The Value of the Individual: 9/11 Thoughts for Everyday
I have reposted this multiple times in the past around the 9/11 anniversary, so the timing of my reposting of this particular essay from my “Best of…” series is very apropos.
In 1923, the world was still reeling to recover from the horrors of the trench warfare of World War I as the seeds of ideological conflict were being sown in the fertile soils of this country. The Bolshevik Revolution had just gotten a foothold in Russia, so the future focal point of liberal socialism/communism was still in its infancy. Part of the liberal vanguard here consisted of the theologians, whose slow but steady progress into the minds and hearts of the new preachers of the day eventually overcame the efforts of the likes of J. Gresham Machen and his cohorts at Princeton, much to the detriment of our present culture. However, in his book Christianity and Liberalism, (Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1923), this godly man made an astute observation that is most relevant for today (emphases added):
At this point is detected one of the most obvious lines of cleavage between Christianity and the liberal Church. The older evangelism, says the modern liberal preacher, sought to rescue individuals, while the newer evangelism seeks to transform the whole organism of society: the older evangelism was individual; the newer evangelism is social.
This formulation of the issue is not entirely correct, but it contains an element of truth. It is true that historic Christianity is in conflict at many points with the collectivism of the present day; it does emphasize, against the claims of society, the worth of the individual soul. It provides for the individual a refuge from all the fluctuating currents of human opinion, a secret place of meditation where a man can come alone into the presence of God. It does give a man courage to stand, if need be, against the world; it resolutely refuses to make of the individual a mere means to an end, a mere element in the composition of society. It rejects altogether any means of salvation which deals with men in a mass; it brings the individual face to face with his God. In that sense, it is true that Christianity is individualistic and not social.
But though Christianity is individualistic, it is not only individualistic. It provides fully for the social needs of man." (page 152-153)
Dr. Machen then goes on to explain briefly how Christianity provides for the social needs of man, showing conclusively that Christianity addresses both the individual and the group. While not ignoring the group, it is this value placed upon the individual that separates true applied Christianity from the cultural ideologies of the day that, though claiming to meet the needs of the individual, do so through the individual’s association with the group to the exclusion of considerations of the individuals that comprise the group.
This is not God’s way. God expresses His concern, oversight, and omniscient care over His creatures in a multitude of ways through Scripture. Let me suggest one such.
Concerning the divisions of the porters: Of the Korhites was Meshelemiah the son of Kore, of the sons of Asaph. And the sons of Meshelemiah were, Zechariah the firstborn, Jediael the second, Zebadiah the third, Jathniel the fourth, Elam the fifth, Jehohanan the sixth, Elioenai the seventh. Moreover the sons of Obededom were, Shemaiah the firstborn, Jehozabad the second, Joah the third, and Sacar the fourth, and Nethaneel the fifth, Ammiel the sixth, Issachar the seventh, Peulthai the eighth: for God blessed him. Also unto Shemaiah his son were sons born, that ruled throughout the house of their father: for they were mighty men of valour. The sons of Shemaiah; Othni, and Rephael, and Obed, Elzabad, whose brethren were strong men, Elihu, and Semachiah. All these of the sons of Obededom: they and their sons and their brethren, able men for strength for the service, were threescore and two of Obededom. (1 Chronicles 26:1-8)
Chances are you’ve never heard of any of these men before. Why, you ask, did I just bore you with this obviously obscure passage of Scripture? There are many such passages listing names in the Old Testament. Those are the ones you usually speed read, or skip over entirely. Yet, if all Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and written for our admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11), what is God trying to communicate with these lists of names? Let me suggest that at least one reason these are included is because He knows each one of these people as individuals. He knows them by name and, in His omniscience, He knows all about them (just as He knows all about you, dear reader), their strengths and weaknesses, their joys and fears. God truly cares for the individual, and so should we.
The Ideology of Group
In contrast to this, the observations of Dr. Fred C. Schwarz in his book, You Can Trust the Communists (To Be Communists), regarding the historic fruit of the Marxist/Leninist ideology that is the basis of what we call liberalism today are stark (emphases added):
The record of Communism is one of recurrent fratricide and genocide. Their contempt for individual human life has known no bounds. Whether the life to be sacrificed was that of friend or foe appears to have been immaterial. The Communist Party of Russia devoured its own creators. Stalin put to death a majority of the original Bolsheviks. The Communists destroyed not only landlords and Capitalists, but peasants and workers, Kalmucks and Balts with equal ferocity. In spite of knowing this, the allegiance of many educated, apparently cultured American Communists has not been shattered. Many people are amazed that they do not turn from Communism in loathing and repulsion when confronted with its unutterable barbarism, brutality, and intellectual prostitution.
