I was discussing with someone who suggested that, as an atheist, he at least was ‘…thinking for himself’. I pointed out that, unless he had invented atheism, he actually wasn’t. None of us really think for ourselves, I told him. There are thousands of years of history and debate and experience behind each of us, and all we can ever do is just pick a side.
I don’t think that there are any truly original thoughts left. We’re all just building on what’s gone before and I try to be open about this. I am very happy to name and shame those who have influenced me. The truth is that everything that I write on this blog, even the really good stuff, has had its origins – at least – in something given to me by others. Even the conclusions that I have arrived at on my own have been built on foundations laid by books I have read and people I have known. The other day I jotted down some thoughts on the internal conflict between good and evil, but those thoughts came to me while I was reflecting on what I had been reading in Connected by Larry Crabb. My earlier posts about the Parable of the Talents were my own thoughts on the subject, but it was people in Cornerstone who got me thinking in that direction.
This is exactly how God intended it to be. No man is an island, wrote John Donne; as human beings we do nothing and go nowhere without others around us. There’s no discipline on the planet, whether it’s music, sport, writing, medicine or anything, where you can become an expert by distancing yourself from its community. You can’t withdraw from the world and then teach yourself brain surgery (well, you can, but probably only once). You can’t get better at something without knowing what’s worked and what hasn’t worked before. Growth does not occur without interdependence. In the same way, we will never become expert disciples by rejecting the community of believers, whether that’s our local Christian community, the global Church or the Communion of Saints in whose footsteps we tread.
Be patient, watch and learn, and then go and build something grand on the foundations of those who have gone before.