Monday, March 8, 2010

The rise of the individual - the fall of the community

This blog will take a hiatus of one week after this, and will resume on 22 March.

“I stopped getting anything from Mass, so I stopped going X number of years ago”.

“I don’t like the kind of songs that we have in Church these days, so I refuse to sing with the others”.

“I agree with most of the teachings of the Church, but there are some which I feel are outdated and are out of touch with reality. So, I pick and choose what I want to follow. I still call myself a Catholic”.

Do any of these statements sound familiar? I am sure that no matter which part of the world you are reading this blog from, you would probably have known someone who has said/felt this way, or perhaps have found yourself thinking this way at some point in time. Why do we think this way? What is the Church’s view of this mentality that seems to be rather prevalent amongst the faithful? Is there something not quite right with the Church, or could it be that we are not quite ‘getting it’ as the jargon of the younger generation tends to put it?

French philosopher Rene Descartes who lived in the early 17th century is hailed as the “Father of modern philosophy”. The ‘individualistic’ revolution is generally attributed to his thought of ‘cogito ergo sum’ or ‘I think therefore I am’. It made the world sit up and believe, erroneously, of course, that the “I” is what everything should revolve around. So, as long as “I” am not pleased, if “I” am not made to feel interested, or if “I” am not entertained or feeling good, whatever it is that I am doing would not serve me well in the long run. This philosophy has its spill over effects into so many areas of our lives, religion and faith not withstanding. And it is because of this mentality that many (not just the young) think that even religion and God needs to serve them.

When the “I” becomes the dominant subject, it is expected that everything should revolve around the self. And one doesn’t have to be a king or an emperor to have this kind of thought process. Even to a simple person with basic education, this kind of thought becomes the seedbed of a problematic society. One begins to negate the need to respect elders, neighbours, and the larger society.

When this is brought to the realm of faith, the problem persists. When God and God’s Will should be what everything and everyone revolves around, we become rightly ordered. But many think that the self should be what everything revolves around. So, when I am not longer finding it interesting to participate at Mass, or when rites and ritual ceases to keep me engaged, or when Church laws (which are expressions of God’s will and guidance) make MY life difficult and inconvenient, I will abandon them. We become dis-ordered.

But is it really all about the “I”? Perhaps we need something like a Copernican revolution, to look at things anew. It’s really not we who the world should be revolving around, and it has always been God’s invitation to invite us into his ambit of love and grace. It’s not ours to call the shots in life, but only to respond with grateful hearts.

Once we come to that true enlightenment, we may be able to change our original self-centered stand on Church, and re-think our original thoughts. Maybe then, we can hear ourselves say: “Even though I may not be getting anything from Mass, even though the hymns aren’t lively, even though I may view some of the Church laws as archaic and infringing on my individual freedom, I still go to Mass, still sing hymns, and still abide by Church laws. Because it’s really not about me.”


  1. hi fr luke..

    what a timely reminder on this article. There's no such thing as "pick and choose" or either You are a catholic or not. period.

    As a catholic.. we must accept the the teachings of the church of the magisterium "wholesale" and not at yr whims and fancies..

    Also, there's no such thing as arachic or "old fashion" teaching of the church.. Often you hear this esp on contraception.. "the church does not know abt bedroom issues" The pope and the priests are celibate .. what do they know ?? tell me.?? Of course they do.. Look at the maital problems of today.. and you know that the church know better than many us.. lay people.. In fact the late pope (cannot remember which one) wrote on the dangers of contraception 40 yrs ago.. on his encyclical and it's happening now.. divorces and sexual immorals are on the rise ..

    bottom line is God knows better than us.. so what He imparts to us in His teachings is for our own good..



  2. Hi Anon,

    If we take the church at its word, then wouldn't some of the evils perpetrated by the church in the past continue ad infinitum? I know that the church isn't a democracy, and shouldn't be one as that only serves to tether the church to the whims and fancies of the populace whom are themselves subject to socialisation within the socio-economic system. Given the above 2 points, there is quite a problem here isn't it.

    Hi Father Luke,

    With regards to Descartes, if i'm not mistaken, the only thing he realised that he could be certain of was not the 'I' but his ability to 'doubt'. This, in part, founded the basis for the scientific method which attempted to discern the means by which we could 'doubt' correctly. I do stand by the scientific method without question though, as i'm aware that the only thing we can be certain of is the certainty of the fallibility of humanity.

    With regards to 'the rise of the individual' and 'the fall of the community'. I am, on persuasion by reason, a Socialist - no, i am not an atheist...that's an illogical concept - and believe in the value of the community that abides by the 13th Commandment of the Christ. However, without the rise of the individual, would not the individual be subject to the dictates of the elite within a community? I suppose it is not the 'rise of the individual' that is the problem, but the 'rise of the individual' within particular socio-economic conditions, such as those which hold the class-system as sacrosanct, that compromises the community.

