My wife, universalised and de-particularised

My wife weighs in on why we moderns obsessively perform our identities

Over at Ab Intitio Ad Finem, my unique wife argues that the phenomenon of performative individuality is an understandable response to the de-particularising forces of modern society, and in particular the modern economy:

By participating in the modern labour market, I sell my labour as a function I perform which could in principle be performed by anyone else. In this respect and in every other respect in which I am subjected to the statistical and bureaucratic analysis of the nation state and its institutions, I am universalised and de-particularised. […] De-particularisation threatens to erase personhood. If I am in all respects functionally interchangeable with anyone else, what is left that is peculiarly me? In such a social context, of course we yearn for individuation, for a unique identity which is recognisable not only to ourselves but also to others.
Particularity and Individuality
I have just started auditing a course on Male and Female in Modernity, with Dr Alastair Roberts, and we have taken as our launching point Ivan Illich’s book Gender. Illich provides a stimulating va…

The phenomenon of de-particularisation goes some way to explaining why I have found the rhetoric of "finding your identity in Christ", which has been heard frequently enough from evangelical pulpits in the last decade or so, to fall flat: It doesn't quite re-particularise me. Isn't everyone's identity is in Christ? (Or at least, oughtn't they to be?) How is finding my identity in Christ anything more than a pious way to de-particularise me? How am I different to anyone else in Christ?

The letter to the Ephesians is packed tightly with "in Christ" indicatives in its opening section. And yet, this positioning in Christ does not dismiss or blur out the particular relationships and situations of Christians; rather, these particularities are re-established and re-vitalised with the life of Christ. For example, children are taught to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1).

It is not as though we have an epidemic of people in pews who are wedded to their particular earthly identities but struggle to relate them to Christ and his kingdom. As far as I can tell, the major problem is that for most modern people, any earthly identities (other than highly de-particularised ones) are very thin on the ground. Following Jemimah, the various other identities that demand so much attention in our modern situation are drummed up precisely in response to the dysfunctional nature of that situation.

To the extent that these particular identities are necessary for individual humans not to go insane (and I believe they are), it is necessary that appeals to identity in Christ do not function merely to distract people from the real problem of de-particularisation, but in some way to heal it.