Sex with robots and trading one’s boyfriend for a something mechanical1 in order to fulfill ones desires are both systemic issues of a greater self-fulfilling problem within this world. Finding happiness and purposes seems to be be closely tied with the personal need to meet ones own need above anyone else. This selfish and ultimately destructive focus is seen as being truly authentic with oneself regardless of the impact it has on anyone else. I am in agreement with one reviewer that complained that they needed to send Grant the bill for purchasing new highlighters saying, “I wonder if it would have been more efficient to highlight the few portions that I wasn’t particularly challenged by and just let the rest of his prose lie untouched.”2
I should confess that recently I have read less of the each of the books than I would have liked to. However Grant’s, “Divine Sex” was different. It was a compelling read that captivated me and I read about 80% of it. The only reason I did not finish it was that I ran out of airports and airplanes to read it in before I needed to blog. This book drew me in as I began to see not only my friends that have struggled in marriage but also could see the influence within local Chinese family dynamics within the pages.
Grants writes, “Despite the importance of relationships, the focus and priority is always the journey of each individual self.”3 This is being seen in struggles that Chinese young people are having with their traditionalist parents. Parents that pushing for marriage, grandkids and buying a home to settle down in. This cultural clash between the communal family values and the communal world view of self-first is changing even a traditional country like China. The consumer mentality that has so invaded every aspect of the West, has dug its teeth firmly in this country that has longed to play on the global market.
A Chinese blogger writes that a person’s,
“…individual growth is more important for many young people than having a family…. Traveling, working out at the gym, beauty treatments, social networking, higher education and other activities occupy their single lives, keeping marriage out of sight. [The author continues] It might sound cool to be single… The reality is many people in their 20s or even 30s don’t know how to go about household chores, or are afraid to take up family responsibility”4
To bring a balance to this issue so it doesn’t look like these individual’s are totally swimming counter to the culture, she also brings the points that,
“Even if young people want to have children, fertility among Chinese is a serious concern. China might be in the midst of a sperm crisis. Research shows that Chinese men produce less sperm in their semen. Infertility caused by exposure to pollution and chemicals is faced by both the sexes…Survey shows that the total fertility rate in northeastern provinces is among the lowest in the world and was even considerably lower than in Japan, a country with a large aging population.”5
Seeing this clash of individualistic and communal desires, she says,
“We are often confused about what we want in life. But it is important to understand that what is good for our future does not necessarily mirror the trend…[then to provide the balance she says]…Though we revel in the glamour of a single’s life, there are moments that make it remorseful – the dark evening, festival seasons – when we yearn for the desire to be loved. It is what families could provide.”
The Chinese consumerism is ever growing. Global companies are continuing to invade this market in order to get a piece of the the Chinese economic pie. Included in this are on-line dating companies trying to help fill the gap of historic matchmakers or grandparents that will hold up resumes in parks for perspective families to review. With the shift (although more gradual than the West) toward self, this has help fuel the desire to make decisions that benefit an individual over the family unit. This is especially true within the larger urban areas and celebrated every 11.11 (November 11)
I worry about my children and those Chinese “kids” that I also claim. I worry about the boiling frog analogy as it relates to our Christian walk within this influential culture. I know we are influenced by the world, the media we are choosing to engage with as well as the friends we hang around. Like the frog that is slow boiled, are we aware of the subtle changes in our own ways of thinking? Who is influencing whom? One review said this, “We need to present, through teaching but not just through teaching, a holistic vision for sexual wholeness that’s different from, and counter to—and more beautiful than—the dominant cultural script that most people habitually absorb every day.”6 I whole-heartedly agree but then wonder how to move forward.
Grant gives us some direction to start, “Sustaining faithful relationships and encouraging the ability to live disciplined sexual lives may be one of the most influential missional tasks of the contemporary church as we witness to the kingdom of God in the midst of a sexually confused and relationally fatalistic culture.”7 So as we represent Christ on the missional fields we are given, we are tasked to develop faithful relationships. It is in those relationships that the hidden and secret questions begin to arise. I will admit that I challenged by this book and finding I have more questions than answers. What I do know is when we walk with friends without judgement and without the desire to simply bring them to our church, true difference can be made in the lives of those looking for authenticity.
1 Grant, Jonathan. Divine Sex. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 85
2https://www.prestonsprinkle.com/blog/2016/12/2/divine-sex-a-review-part-1 accessed March 8, 2019
3 Grant, Jonathan. Divine Sex. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 32
4 Wong, Lilly. Traditional family gives way to individualism.2018/12/24. http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1133369.shtml accessed on March 8, 2019
6 https://www.prestonsprinkle.com/blog/2016/12/2/divine-sex-a-review-part-1 accessed March 8, 2019
7 Grant, 28
14 responses to “Communal Individualism”
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This is a great post, Greg. I always learn so much from you.
You caught me right at the beginning when you succinctly wrote, “Finding happiness and purposes seems to be be closely tied with the personal need to meet ones own need above anyone else. This selfish and ultimately destructive focus is seen as being truly authentic with oneself regardless of the impact it has on anyone else.” Connecting this idea with last week’s reading, I realize that as we go down that selfish path we cut ourselves off from those feedback loops. We cannot be fulfilled in only seeking our own fulfillment. I wonder how long it will take society to reach that conclusion?
