Perhaps the chief value of modern American society, apart from abstract “freedom” and capitalism, is individualism. The idea that we can be the best, do as we please, and be responsible for and to ourselves is socially ingrained from an early age.
This individuality flows quickly into the allegedly great good of independence—being free from constraints, enjoying total personal liberation, looking out for myself.
This comes in sharp contrast to community-based cultures that emphasize dependence—mutual trust, an expectation of assistance and care, the benefits of working together and even of conformity.
It should be acknowledged that both independence and dependence have their pros and cons. Some pros have been pointed out above. The cons are equally obvious, and are often the mirror image of the pros.
The dangers of independence are selfishness, acting at the expense or outright abuse of others, an absence of social connection, lack of help to achieve goals, feelings of superiority and judgment, and more.
The dangers of too much dependence are equally foul—passiveness and laziness, free-riding, lack of drive, and ultimately hopelessness.
In the United States, we idolize independence. This is an educated view, we believe. Doesn’t it increase our freedom? Doesn’t it free people from the shackles of the expectations of others? Doesn’t it maximize our ingenuity? Isn’t self-sufficiency an inherent good?
But the church says something different.
Scripture teaches an utter dependence on God. It is only by his grace that we are capable to do or receive any good thing.
But within the church itself, between mortals, I’m not sure we are taught either independence or dependence. We are taught, I think, interdependence.
We teach children in the Christian community to lean on that community—even “burdening” it—while graciously helping to carrying the burdens of others. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes it this way:
[Religious communities] want [their children] to be enmeshed in extended kin networks and congregations where everyone can ask for help from anyone, and everyone is expected to give such help. I believe this is why religious people are so much more generous than secular folk. Interdependence demands greater openness to others, greater willingness to put your own projects on hold and divert your efforts toward others.
The entire Church is utterly dependent on God for salvation and sanctification, and we are willingly interdependent on the Church itself to serve us and let us serve. “It is better to give than to receive,” though in the Church we do both, and both are, to some degree expected.
Interdependence fosters generosity and empathy, other-mindedness and humility, mercy and team spirit. Hopefully, it will also bolster diversity and a culture of honor. We are meant to guard each other, even as we are guarded. We are meant to sacrifice, even as we gain the support of an entire community.
The Church is not like the world. It is built to be dependent on God, and within itself, it fosters community that is neither dependent nor independent, but interdependent.