The Our Father: antidote against expressive individualism

The Our Father: antidote against expressive individualism

Expressive individualism, the view that who you are is who you feel you are inside, is the dominant approach to identity formation today. As David Brooks writes: “When you are figuring out how to run your life, [people today believe that] the most important answers lie deep within yourself.”

Charles Taylor argues that “modern freedom and autonomy center us in ourselves, and the ideal of authenticity requires that we discover and articulate our own identity.” This approach to self-understanding is a challenge to the Christian view of self on every level.

The results of expressive individualism (seen in social trends such as increased cases of anxiety and depression, an increase in narcissism, the reflexive outrage of our culture, and our decline in happiness) have been devastating. How can we help Christians see the dangers of this philosophy? Where do we look for an antidote?

Authentic Self Prayer

A good way to summarize expressive individualism and see how it works in practice is to imagine how its basic principles might be expressed in a sentence. In the Sentence of the Authentic Self (below), I have embodied the inner essence to which the expressive individualist must look to find himself. This sacred self has achieved, in our days, a sacred or holy status.

The view that who you are is who you feel you are inside is the dominant approach to identity formation today.

Other principles of expressive individualism evident in the sentence are the commitment to personal happiness as the highest goal in life, the undisputed state of personal desire, the rejection of all forms of external authority, the praise of individual freedom and the narrative of personal triumph. achievement and experience.

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The self-made self looks to others in prayer, but only to defeat its perceived enemies. And he looks back and forward, but only to his own individual life story, from birth to his own triumphant kingdom. He awaits the goal of fulfillment, the seventh heaven, not in metaphysical terms, but rather as the state of intense happiness or bliss. Certainly, the prayer of the authentic self does not involve looking up.

The sentence might say something like this:

my inner essence,
Help me find my true self,
my kingdom come,
my will be done,
from birth to the seventh heaven.
Give me my daily roll today.
Don’t forgive my enemies
as I nullify those who sin against me.
don’t lead me to doubt
but deliver me from all external authorities.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory
They are mine now and forever.

Of course, most Christians are unlikely to pray like this, at least not out loud! But strands of expressive individualism can creep into the prayers of even the most devout. There is nothing wrong with praying for peace and safety or telling God how we feel; Indeed, these are great privileges of prayer, but if these practices characterize most of our prayers, we may be more gripped by the spirit of our times than we realize. .

our antidote

Fortunately, the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) provides an antidote to both the overt philosophy of our day and the covert ways it may have crept into our own hearts. He offers a critique and substitute for expressive individualism in mysterious and prescient ways:

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Our father in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
your kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not let us into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Because yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, forever.

The Lord’s Prayer reinforces our primary relational identity as Christians as children of God. This helps us look not only inward but also at our relationships, backward and forward in the biblical history we inhabit, and toward God our Father.

The Lord’s Prayer opening address could not be more different from the project of expressive individualism. The plural pronoun “our” moves the focus from you as an individual to you (plural) as part of a group. And the appeal to “Our Father who art in heaven” goes beyond ourselves and helps us to enter into a shared history of great proportions. Having God as our Father reminds us of our ultimate destiny as full-fledged children of God.

The Lord’s Prayer helps us look not only inward, but also at our relationships, backward and forward in the biblical history we inhabit, and toward God, our Father.

Praying for God’s kingdom to come means swearing allegiance to his government and placing our lives in the narrative of his unfolding plan. To pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” is to live now in light of our defining destiny as part of his kingdom. This is an implicit renunciation of both self-assertion and the desire to build our own kingdom.

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Asking God that “our daily bread give us today” is admitting that our life is in God’s hands and acknowledging that He knows how to give good gifts to his children. It is a call to reject consumerism and materialism.

The request to “forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who trespass against us” brings comfort and challenge, reminding us of our status as forgiven sinners and calling us to reject vengeance against those who have wronged us.

Finally, the request “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” expresses our inherent weakness and vulnerability and the measure of our need to seek and be found by God.

The Our Father closes by turning our gaze upwards, confessing that the kingdom, the power and the glory belong to God, not to us. The person who prays these words swears that he will not live for his own kingdom, in his own power or for his own glory.

The key to an authentic, stable, and fulfilling sense of self is to inhabit a narrative identity worth living, one that acknowledges the evil in your heart, deals well with life’s joys and sorrows, and responds appropriately to injustice. Praying the Lord’s Prayer affirms that our identity is found in Jesus Christ and his coming kingdom. He reminds us to whom we belong, what we are committed to, what we need and where we are going.

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About the Author: Pierre Cohen

A person who has expertise in politics and writes articles to fill his spare time as a hobby.