Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body—different from one another and each contributing what no other could. When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbours, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that. You and they different organs, intended to do different things. On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s troubles because they are ‘no business of yours’, remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you. If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become an Individualist. If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress differences and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian. But a Christian must not be either a Totalitarian or an Individualist. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 185-186.
The political fights in the USA have harmed the Body of Christ in the USA in a way in which C.S. Lewis could have easily predicted. There is an increasing tendency for the extremists of both sides to begin pulling harder and harder to their viewpoint. Each extreme has demonized not only the other side, but also the moderates within their own group who disagree with them. Each side has characterized the other side as having the characteristics which they most fear.
But, currently the side that is “on top” is the side that presses for individualism, often in a way which barely acknowledges any necessity for common unity save in very few matters. Thus, the constant argument is that these are powers that belong to the state, then further, that each locality should exercise some of the state powers, and finally, that government may only do what the individuals permit it to do. Now, here is the interesting part. I have just described both the extreme left and the extreme right. Extreme individualism is the spirit of our current American age.
Back in C.S. Lewis time, the problem tended to be at the other end of the spectrum. Marxism and Fascism were, respectively, left-wing and right-wing philosophies that pushed for a totalitarian view of humans. Whether the Marxist collectivism or the statist Fascism, Lewis faced a world in which the competing philosophies were about which way people should be forced to behave. As the poster above states, C.S. Lewis was fighting the philosophy that we are individually strongest when we obey, meaning to obey unthinkingly.
The greatness of C.S. Lewis was not simply that he could see the mistakes of his age, but that he could also look forward to the mistakes of future ages. And, he knew that the answer to totalitarianism was not individualism. He was that individualism was simply the opposite end of the same spectrum as totalitarianism. One end of the spectrum makes the mistake of wanting everyone to be the same, while the other end of the spectrums makes the mistake of thinking that they need not care for anyone else.
Oddly enough, whether in Christianity or in politics, the correct answer is the same one. It is an answer that is hard to implement because it requires moderation, sensitivity, and a wisdom that is able to both allow each member of the Body of Christ, or of the political body of the USA, to express their individual gift while requiring that the gifts and talents be expressed so as to benefit the united Body of Christ, or the united political body of the USA.
Today, any appeal to any collectivist solution is labeled as totalitarian socialism. But, we need to stop that! We need to know in our hearts that whether religiously or politically, we are a body. We are in no danger in this America that we will devolve into totalitarianism. We are in no danger that we will all be forced to be alike. Our danger is, and has been, that we will forget to aid our neighbor because that is socialism. Our danger is, and has been, that we will not fix our roads because we do not believe in national taxes. Our danger is, and has been, that we will let people suffer because it is their individual responsibility to fix themselves with no help from us. Our danger is, and has been, that we will go before the Judgment Seat of Christ and be found wanting because, “‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?”
C.S. Lewis warned us over 70 years ago that there are two dangerous extremes. His generation faced one extreme. We are facing the other extreme. His generation overcame and has been nicknamed “The Greatest Generation.” I sometimes wonder. Will we overcome? I see so many Christians buying into the individualism extreme. I see so many Christians buying into the idea that national solutions are automatically wrong. I see so many Christians buying into the extremist lies that would classify any who believe in a balance between rugged individualism and totalitarian collectivism to be a “squishy” [fill-in-the-blank]. My hope is rather low at this time.
But, worse, these fights have spread into the Church so that in all too many congregations, one has a problem being a member unless one believes a particular political view. This same pattern existed in Germany right before WWII. Dietrich Bonhoffer documented, and finally died documenting, what happened to the Church when she let herself fall into the very danger of which C.S. Lewis warned. Modern Europe, in particular continental Europe, shows a destroyed, weakened, and irrelevant Church that is the result of Satan’s successful attack upon her. Modern secularist Europe is not the result of the Enlightenment, but of the surrender of the early 20th century Church in Europe to the dangers which C.S. Lewis so cogently pointed out.
I wonder whether our children will look back at us and say not that we stood for Truth, but that we stood for partisan extremism. I wonder whether we will be remembered in the same way that we remember the Church in Europe right before World War II. I wonder whether we will be as silent as that Church was when the worst comes because we have been so infected by the spirit of the age that we fail to see that the Christ of Matthew 25 will find us wanting. Finally, I wonder if that part of the Church, like Dietrich Bonhoffer’s part, that raises up a warning will be silenced by the majority of a Church that has lost its way in laissez faire individualism every bit as much as the European Church lost its way in arguments between two forms of totalitarianism.