It’s All About Me or Maybe You: Tension of Individual and Community

Within the Gospel (particularly viewed through a Mormon lens) there appears to be a struggle between two competing ideologies (obviously there’s more and a host of other ideas that seem to be in tension with one another, but I’m going to focus on one particular set today). The tension lies in focusing on the Individual or the Community. Ideally, yes, these ideas are not inherently mutually exclusive and I don’t want to argue that they are irreconcilable, simply that a tension is created by the different stresses on these two distinct ideals.

The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, one of the most spiritually powerful places I've ever been.
The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, one of the most spiritually powerful places I’ve ever been. I like the illustration of all the crosses mattering together, yet also being individually significant. 

Individual

So, the individual. Frequently, when we think in terms of Salvation and eternal happiness, there tends to be a focus on the individual. What can I do? What do I need to do?

This train of thought extends to the idea that it is entirely up to the individual whether they make it or not. They determine their future, completely independent of anyone else (with the exception of Christ, who’s Atonement is necessary to the process AND was completed by feeling the pain/suffering/sins of each person who has lived, does live and will live one by one [at least that’s a popularly suggested and articulated idea]).

The idea of personal revelation also privileges an individualistic view of religion. God can and will speak to each of us individually, revealing what we need to do on an individual level. Rather than relying entirely on a religious leader to communicate with God on your behalf, you have direct access through prayer and the Holy Ghost.

Beyond that, judgment will occur based on our hearts and desires. It doesn’t get more individualistic than that.

Yet, in conjunction with this large individual emphasis, there is a strong community push.

Community

While you may be entirely responsible for your salvation, the highest degrees of Heaven (and therefore happiness) depend on marriage. Unless you force someone to marry you (don’t. just don’t.), then this means that at least one other person impacts your eternal destiny.

Along with that individual sealing, scripture states that if the hearts of the children do not turn to the fathers, the whole earth will be smitten with a curse (Malachi 4:6). So, in that sense, salvation is moving to a group idea. Sure, you’re immediately responsible for yourself, but if you are doing what you need to, then you care about others and are striving to bring people together.

Similarly, the idea of Zion is built upon the necessity for unity. For Zion to be achieved, we must be of one heart and one mind. Yes, you can only work on yourself, but the success of Zion depends on every, single person being committed. It’s all or nothing and that’s a scary thought.

Revelation complicates this on another level. Yes, we can all receive individual revelation, but there are also prophets, apostles and other leaders that are called to receive revelation for the group. How does this revelation work with the personal revelation that we receive? That’s a matter of some debate and controversy. Made more messy by statements that suggest that only some of the time are these leaders speaking as leaders and not sharing their own wisdom (however good or not that may be), not to mention that we should be able to receive a spiritual witness if what they are saying is of God. So, this group revelation depends on personal revelation, yet there are other statements suggesting that if your personal revelation conflicts with this group revelation than you’re in the wrong. The existence of statements on both sides illustrates the tension between the two. Which trumps the other? How do you navigate the realms of revelation?

A Resolution?

I’m not quite sure how to navigate this tension. It probably requires individual and community efforts (ha!). Seriously though, it’s a tension that likely needs to be worked through on an individual and personal basis, but would benefit from some efforts on behalf of the community, be that finding others to share ideas with or searching in scripture and prophetic teachings to find a path marked out within their words/pages.

While I don’t have a solution, I think understanding and exploring the idea is of value. To reject the community in favor of the individual removes the necessity of group worship and care for others. To privilege the community over the individual leads to a lack of personal spiritual maturity, the ‘living off borrowed light’ sort of idea. So, bridging the two in some way appears to be necessary. Think for yourself and accept wise counsel, or something.

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