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25 September 2011

I and We in Religious Context

I grew up in a Protestant denomination in which we confessed the Nicean Creed. Later, I joined the Roman Catholic Church. Today, my wife and I officially joined the Episcopal Church. When I was a youth in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the creed began "I believe..."; in the Catholic and Anglican traditions, the same creed began "We believe...." When I was converting, I noted this difference but didn't understand it. Now, as a sociologist of religion, I appreciate the significance. We's point toward a communal orientation; I's point toward an individual orientation. We's are used by most of the communal-oriented religions (e.g. Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism), I's by the individual-oriented (e.g. Evangelical and Black Protestantisms). This difference of orientation has profound significance. Am I a "we" or an "I" among other "I's?" Do I acknowledge the synergy of social interaction or do I insist, as famously claimed by Maggie Thatcher, that "...there is no such thing as society. There are [only] individual men and women..."?

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