Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Individualism -- Is the Pope Mistaken?

According to William Grossklas, Sr., the pope needs to clarify what he means by individualism.


This is the conclusion Grossklas draws in his commentary referring to statements made by Pope Benedict XVI in an audience to Ugandan bishops, entitled, Not All Individualism is Bad.

During his audience with Ugandan bishops, the pope refers specifically to an "ism" -- defined as distinctive doctrine or systems of belief. The pope said in his statement:
I urge you to help them, priests as well as the lay faithful, to resist the seduction of a materialistic culture of individualism which has taken root in so many countries.
The individualism to which the pope is referring is that radical self-reliance in the absence of God to which secular humanists conform. It is a poison that strangles the life of charity out of society. Individualism, as such, is a philosophy that precludes the Gospel command to love one another -- it is self-centered, self-serving and narcissistic. Benedict XVI is warning against this type of philosophical indoctrination that will influence the Ugandan people against marriage and respect for life, in particular.

His statements in no way reflect a desire for people to give up on noble and praiseworthy notions of individual freedom and initiatives. On the contrary, "[t]he Holy Father underlined the importance of helping the people develop a sense of responsibility towards themselves, their community and their Church, and become more deeply imbued with a Catholic spirit of sensitivity to the needs of the universal Church." Clearly, the pope is encouraging a development of self that is in character with the Gospel message. It is not in keeping with the "seduction of a materialistic culture of individualism," but rather, personal and communal in that it inspires a desire to bring oneself and others to Christ.

I believe the pope need not worry about clarifying his understanding of the philosophic concept of individualism as it pertains to modern cultures. It seems quite clear in the context of his statement that he seems to be right on target, at least as far as I can tell.


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