I haven’t put that connection with the feedback loops. I wonder if that is intentional. There is no accountability if there is not place for response.
Don’t be the boiling frog Greg!
Yes, Grant’s long winded “sustained faithful relationships…” is good, excellent in fact. However, it is not new. Scripture says and guides in healthy God honoring sexuality in many places and in many examples. Grant does refer to Scripture but could point more I think. We have the same problem they had, we just have more tech now. Godly parents who live incarnational lives are the best example going. Unfortunately, most parents relegate parenthood to schools, teachers, police, doctors, churches, and anyone else to raise their kids and instill whatever values they are selling at the time.
Do you find your Asian friends more conservative, disciplined, less confused, and authentic about sexuality than your Western counterparts?
…There is nothing new under the sun… I agree Mike these principles were not new but there were packaged for me in a way that I heard them differently. Maybe as frustrated as I have been with books (like last weeks) I may have to step back and see the impact they have on others that needed to hear it in a different voice. btw My Asian friends would not even talk about sex with me 🙂 . There are some barriers that they don’t like to cross with themselves let alone someone that they considered a teacher or mentor.
Love your title, and blog. When I read them, I thought often about the phrase “self sex” which seems to correlate. Agree?
Pornography, Masturbation, “sex with robots” (although I had never heard of that before this book), etc.
Your closing paragraph was rock solid and compelling…
Jay, I have never thought of sex, pornography, and on line dating in light of consumerism like Grant proposes. It really made me think hard about the impact that our desire to have our way in everything has worked its way into all areas of our lives. (I almost blogged on that). That idea of “Self” (at the expense of everyone and everything else) has brought down many. Sad the choices we make and the lies we buy into.
Yes I think this idea that self is the centre is at the root of all this dysfunction.
Great opening, Greg! I was brought into your post right away with the first sentence.
Individualism is definitely problematic within the culture and continues to be a stumbling block for many. However, is individualism the heart of the issue, or is the motivation behind individualism the problem?
You mention your experience with generational difference and state, “This is being seen in struggles that Chinese young people are having with their traditionalist parents. Parents that pushing for marriage, grandkids and buying a home to settle down in.” Marriage is the expected end in Christian culture because it’s seen as the pinnacle of progress. However, as a self-actualized serving single, I would assert that singleness is not a growing epidemic, but a purpose in its own right that takes sacrifice, commitment and community.
For years, we’ve lived in a localized context. This is why the nuclear family was so treasured. However, due to the influx of globalization, the definition of family has taken on a different view – friends gather for Thanksgiving, strangers are welcomed into homes and generations are finding community amongst varied ages.
Due to globalization, we’ve seen an increase in job opportunity, purpose and a different form of relational identity. Marriage has a purpose, and many are called to this endeavor, but on the other hand, so does singleness. If we perpetuate marriage as the norm because we see singles as lone ships that need to be ‘directed’, then we don’t understand the new form of family community.
Marriage and procreation are not callings; they’re choices. What we do within our relational status is our calling, whether that be as married couples, single individuals, or widows. For years, marriage has been seen as the goal? How have you been able to encourage your children and those you minister to see all forms of status as God-given?
I agree wholeheartedly with you. So long churches have felt that their job was to either play matchmaker with the singles or help them prepare for when they were married. One would think that the model Jesus gave us shows singleness is an acceptable and often misunderstood choice in life.
Good question! I have a 21 year old daughter that is not even dating and seems to find most men her age juvenile. She is a confident and God-loving young lady. We talk often about life, worship (her passion), studies and the future. I guess at this point I affirm by recognizing her gifts and abilities to be used as a complete servant of God. I will have to think on how I can affirm both her and my college son as well.
Wow I’ve always assumed China did not have the same issues of individualism as the West until last fall and you continue to bring that to the conversation. Man great job in reacting with the post.
Thanks for knowing you are going to get a little China info but still coming back 🙂 . I try to not be a broken record but provide a reaction to the books we read and the life we are living.
Fascinating blog as it relates to the Chinese culture and the changes Western individualism is having on the familial aspirations (or lack thereof) of the young. I would not have anticipated the impact or the connection this book would have with your own context. I agree with your ‘boiling frog’ analogy and see much of myself in that metaphor and greatly fear not only for my own children but all of the young people with whom I work. It is a challenge but one that we must continue to face – possibly utilizing the suggestions of last week’s reading and approach the issue asking different questions in order to discover potential alternatives to what the church has tried in the past.
I hate to nail it down to globalizations influence but well…there it is. I too wonder what subtle influence are we absorbing with truly knowing it. When I teach ( I am sure you feel the same) I start to see my students as my kids. I want to protect them…even from themselves and their own choices. I do love the feedback ideas of last week. Jenn brought that up as well. They really do have the potential to tie together well.
Great post Greg. very engaging writing and interesting insights your sharing from the culture. and frightening report about the infertility rates.