Monday, October 16, 2006

the myth of the rugged individual

Pastor Jack Brown gave us a helpful message Sunday, on community and about the myth of the rugged individual. This is what has largely defined America, being a chief part of its identity. Among its icons: Davey Crockett, Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwartzenegger. But it is not to be so, among the followers and community of Jesus.

Genesis 2, in which God said that it was not good for the man to be alone. Then Acts 2, in which the early church lived as community. This community grounded in the Being of God as Trinity, in interrelational love. Something is inherent in humans, that makes solitary confinement one of the worst punishments a human can endure. Pictured in "Cast Away", in which Tom Hanks plays the castaway, who befriends and speaks to the volleyball, "Wilson".

I have to agree that this is perhaps the mythology that has most shaped and defined the United States. To be human, as revealed by God in Jesus Christ, involves living in union with God and communion with humans. To become a Christian means to become a member of the Body of Christ. So that it's not about "me and Jesus." But it's about fellowship together in the community of the Trinity. It's about "Jesus and us."

I recall a recent conversation I had with a believer over the issue of "affirmative action", which we're soon to be voting on, here in Michigan. He appealed, really, to this myth, I believe, in his own position on this divisive, and admittedly difficult political issue. His appeal was to the individual- Abraham Lincoln, who in spite of circumstances, was able to overcome. And there is truth here. But surely not the whole truth even in Lincoln's life. And even if it was, does that make such an individualistic experience right, or the best?

Each of us present, doing our part as a member of Christ and each other. Not independent, but in need of our brother and sister. We together in need of Christ. And together in the fellowship of the Triune God. This is really what it's all about.

Do you see this myth as a defining one, in the American saga or experience? How does the Story of God found in Scripture compare or contrast with this? What are your own thoughts?


Allan R. Bevere said...


An excellent post.

It seems to me that rugged individualism is nothing more than self-centeredness dressed up in selfishly appealing garb.

Jesus was not being a rugged individualist when he prayed in Gethsemane, "Not my will, but yours be done.

Ted Gossard said...


Excellent points you bring in here. I don't think I've ever thought of either one.

This rugged individualism has been baptized and canonized, so that it is part and parcel of being holy, in some people's eyes. It is a sad deception. (And we're all afflicted by such worldly philosophies along the way. Just have to be getting more and more rid of them as we're increasingly transformed from conformity to this world/age by the renewing of our minds- to be sure. All things, I know you know already.


Tony Myles said...

In Genesis 2 for the first time ever in human history, God stated something that was not good – mankind being alone. In other words, according to God it is theologically unsound to say that He is all we will ever need.

That is, everything we need comes from his hand and so in many ways that statement can be true.

But prior to the fall we see that Adam needs food, and so God made food for Adam to eat. I think a presupposition some folks have is that a need is equal to imperfection, but that certainly isn’t Biblical.

We were created with a wiring for community – first with God, and then with others. Yet for some reason we are afraid to ask for help when we need it and assume it’s our job to gut life out in our own power.

We don’t see things the way God does.

I recently looked up the word for helper in the Hebrew and I found out the definition is “one who helps.” Who knew?

So maybe the question is what are we supposed to help each other with?

Ted Gossard said...


Helpful thoughts there!

I saw the need, from reading, of not stopping at community. So the next post had to do with "community and mission". And it also certainly has to do with "the Jesus Creed" of loving God and loving our neighbor.

It is certainly, than, missional, in bringing back creation, especially other humans, into right relationship with God and each other. And it is loving, doing what is good for the other.

Surely much more to be said and added here.