ReVision

Solipsism

Who cares? Do we?

Fleshly Winds (3)

“Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.” Luke 10.31, 32

How could they not care?
The two religious figures Jesus indicted in the parable of the good Samaritan were apparently too busy with their own concerns to help a wounded neighbor. Or else they considered that his problem wasn’t their concern. Maybe they were just too much into themselves – their thoughts and their business – even to notice the need of someone else. For all they knew, really, that wounded guy might not even exist.

At least, they clearly reasoned, he didn’t exist to them. Maybe they just didn’t care.

The world has its share of wounded, damaged, oppressed, and dispossessed people. The poor, the refugees and immigrants, the neglected and the needy, the abused, abandoned, and aborted. Each of these groups – especially the last, infants in the womb – can be easily dismissed as of no particular concern to us. They’re all someone else’s problem, someone else’s responsibility. Indeed, we would hardly even think of them were it not that they show up in the news from time to time.

Are we too busy with our own matters to care about the wounded people of our world? Too wrapped up in our own agendas and needs? Content with following Jesus in self-indulgent rather than self-denying ways? Prone to consider that all these needy people are no concern of ours?

Crossing over to the other side has become a way of life for many people. Even in their own communities, many people are focused only on their own interests, while the needs of others go largely unaddressed. And this indifference to others is a symptom of solipsism.

While few today would regard themselves as solipsists, or even be able to explain this idea, the ill wind of solipsism continues to find its way into the sails of many souls. It’s operating in ours whenever we are so preoccupied with our own interests and needs that we just can’t think about others. Solipsism may not demonstrate the brazen assertiveness or seek the spotlight of narcissism; and it may not manifest the freneticism or urgency of presentism; but it is just as focused on the self and its concerns as either of these. And, like the religious leaders in Jesus’ parable, it hedges the soul against having to feel the pain of others, much less do anything about it.

Put another way, solipsism shreds the breezes of neighbor love from the Wind of God.

Solipsism defined
Solipsism is a philosophical idea which insists that nothing can be known outside one’s own soul. All that we can know, and therefore all that we can or should pay attention to, is what happens in our own mind, heart, and conscience. Other people may or may not exist; they may or may not have souls. We just can’t be certain, and therefore their concerns are properly no concern of ours.

The priest and the Levite who crossed over to the other side, refusing to help the man in Jesus’ parable, were not solipsists – at least, not consciously. But they demonstrate what we can expect when solipsism and other ill winds of doctrine lead us to regard our own interests, convenience, or time as of the most importance, even in the face of obvious and urgent need.

Solipsism is in some sense a combination of narcissism and presentism which has metastasized into a kind of impersonal coldness of soul that says, “I can’t think about this now.” Or, “I’m not going to get involved in this.” Or even, “Their problems are no concern of mine.” People affected by solipsistic thinking can appear aloof, indifferent, superior, self-righteous, or even psychotic.

To its credit, we can say that solipsism takes the soul seriously, and wants to make sure that the soul is properly cared for and protected. That’s more than what secular materialists can say, since they reduce the soul to nothing more than the chance interactions of chemicals, matter, and electricity.

But solipsism, while it exists nowhere in pure form, can still exert unhappy and distracting force on our heart, mind, and conscience.

Problems with solipsism
When the winds of solipsistic thinking are blowing in the sails of our soul, we become inured to the needs and sufferings of others. Jesus wept over the lost city of Jerusalem. When was the last time we wept before the Lord for a lost friend or neighbor? Jesus sensed the touch of a suffering woman in the midst of a crowd; we see all kinds of suffering on the evening news, and typically leave it there. Paul suffered mightily with the Thessalonians and others who suffered for Christ. We pray for the persecuted church one Sunday a year in the fall – if at all. God shapes each new baby in the womb, and creates the soul of each one. Have we become so accustomed to the murderous practice of abortion that we just can’t get exercised about it anymore?

The first Christians understood the tendency toward solipsism, and they determined to resist it. They practiced hospitality with one another; shared their possessions freely and eagerly; brought their suffering friends and neighbors to hear the Gospel and be healed of their diseases; and gave sacrificially to meet the needs of people in far-off places. None of them said that anything they possessed was their own. Whenever a need arose, they were quick to offer of the resources available to them. They gave freely of themselves, their time, and their resources, whether or not it was convenient to do so. In the generations beyond the apostles, Christians continued the practices learned from them. They cared for the sick, rescued abandoned children, housed the needy, fed the hungry, and sheltered widows and orphans. They understood themselves to be members of one another and sharers together in the one great soul of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What do our practices as Christians say about the winds of doctrine that guide us? What do our church budgets and programs reveal about the winds that guide our ecclesiastical vessels? Is the ill wind of solipsism anywhere present in our heart, mind, or conscience?

When the Wind of God is filling our souls, we will be like that good Samaritan, sensing and feeling the needs of others, going out of our way and far beyond the extra mile to help, and receiving the commendation of the Lord for our faithful works of neighbor love.

For reflection
1. Solipsism does not exist in a pure form, but what would you expect to see as evidence of its influence in your life?

2. What are some things we can do to become more sensitive to the needs of people around us?

3. How is it apparent in the ministry of Jesus that He was not influenced by this ill wind? 

Next steps – Demonstration: Today, what opportunities will you have to reach out to someone in need? Commit your day to the Lord, and take steps to show others the neighbor love of the Lord.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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