    If we were to all live within a community where we hold true and fast the 13th Commandment of Christ, and bring about the institutions that do not put obstacles in the way of its practice, then the rise of the individual would further elevate the community would it not?

    I am, officially, a Catholic by the way (parish, Risen Christ, where i was an alter boy between 1978-81 before i was sacked for bringing potato chips to a retreat amongst a couple of other ridiculous reasons). But have ceased to attend mass since 1999 as i find the church in singapore to be more of an opiate than a solution - unlike the Church in the UK where the priest proffers perspectives on how we can live good Christian lives in consideration of the socio-economic system and whilst acknowledging the evils of the capitalist system. It was quite the eye-opener for myself. This particular priest reminded me of a Father Adrian Anthony back in the 80s whose sermons drew thousands on the first sunday of the month. Gone are those days with the emergence of singapore as a Confucian state.

    Thank you for the above perspective, it is an issue that i've been concerned about for the last couple of decades, and in essence, I do agree with your perspective. Keep them coming.

  3. Lovely reading - thks ! Wondering ....was Descartes doing a dis-service or just putting into words what we know ( a disconcerting truth ) deep in our hearts - are we vilifying or pillorizing the right villian ? Also you did mention about religion & faith - are we,the church-goers, perhaps, mistaking one for the other ? If I take faith to be a gift of God ( He chooses me first) & religion to be the choice I make to express my beliefs, then if I have religion but no abiding faith - my act of attending church is not to celebrate with the community, not to "offer my soul for salvation but my nerves for titillation " After a while, being jaded, I may even engage in "spiritualized sensation-hunting", hopping from church to church in a desperate need to pass over moments of intolerable boredom of life. Thus, I may religiously attend services not because I want to be better but only because I want to FEEL better. It is actually a desperate cry of an anguished soul - to be nourished but not 'getting it' ( like you said.)-remember St Augustine's restlessness...? tessa lee

  4. hmmm frLuke, i was like that lah, and until i came to realisation who God Is and what i am, worked on my relationship with Him (still working), and, learn to obey :)


  5. Dear Fr Luke,

    Sometimes, it is difficult to completelty seperate the teachings of the Church from its practitioners' actions.

    What has been particularly disturbing is the recent revelations of the various physical and sexual abuses by priests of helpless children over the years and how nothing was done for so long.

    Here there is a danger that the fall of the individual leader may herald the fall of the community.

    God Bless

  6. Dear Alan

    Thanks for the comment. It is indeed sad when a leader leads the flock astray by his actions. I doubt that any leader has it in mind from the day he took office, to lead people astray. But obviously, when God and his will are no longer the raison d'etre of his priesthood, these things can end up happening.

    It is hoped that when sheep are formed thoroughly and have developed a keen moral sense and heightened spirituality, they will not be swayed so easily and 'lose their ground' when leaders get out of sync. You correctly pointed out that it is difficult to separate the two. But that must be what defines a mature church from a maturing church. Judging from the way many have left the Church because of the negative examples of her leaders who have gone astray, perhaps it shows that there are many of us who still don't own our faith, and are depending on 'what so-and-so says'.

    Many of us still have yet to really own our faith, partly because spiritual maturity takes a conscious effort on our part, combined with God's grace on God's part.

    God bless you too Alan

    Fr Luke

  7. Dear Fr Luke

    Why are there more Christians than Catholics? Most of my better educated friends are Christians and half of the Catholics don't go to church. Is there somnething wrong with the church or is it the fault of individuals? Well, we live in an imperfect world, there is room for improvement.

    If mass is still conducted in Latin, would Anglicans join the Catholic church? If this blog is not created, can we be communicating on line?

    As for the individuals, we are only human. Some people choose to remember God only in times of need, give them a second chance. If there is faith..... even if i am not chosen, even if i am not holy.... even if the grass look so green where there are wolves, i shall not want.


    Mary B.

  8. I'd like to reply to Tessa Lee's comment made a little earlier. It has something to to with separating feeling from faith. While it is true that many of us are feeling-centered, meaning that many of us go to places which give us a positive feeling, so some Catholics may have moved out of the Catholic Church to someplace else which provides much more stimulation than the Catholic liturgy, could the problem be that too many of us have been nurtured by the media where every one of our senses are constantly assuaged and teased, thrilled and tantalized ad infinitum, such that when we come to the house of God, we expect the same (if not, better?).

    Feelings are only one of the characteristics of being alive. Not necessarily being human. Even animals feel. But perhaps we have ceased to reflect regularly enough to not mistake faith for feelings that we fall into that mistaken notion of substituting feelings for faith that some of us have gone to places which make the titillating of the senses a priori.

    But if we really take time to appreciate and understand Catholic Liturgy, and if it is celebrated well and with sensitivity, we will realise that there is no shortfall of giving participants a rich and felt experience of God.

    God bless
    Fr Luke