The Fallacy of the Collective Soul …
“But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.” (Galatians 6:4)
The idea is everywhere – that we are a ‘Canadian’ or a ‘Hindu’, a ‘Yankees fan’ or a ‘Conservative’. We are human, we live by forming groups, and we thrive through the mutual aid groups give. Groups of people can be powerful, the collective whole synergistically providing far more than we would expect from the summation of the component parts. We sum our enthusiasms, and they feed on one another. We sum our resources, and we build financial empires. Armies can be made only by soldiers marching to the same drum beat. Electorates in democracies vote to form ‘majority governments’ with all citizens accepting the principle that one-hundred-thousand lemmings cannot be wrong. We even call the most powerful human organizations in our contemporary world ‘corporations’, as if they were corporeal, having a ‘body’ just like you and I.
As individuals we must, if we are not complete hermits, somehow live with human collectivities. It is all-too human to align ourselves to be members of collectives, and it gives us a sense of self-identity and a share in the collective power. However, it is all too human as well to become subjugated to human groupings, and to have our wills circumscribed by fears of group opprobrium or reprisal. We align ourselves with a political party, only to suffer its electoral losses as an individual seeking government employment. We refuse to cut our lawn regularly for fear of our neighbors’ objections. Groups may be formed overtly, with identified members, or more subtly, with a collective attitude that can be equally oppressive. And whilst cutting our grass makes it easier to borrow flour from our neighbor, the subscribing to the neighborhood’s values may come at a cost.
Most of the costs are secular costs; it is part of the human condition of living among our fellow human beings that we must learn to negotiate our way through the numerous and overlapping ‘collectives’ of humanity. But there is one cost that is far too high, and that is the cost of one’s soul. And I do mean “one’s soul” … not “souls”. For of all the ways and means we have of forming collectives, combining thoughts, beliefs, passions, time, and resources, we cannot combine our souls.
The idea of a ‘collective soul’ is fallacious. The mutual passion of cheering soccer fans, or the crowd psychology of a rioting protest group, may feel ‘spiritual’ to the participants, but the group still doesn’t have a collective soul. And the same is true for a church congregation; they may share beliefs, knowledge, and liturgy, but they do not share souls.
It cannot be otherwise. Philosophers describe ‘agency’ to mean that something is the cause of something else. When we apply the term agency to a human being, it simply means that they ‘did it’. We typically go on to describe two other things, ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’. Responsibility doesn’t mean that one actually caused something as agency, but only that one intended that something by either decision or negligence. And accountability only means that you need to explain the action, even though you may not necessarily be either the agent or responsible for it. If this all sounds complicated, it isn’t really in terms of our soul and in terms of God’s eyes. Basically what it means is that our soul – any soul – is an individual’s soul, and no other. We cannot be an agent for another person’s soul, we cannot be responsible for another person’s soul, and we cannot be held accountable for another person’s soul. In short, there cannot be such a thing as a collective soul.
So, in the world of men and women, be warned; countries don’t have souls, sports teams don’t have souls, no assemblage of people, including churches, have souls. Your soul is your own, and no other’s. So take good care of it, because no one else can do that for you.
Peter’s Thoughts For This Day!