Boldly Growing Where No Man Has Grown Before
However, at the moment I don't feel as bad as you might expect, so put away your violins. Besides, timelessness waits for no one, so I'm going to try to put my hand to the digital plow and not look back at my troubled night sea journey. Perhaps being sick will even plunge me into some strange new worlds.
Yesterday we were discussing Augustine's Confessions, which are a "manifesto of the inner world," the latter being the real final frontier. His was the first true autobiography, boldly going where no man had gone before and chronicling the interior voyages of the soul-ship Introspect (ouch! I blame the cold medicine). In so doing, Augustine not only explored strange new worlds, but spoke of a new life (in God) and a new civilization (the City of God).
This, I think, is a key point: that the Confessions are a dialogue with God. Thus, the invention of the individual is not, and could not be, "an exercise leading to isolation."
Rather, to the extent that it does lead to isolation, then something has gone awry: your psycho-pneumatic system is not open, either vertically or horizontally (or both). Isolation, among other things, is a failure of love, and if God is love, then there you go.
To put it another way, in order to invent the individual, it is first necessary to invent the group. In terms of the overall arc of salvation, the Jews constituted the group into which God could insert himself as quintessential individual. Jesus would have made no sense in any other context (and he sometimes barely made sense in this one, even to his closest disciples).
Imagine if God were a mere "one," an absolute monad, unrelated to anything but himself. If this God were to incarnate, it would be in the form of power, or a kind of isolated exaltation. No one could compare to him, in contrast to Jesus, to whom all may compare themselves (e.g., "the imitation of Christ"), and indeed is the eternal standard of comparison.
Now, in many ways, to say individual is to say will. In other words, our individuality manifests in the form of consciousness of choice, and by extension, of necessity. To be aware of necessity is to implicitly know freedom, and vice versa. According to Siedentop, what we value as freedom is the end result of hundreds of years of meditation on, and articulation of, (Judeo-) Christian moral intuitions.
For example, to be given the Ten Commandments implies the freedom to obey them or not. On the one hand they represent constraints on freedom, but this is for the purpose of conforming ourselves to a higher will in a higher world.
Analogously, you don't place a fish on dry land and say to him: "there you go, free at last from the water!" The Law is like the water that simultaneously constrains and frees us.
For Augustine, it's all about "transformation of the will." Think, for example, of what happens when the will infects the truth. What happens is the left, or knowledge piggybacking on desire, belief on make-belief, Is on Ought. The leftist ultimately sees what he wishes to see, which is like a bad parody of the Higher Eccentricity of the Raccoon. Leftists are weird, but not in the Good way.
Not to imply any manichee business, but it seems to me that, as the intellect may conform itself to truth or falsehood, the will may move toward the light or the dark. As one apostle put it, the light shines in the darkness but the darkness does not comprehend it.
This is the same Light "which gives light to every man who comes into the world." Every one. Not just kings, or aristocrats, or priests, or men, but every person qua person. This itself implies individuality and equality. We may all seek redemption because we have all equally fallen short as a result of our misguided will.
You could say that light and dark are like two attractors at antipodes to one another. As Augustine is pulled into the former, "You fill me with a feeling quite unlike my normal state, an inward sense of delight." But when in the orbit of the latter, the "heavy burden of distress drags me back: I am sucked back to my habits, and find myself held fast."
In order to pull out of the downworld attractor, the will is necessary but not sufficient. Rather, our will must be aligned with a greater will. This is very much in contrast to the Greek idea that the exercise of mere reason is sufficient to do the job.
Socrates-Plato said something to the effect that a good man, guided by reason, could do no wrong. This is definitely not what Paul or Augustine taught, because man can rationalize just about any mess produced by his wayward will. Or maybe you've never heard Obama speak.
The Neoplatonists of the time imagined they could deploy the will to escape or ascend from this "inferior material world."
But for Augustine, "Christians neither could nor should turn their backs on the world." True, we are aliens in this strange land, but resident aliens; Augustine teaches us to be "otherworldly in the world," unlike, say, Muslims, who hope to be worldly in the higher world, or leftists, who are worldly in the lower world.