Individualism, like any approach, can be taken to extremes. And like most vilified philosophies has some root appeal. Pope Francis seems to recognize a balance, but he doesn’t shy away from criticism. From the synod bishops, two quotes:
33. On the other hand, “equal consideration needs to be given to the growing danger represented by an extreme individualism which weakens family bonds and ends up considering each member of the family as an isolated unit, leading in some cases to the idea that one’s personality is shaped by his or her desires, which are considered absolute”.(Relatio Synodi 2014, 5) “The tensions created by an overly individualistic culture, caught up with possessions and pleasures, leads to intolerance and hostility in families”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 8)
Here I would also include today’s fast pace of life, stress and the organization of society and labor, since all these are cultural factors which militate against permanent decisions.
The danger in our easy diagnoses (against, individualism, relativity, etc.) is that they do not recognize the complexity of modern life–the multiple influences of our various overlapping cultures.
We also encounter widespread uncertainty and ambiguity. For example, we rightly value a personalism that opts for authenticity as opposed to mere conformity. While this can favor spontaneity and a better use of people’s talents, if misdirected it can foster attitudes of constant suspicion, fear of commitment, self-centeredness and arrogance.
Sounds like what happens in the many new opportunities of online media and worldwide communication. Discipline is needed:
Freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of ourselves. Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others. Indeed, in many countries where the number of marriages is decreasing, more and more people are choosing to live alone or simply to spend time together without cohabiting. We can also point to a praiseworthy concern for justice; but if misunderstood, this can turn citizens into clients interested solely in the provision of services.
And so many virtues, generosity and justice among them, get lost or perverted in people’s lives. What do you think?
Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here. Read ahead or back, as you wish.