemn vows in 1948) wrote the following about the heresy of individualism in his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: This article was written by Merton Scholar, Gregory Hillis, an associate professor of theology at Belarmine University in Louisville, KY. In his 1965 book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote against what he saw as ‘the heresy of individualism,’ which he described as ‘thinking oneself a completely self-sufficient unit and asserting this imaginary ‘unity’ against all others.’ Too often we act as if we are isolated monads concerned mainly with our own well-being. We identify ourselves primarily by that which distinguishes and separates us from our fellow humans.” (America: The Jesuit Magazine, March 19; 2020)

As Professor Hillis proposes in this article, …the coronavirus illustrates one of the most important takeaways of a good Trinitarian theology: the unity of humankind.

I believe that we are being called today to cast down the oppressive yoke of individualism and take up the call to interdependence, grace, and love. May we do this now before it is too late!

6 Comments
  1. Wayne Burns permalink

    Some excellent comments for these challenging days.

  2. Wayne Burns permalink

    Thanks for sharing. It was an excellent and challenging article.

  3. Powerfully expressed, Michael. It needs to be said. Things are just as bad in the UK, apart from some notable exceptions. We are so blessed to have family, church friends and kind neighbours looking out for us, as we also seek ways to help others less fortunate than ourselves. 💜

    • Thank you, Joy! This quote came across my browser on the International Thomas Merton Society Facebook page. It pretty much stayed with me all day… 💜

  4. Thanks for your reflection. Someone told me about being in a store where a young woman was crying because she needed toilet paper and there was none. We need to be reminded of our interdependent world and that loves leaves some toilet paper for others.

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