Escaping the Tyranny of Me

John Mark Reynolds

Anne Rice loves Jesus, but she dislikes His friends. Evidently, Jesus has exactly Anne Rice's views, and no one else who has ever considered Jesus has understood him correctly. Jesus is God, and Anne Rice is his only true prophet. Poor Ms. Rice has fallen for the comforting delusion of this age that one can be a follower of Christ without being a Christian.

She is a victim of the most powerful tyrant: herself.

There are ages where the individual is squashed and ignored. The clamor of the masses drowns out the solitary voice. In those times affirming the importance of each soul before God is vital. At least in the Western world we are not in such an age.

We celebrate the individual conscience and this is a good thing, but it can be taken to extremes. The leaders of a culture that celebrates the individual will gain education and the power to magnify their voices above any group. It is easy for even a simple blogger to feel that he has a right to his opinions and that the community does not dare to suggest that he too might be wrong. No man is an island, but our culture encourages us to believe that our opinions can dwell in splendid isolation.

The wonderful fact that we have right to our opinions does not justify our becoming slaves to them.

Anne Rice shares the opinions of most of her class at this time. Her opinions are not those of most of the rest of the world, but Western people have always faced the temptations of ethnocentrism. If our civilization does one thing well, technology for example, then all our opinions must be superior to every other opinion. The voice of the African Christian can be ignored, because it has become a habit to ignore it. Their job is to ask for our help and not to instruct us or teach us where we have developed cultural blind spots.

Of course, like any unreasoning prejudice, the individual who sanctifies the opinions of his class ends up a slave to them. Anne Rice wishes to follow Jesus, but feels free to ignore the opinions of most of his followers. She can remake her Lord in her own image. This gives an illusion of freedom, but really enslaves her to whatever self has been created by her particular upbringing.

She is the servant of her place.

The individual who would follow Jesus without His friends also faces the tyranny of time. If the ancient Romans made their mistakes, they were not contemporary mistakes. Most lightly educated moderns, trained for glibness, cannot imagine that ancients might have had virtues that we do not know. We learn lessons from the past that are all negative and do not bother to see what the might teach us. The friends of Jesus, His Church, are not allowed to forget those who came before them. They know revelation is progressive, but that this progress does not negate the positive lessons of the past.

Anne Rice has the normal opinions of her time and cannot seem to escape them.

She is a slave of her time.

When a person falls in love, he marries the beloved and all she is. Only an arrogant man would reject her friends and her family. Even if her family is difficult, she brings that heritage with her to the marriage and he will have to account for it. Otherwise he risks making her the sort of rootless and community-less soul that is the bane of our times.

You cannot love a person and hate their friends. You cannot love Jesus and hate His Church.

I talk to hundreds of students each year and what I hear in most of them is a deep loneliness. The culture has given them freedom, but sold them ear buds to drown out any music but whichever marketed stuff they have purchased. They have become trapped inside their own time, bored by any song not their own, but don't know how to escape.

By contrast I am just returning from teaching at a Church community in Alaska. The people in that community are strong and have strong views, but they are not isolated from the world. At the seminar, they heard from a warm and wise American Albanian Church leader who widened their American perspectives with a global one. He shared opinions that ranged from Boston to Constantinople .

He broadened our perspective, but he also reminded us of Christians that came before us.

There were Christians in Alaska before even the most elderly person in the room was born and there will be Christians after us. We had to stop and hear what wise friends of Jesus said in the past and acknowledge their potential to teach us.

Of course as a philosopher my job was to ask hard questions and challenge all of our assumptions. The friends of Jesus, His Church, demand we do that as well. They know there can be tyranny of the past in a community as well as in the individual.

This community was not perfect, far from it, but there was no loneliness there. It was not cut off from the past or a slave to its social class and particular education. There in Eagle River the community listened intently to each other, the rest of Christ's friends in the entire world, and to the wisdom of the past. There was no loneliness there.

One can be an eccentric follower of Christ, a few eccentric folk even end up as prophets, but nobody can be alone. Jesus knows it is not good for any man to be alone. He constantly experiences the love and community of the Trinity (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), so He knows man created in the image of God must also live in community.

The visible expression of Jesus and this community will always be flawed this side of Paradise, but this is graceful thing. Only a community in need of grace could accept me as a member since I too am in need of grace. We might, all of us, be wrong. We must remove the earbuds from our heads and hear voices coming from outside our own place and time. We must escape the tyranny of self and become free inside an authentic community.

No man is lonelier than a tyrant and no tyrant is lonelier than one exiled to rule only his own mind.

The friends of Jesus, His Church, stand ready to begin a conversation that can liberate us. They will not always be right, but they will be other voices of those who also love Jesus. This long conversation can set us free . . . and we can contribute whatever wisdom we are granted if we keep talking and do not retreat into the exile of our own times.


John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.

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Originally published August 09, 2010.

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