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Friday, June 07, 2013

Christ and the Collective

by Tom King

One may become a member of the Body of Christ with almost embarrassing ease.  It requires but one act and one small symbolic ritual.  The act required is repentance.  Repentance is not in any sense some sort of self-flagellation. It is not a trip to spiritual boot camp nor even 40 days in the wilderness, although that may be part of your spiritual journey at some point.  We need to be careful not to postpone taking up membership in Christ’s church in order to perform some great work of contrition or some great ritual of joining.  Joining the Body of Christ differs fundamentally from joining the Masonic lodge or the Communist party.  The Body of Christ is not in any sense a collective.

In the Body, we are members, not subjects.  We are, if you accept the idea that we are all created beings, already children of God and called according to His purpose.  We are organs of the Body of Christ, not all copies of one thing.  We are not called to sign up to join as soldiers. We are not called to be trained to sublimate ourselves to some collective state and be turned into another  identical egg in a stack of boxes of eggs all destined to be scrambled in service to the aims of the chef. We simply assume the place in the body that we were created to occupy.  It is not so much a process of molding so much as it is a process of restoration.

 C.S. Lewis* argued that “true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective”.  He compares membership in the Body of Christ to the structure of a family.  A family is made up of unique individuals.  They are not units of “homogeneous classes”.  You cannot interchange one for another.  If grandpa were to die, you couldn’t replace him with a Labrador retriever.  Grandpa has one role in the family. The family dog has another.  Brothers can’t be swapped for sisters as though they were all just “children” with identical functions.  You can’t even swap one brother for another.  All members of the family are unique; almost a species unto themselves.

We instinctively recognize the family structure as the “way things ought to be” – the ideal way to organize human beings.  Look at the myths and stories we tell ourselves.  The best ones are always about groups in which each individual is a separate, unique, but essential part of the whole.  The Wind in the Willows unites a Badger, a Mole and a Water Rat.  Star Wars unites a princess, a Jedi-in-training, a pirate, a stuffy robot, his comical sidekick, a teacher and a “walking carpet” that communicates by howling.  Every member of the Dirty Dozen has his own unique function.  Even Christ chose as his disciples, not identical acolytes, but an incredibly diverse band of fishermen, fanatics, theologians, tax collectors and accountants.  In none of the stories, that so appeal to us, does any member sublimate him or herself to the collective.  They simply work together in service to a common goal.  Each has his own part to play. Not one could be easily replaced.  None are members of a class. If you remove one member, as Lewis puts it, “You have not simply reduced the family in number; you have inflicted an injury on its structure.

The Body of Christ is a unity of individuals.  This idea of the unique individual as part of a motley crew of rugged individualists is enshrined in the US Constitution and in Scripture as the model for all human endeavours.  We are not designed to be trained to robotic sameness, pumped full of ideology all spouting the same talking points and shoved into whatever box the collective deems appropriate for us. We are not part of a class that can be treated as though it were a chunk of cheese or a block of wood.  We are not blacks, Hispanics, conservatives, “the” poor, “the” rich or the ruling class. The central planners would put an end to individualism for individualism is seen as a threat to progress.  Individuals make for too many pieces on the chess board to push around.

By progress, the great leaders of our day mean the evolution of the people of this world into a vast homogeneous soup. The collective is a soup in which every man, woman and child is a bit of the broth which can be seasoned, stirred and heated into whatever flavor the planners happen to favor this week.  Individualism is anathema to the collectivist.  

The very existence of the solitary, independent-thinking individual is a threat to the collectivist ambition.  That is why membership in collectives requires extensive prerequisites.  There must be relentless training to subdue any tendency to think independently. Art, music and writing are encouraged, but only such art, music and writings which reflect the talking points of the collective.  To remain a member of the collective, one must perform frequent ritual obeisance to the collective throughout his life. The almost comic displays of “patriotism” and devotion to the great leader that one sees in places like North Korea are not an aberration, but are rather the logical conclusion of the collectivist vision.  

Where Christian faith is all about faith and trust and being secure as to one’s place in the universe, one is never really secure as a member of a collective. Someone is always looking over your shoulder, searching for telltale signs of individualism that must be rooted out.  The threat of being cast out or punished by the collective for unorthodoxy is always there hanging over your head.

The only ritual required to join the Body of Christ is baptism.  It is a once for all ceremony. It is a public declaration that I am unclean and would be washed and made new by Christ. It is submission, not to a denomination, a particular church group or even to a set of doctrines, but to Almighty God Himself and no other.  Anyone who says differently is organizing a collective with himself and not God as its head.

Christ did not die for a society, a political party or for a nation-state, nor even for a church.  He died for each individual soul, whether that soul chooses to accept the gift or not. To the secular-collectivists, communists, progressives, socialists and statists, Christianity would have to seem like an almost militant assertion of individuality.  To defeat this pernicious movement toward uncontrollable individual liberty, the collectivists must accuse the Body of Christ of their own sin, that of suppressing individuality.

In this the collectivists are having some success, because without experiencing it for oneself, it is easy to misunderstand what it means to be a “servant” of God.  Christianity must seem “maddeningly ambiguous” C.S. Lewis pointed out.*  Christian faith seems to come out against our own natural individualism in that the practice of that faith requires that we abandon our own “natural” will to God. The Apostle Paul described the natural will as doing what you do not want to do because you are compelled to do it by your old nature.  

What the secular-collectivists do not and cannot comprehend unless they experience a relationship with God themselves, is that, in exchange for our giving of our old “self” to Him, God cleans the old self, repairs the damage, polishes it up and gives it back to us.  We then are true individuals as we were meant to be; free from all the old urges, compulsions, terrors and cravings that living in a corrupt world had placed upon us and once used to control us. We become, in Christ, new people who can freely choose to do what is right because they want to and because they are no longer bound by fear, no longer deluded by old programming and no longer weak and able to be manipulated.  

To the leaders of the collective, the existence of such people must be terrifying indeed. 

© 2013 Tom King – Puyallup, WA
*From “Weight of Glory” by CS Lewis.

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