The Concept of “Person” 1

“… “individual” and “person” do not mean the same thing…” 

Contemporary Western culture, especially American culture, idolizes and idealizes the “individual”.  In my generation, we admired the “rugged individual”; the “John Wayne” or “Clint Eastwood” image of toughness, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance.   Unfortunate side-effects of our society’s fixation with “individualism” have also led us to become alarmingly self-centered, self-indulgent and narcissistic, with a growing sense of entitlement.  It is the ethic of the “me” generation; it’s all about “me”, self-fulfillment, “do your own thing”, you can have it all, you deserve it all.  Secular science, the economy, and politics all support and pander to the “cult of the individual” because they have no inherent moral compass of their own and, in order to survive themselves, they can only focus on what “pop culture” will support and pay for.

In contemporary Western society, “individual” and “person” are used as synonyms; to most people they mean the same thing.  But, “individual” and “person” do not mean the same thing and the difference between them is crucial to a fundamental understanding of Christian theology and the work of salvation.

There are pockets within Western Latin Christianity which have recently “re-discovered” their long-lost contemplative Christian tradition.  Whether it’s called the “perennial tradition”, centering prayer, or Christian mysticism, all of them recognize, to a lesser or greater extent, the distinction between the “individual” and the “person”, referring it them as the “False Self” and “True Self” or by some other descriptive labels.

Although I think these movements to re-capture our contemplative Christian prayer tradition are good and positive, I do not believe that we need to re-invent the wheel.  The answer is staring us right in the face in our ancient Christian theology and tradition itself.  It didn’t go anywhere, it just has been ignored by Western Latin (Roman Catholic/Protestant) Christianity over the past five centuries, give or take.  This series is designed to re-acquaint Western Christians with the ancient Christian concept of the “person”.

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  1. #1 by Tim Mcmonigal on July 1, 2014 - 10:21 PM


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