Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Habits of the Heart - Robert Bellah pt. 3

Another significant part of Bellah's study that is helpful for many is the articulation of therapeutic tendencies of our culture. Therapy is often related to the expressive individualism we just explored because it focuses on the individual and ones choices about roles, commitments, that one will make. Yet these choices are not based on a larger framework again, but according to “life-effectiveness” as the individual perceives it.[1] Therapy itself suggests a need for cure. But from what? The cure seeks to re-adjust ones social construction between self and the world, private and public meaning. Individuals are able to think in terms of commitments regarding such decisions as marriage, work, and church, as either enhancements or entanglements en route to self creation of ones individuality.[2] In the cultivation of self we see its connection to expressive individualism but its larger root comes from the rub by the incompatibility between the natures of public utilitarian individualism and the private expressive individualism. Only by accepting and asserting ourselves can we enter into “real” relationships.[3]

Several common themes emerge for American individuals: self-reliance, leaving home, leaving church, and work. Self-reliance is a nineteenth-century term popularized by Emerson. Self-reliance in the biblical and republican traditions maintains a collective note expressed in the Puritans who left society to rely upon each other.[4] Yet for the utilitarian and expressive individualists, self-reliance was purely individualistic.[5]

Individuation is a natural part of human development, yet it is a hyper-individuation in America. “Childhood is chiefly preparation for the all-important event of leaving home…in late adolescence” and becomes a recurring theme throughout life.[6] Coming of age means “breaking away from dependency on parents and relying themselves.”[7]

Not unrelated to leaving home, many American’s leave church as well. It is expected that during ones youth, decisions will be made about whether or not to attend church and subsequently which one. Individuals cannot merely assimilate the views of their parents but must make them “particularly and peculiarly one’s own.”[8] This is heightened in Protestantism by “demanding…a unique conversion experience.”[9] The authors point out a fantastic irony by saying, “just where we think we are most free, we are most coerced by the dominant beliefs of our own culture. For it is a powerful cultural fiction that we not only can, but must, make up our deepest beliefs in the isolation of our private selves.”[10]

The demand to “make something of yourself” through work is also a common theme for American individuals.[11] Our sense of work shapes how we view ourselves. For some, jobs are to make a living. For others, the career traces progress through achievement and advancement and is built on success and self-esteem.[12] Whereas calling suggest that ones work and morals are inseparable as an offering of the self into a community for the larger good.

[1] Bellah, 47.
[2] Ibid., 47.
[3] Ibid., 98.
[4] Ibid., 55.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 57.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., 63.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid., 65.
[11] Ibid., 66.
[12] Ibid.