Jesus and Individuality

I just read something that reminded me of Jesus:

Persons of genius are, ex vi termini, more individual than any other people…If they are of a strong character, and break their fetters, they become a mark for the society which has not suceceeded in reducing them to commonplace, to a point at with solemn warning as ‘wild,’ ‘erratic,’ and the like; much as if one should complian of the Niagara river for not flowing smoothly between its banks like a Dutch canal.

The above quotation comes from Mill’s On Liberty, a treatise in which Mill attempts to defend the value of liberty. The context surrounding the quotation is that of a defense of the individual against the customs and conventions of society. Mill complains that the society in which he finds himself is becoming more and more threatening to invididuality. He claims, moreover, that people’s capactity to have their own individual hopes and dreams is in danger of being stamped out. This danger arises not simply from an individual accepting that she will never be able to express her desires over and against the conventions of the culture but also from the deadening of the desires within her very self, a deadening that is a direct result of the tyranny of the masses.

(Mill’s complaints here, by the way, remind me of some remarks made by Kierkegaard, a contemporary of Mill.)

The above quotation reminds me of Jesus because, in my mind, he certainly is like that “Niagara river” who others complained about (curcified even) for not fitting their conventional “canals.” The masses certainly did not succeed in reducing him to common place. The very possibility that the individual can triumph over the masses is, I think, is an inspiring one.

I was immediately struck by the beauty of this possibility, and I felt a personal connection to the kind of struggle that Mill is talking about here, a struggle that is exemplified in the life of Jesus. I felt that personal connection, no doubt, because I have a desire to be an individual that is not subdued by the artibrary demands of others.  I have even had a fear for a few years now that that is precisely what would happen as I grew older. That fear is in me even now. As I type these words, I worry that I’ll sell out in due time and that the subversive spirit within me will succumb to the seemingly silly demands of that voiceless abstraction “normalcy.”

But from where does this subversive impulse come from? Why is it that I desire to cultivate it? Here again I have to look at Jesus, and, more generally, I have to look at the Good and the Beuatiful. The subversive implulse results from the disparity between the Good and the way things are. To be a follower of Jesus, to be a lover of the Good is be invited into a life of subversion. It is to struggle against the way things are. It is to respond to statements like, “Life isn’t fair.” by saying “That’s all the more reason to make the world a fairer, more just place.”

This struggle, I think, allows me to be an individual. Because Jesus’ calling is counter-cultural, because it flies in the face of conventions, I can be called to something that is unique. Like Kierkegaard’s Abraham in Fear and Trembling, it is only by being above morality that Abraham can be a true individual. Similarly, it is only be being above the conventions that I can be distinctly me.

I rebel, therefore I am.

Well, that sounds pretty cool, but there’s something strange with this line of thought. We are all called to live a certain kind of life. And this kind of life is indeed a convention of its own, with its own individual-stifling tendancies. Indeed, we are called to die to ourselves and to take part in a new life, to be a new creation.

But what is this new thing? Is it an individual? How can it be? This new thing is nothing but a perfect being in that it exists in conformity with the Good. I’ve asked these questions before.  (And these questions, like last time, were inspired by me “witnessing” the beauty of individual expression.) This time, however, I’ve got some ideas about how we can have individuality, along with some feelings that God does, in fact, care about such things.

First, why God might give a crap about individuality. If we think about relationships in general, we’ll find that we value the originality of the people with whom we relate. If our relationship with God is anything like the relatinship we have with others, then, there’s probably good reason to think that God digs those qualities about me that distinguish me from others.

How we can get individuality in spite of perfect adherance to the Good: there must be a realm of choices or qualities that is untouched by the Good. Whether I prefer cookies and cream over strawberry icecream might be an example of such a non-moral preference. With these non-moral qualities in place, I can still be unique even if I am a new creation, the kind of person that is an ethical baller.

Meh…this is probably garbage.

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3 Responses to Jesus and Individuality

  1. bliography says:

    Why is individuality something to be pursued? Is it because to be different is to be a leader? Or to be different is to be in the minority on moral issues? In which case isn’t the point to be on the morally right position, and to be a leader? If so, individuality isn’t in and of itself a goal, but a by-product. Like reading your stuff Matt, still, don’t undermind yourself by announcing it’s probably garbage at the end of it. Personally i’ve been staying away from blogging and focusing on fiction. About which i feel …meh… as it’s probably garbage. Still you can’t get to the good stuff if you can’t write out all the crap first.

  2. Kevin says:

    Good questions. You suggest that individuality is extrinsically value, that is, valuable only as a means to leadership and moral righteousness. I think, however, that individuality might be something that is intrinsically valuable. Why do I think that? Well, in order to answer that question, I would need to know the criterion by which we can pick out intrinsic goods vs. goods that are merely extrinsic, and since I don’t know said criterion, I can’t answer that question.

    In any case, Who is this?

  3. Kevin says:

    2nd sentence spelling correction: It should read “You suggest that individuality is extrinsically valuable…”

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