In First Things (May 2016), R.R. Reno looks at our hyper-individualistic age. It is a fascinating article, although I’m not sure if the entirety is available online for free as yet. He refers to a book by Yuval Levin titled, The Fractured Repuclic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.
The book was written before the current political season, but Reno finds the observations on point. Basically, the “right” and the “left” are pining for old models in days gone by. The “left” looks back to the 60s. The “right” to the 80s. It’s an oversimplification and the entire article warrants a read.
When Reno addresses the current political climate, he makes a conclusion that I have talked about recently, but haven’t really written about. Trump and Sanders both hit notes that have resonated on the right and the left in significant numbers. Trump had the numbers to win the nomination. While Sanders has not secured the Democratic nomination, he has hit significant numbers and his message is still resonating to an extent where several Sanders supporters I know still won’t vote for Clinton in the general election.
My contention, and this is what Reno says in this article, is this: Trump and Sanders are two sides of the same coin. Significant numbers to the “right” and “left” feel upheaval and uncertainty in our current system. Trump’s followers and Sanders’s followers have very different messages as to what is upsetting them, but at the core these large percentages are looking for the exact same thing: security.
Reno’s conclusion is that Trump and Sanders both offer the promise to protect. Trump promises protection from (illegal) immigration and terrorists. Sanders promises protection against financial instability and basic life threats.
Ironically, at the precise point where most Americans have the lowest confidence in government, a huge percentage are calling for more government. (It’s just their version of government they think will work.)
This drive for more help in an authoritarian way comes, in Levin’s estimation, from the rise of individualism and the waning of national institutions we used to rely on. He doesn’t call for a renewal of national institutions, necessarily, but he does point out the glaring, gaping holes we have in our culture because we have probably dismantled too many of those institutions.
For instance, we have ripped up the nuclear family and reconfigured our definitions. When children grow up in homes without two parents (and this is simple statistics) there is a loss. The more than grow up without core families, the more likely they are to get in trouble.
Reno then says, “The state must step in to remediate — or incarcerate. In a dissolving age, it’s impossible for us to avoid the growth of the tutelary power of government. Hillary Clinton once repeated the old saw, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ But as Charles Murray has documented, for the bottom third of society, perhaps the bottom half, there are no villages, no functional social institutions. Government superintends by default.”
We aren’t going to get old systems back. However, we need to learn to create new systems of support. We need to understand that when all we cry for right now is our radical individualism, we still need groups where we give up a bit of our “individualism” for the needed safety of a community that will guide and help. We need “attractive communities” of obligation and commitment.
In our church we are discussing “transformed thinking, transformed lives” and this is a key area of transformational thinking. We need to step up, as believers, to take up spiritual parenting. We need spiritual fathers and mothers to help live out wonderful examples in our world and then help others along the way.
I watch public servants who are believers do this. A good friend in city leadership is also a Big Brother to a young man in elementary school, and he also gets his organization involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters. They also run gym programs for middle schoolers and high schoolers.
There are believers who are mentors to marginalized youth. There are believers who are social workers getting into the lives of those who have irresponsible parents. There is still a need for parenting. There is still a need in our society for an adult to be in the room, so to speak, and as believers, we need to step up. We have wonderful opportunities around us.
We can bemoan the loss of national institutions, but at some point we need to have a funeral and move on to the resurrection of new ideas. The church should be the most innovative place for that to happen. But it’s simply reimagining the basic building blocks. We still need those parents!
Think. Be transformed. Invite the possibilities of what the Spirit could through you.