To the dedicated Communist, however, these are but the temporary necessary sacrifices which the glorious future demands. To wipe out the residual Capitalist debris is not murder but social science. Since any individual man is a mere historic accident, an undergraduate beast, it is stupid to regard him as of infinite value. It is the species and the class that are important. The Capitalist class has been rejected of history and must be destroyed.
Here is a fundamental reason why Christianity remains diametrically opposed to so much of the leftist policies that are being foisted upon Americans today by the liberals who have been allowed to permeate our country and culture. It is the value of the individual that, as a basic principle of biblical Christianity, forms the bedrock of our very government. The founding fathers constructed a government that has granted the maximum amount of freedom for individuals while acknowledging the need for associations of individuals into groups and seeking to provide appropriate boundaries for both while maximizing the potential for the prosperity of both. It was a monumental task that, amazingly enough, has succeeded to date. Our country has been one of the most free and prosperous nations on the face of the planet since history began.
And returning to Dr. Machen:
Only – and here emerges the enormous difference of opinion – the Christian man believes that there can be no applied Christianity unless there be “a Christianity to apply.” That is where the Christian man differs from the modern liberal. The liberal believes that applied Christianity is all there is of Christianity, Christianity being merely a way of life; the Christian man believes that applied Christianity is the result of an initial act of God. (page 155)
The Ideology of God
The Judeo-Christian ethic places not just a high value on the individual, but also on individual responsibility, and asserts that principle throughout the Bible. Responsibility goes hand in hand with privilege. Privilege in God’s sight does not lead to coddling. Each individual is responsible for his own choices, and will be held accountable for them by a holy God. Here we see a two-fold basis for the opposition of the liberal to biblical Christianity. Not only do they not like the emphasis on individual responsibility, let alone the individual himself, but individual accountability to a transcendent Being is not to be tolerated. The herd is much more impersonal, and gives him so many others to blame for his actions.
But this herd mentality causes a dependency on the group that is unhealthy and irresponsible, so that when disaster strikes, paralysis ensues, multiplying the death and destruction. Since no one is responsible, everybody assumes somebody else is responsible, and nothing gets done. The clearest example in more recent history is the stark contrast between the school buses under water in New Orleans compared to those bussing people out of Texas during the Katrina debacle.
Machen makes another interesting observation regarding the social institutions established in biblical Christianity:
The most important of such institutions, according to Christian teaching, is the family. And that institution is being pushed more and more into the background. It is being pushed into the background by undue encroachments of the community and of the state. Modern life is tending more and more toward the contraction of the sphere of parental control and parental influence. (page 154)
These ideas of the individual and the family group are connected, because it is in the family that the individual receives the best nurture as an individual that will fit him for the social. Dysfunctional families produce dysfunctional individuals which significantly diminish the society in which they participate. This is why God tells His people, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuternomy 6:6-7)
Thus, an ideology that would diminish the individual and promote the group must attack the family, and that is one of the battlefields of the culture wars today. It really does not take a village to raise a child, just the complementary input of a mother and a father, but liberals really don’t believe that, and don’t want you to do so either.
Why 9/11 Has Had Such a Visceral Impact
This Judeo-Christian ideology/anthropology of the individual provides us some insight into why 9/11 has had such a diverse impact on the psyche of this country. I would submit that it revolves around which side of the individual versus the group concept you embrace. The Islamofascists see themselves as a group, and their victims as the opposing group. Compassion for individuals is completely foreign to their mindset. Leftists in this respect are the same. They see the victims as a group (especially a group they can exploit, but that is another post) and thus we can hear outrageously hateful and hurtful tripe comparing the people who were in the Twin Towers to “little Eichmanns” simply because they worked there.
But the majority of Americans, whether they are Christians or not, still have the Judeo-Christian value system in their practical daily living, and do not see those who lost their lives as a collective to be pitied or used, but a set of individuals to be known and mourned and avenged. Each body that hurtled through the air to avoid a fiery death, or that was crushed in the tons of rubble, was a unique human being created in the image of God and had an intrinsic value all their own.
And that is why we must remember 9/11. That is why we should see those horrific images on a regular basis. Until the ideology of hate that engendered that and so many other barbarisms in the world is ground into the dust bin of history, we must not forget these individuals, nor those fighting to protect us all from further such atrocities. Until those individuals who embrace this ideology of hate are reformed by truth or exterminated by force, they will not relent, and neither can we.
We must not forget. God won’t, and neither should we.