Everybody is somebody, but nobody wants to be themselves.
Robert N. Bellah
[In expressive individualism] each person has a unique core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed if individuality is to be realized.
Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996), 333-34.
Some of the inability of American Christianity to understand the corporate and social nature of culture arises from the excessive individualism entrenched in Western culture.
Because American evangelicalism tends to reduce everything to a personal application, we limit the way we engage with the culture around us.
In this past century, Christians have all but ignored biblical teaching on the corporate nature of following Christ. Our churches anew awash in self-centered narcissism, hyper-individualism… Jesus never intended us to be Christians alone, and that our love for others who aren’t just like us is taken to be indicative of whether we truly love God.
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p.16-17.
Alexis De Tocqueville
Individualism at first dries up only the source of public virtues, but, in the long run, it attacks and destroys all the others and is finally absorbed into egoism.
Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville
Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself. Selfishness originates in blind instinct; individualism proceeds from erroneous judgment more than from depraved feelings; it originates as much in deficiencies of mind as in perversity of heart.
Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of condition.
Because of the bankruptcy of the older individualism, those who are aware of the break-down often speak and argue as if individualism were itself done and over with. I do not suppose that those who regard socialism and individualism as antithetical really mean that individuality is going to die out or that it is not something intrinsically precious. But in speaking as if the only individualism were the local episode of the last two centuries…they slur over the chief problem—that of remaking society to serve the growth of a new type of individual.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (For Contrast)
Individualism has never been tried.
Rachel Held Evans
When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded work (like manhood, womanhood, politics, economics, marriage, and even equality), we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t fit our tastes. In an attempt to simplify, we try to force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Today friendship has fallen on hard times. Few men have good friends, much less deep friendships. Individualism, autonomy, privatization, and isolation are culturally cachet, but deep, devoted, vulnerable friendship is not. This is a great tragedy for self, family, and the Church, because it is in relationships that we develop into what God wants us to be… Friendships…are there to be made if we value them as we ought – and if we practice some simple disciplines of friendship.
Disciplines of a Godly Man, Crossway Books, 1991, p. 64.
This then is the individualistic view.…It means many good things: e.g. Genuine novelty; order being won, paid for; the smaller systems the truer; man [is greater than] home [is greater than] state or church. anti-slavery in all ways; toleration—respect of others; democracy—good systems can always be described in individualistic terms.
Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice
The problem with individualistic Christianity is what we call “reconciliation without memory,” an approach that ignores the wounds of the world and proclaims peace where there is no peace (see Jer 8:11).
Taken from Reconciling All Things by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. ©2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com
That there may be some who need coercion, who if given free rein would riot in selfish pleasure like unbridled beasts, is no doubt true, but one should show precisely by the fact that one knows how to speak with fear and trembling that one is not of their number.”
Fear and Trembling
Individualism is a denial that life has any meaning except the gratification of the ego; in politics it must end anarchy. It is not possible for one man to be both Christian and individualist.
You can’t worship love and individuality in the same breath.
They are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Tradition is a willingness to read Scripture, taking into account the ways in which it has been read in the past. It is an awareness of the communal dimension of Christian faith, which calls shallow individualism into question. There is more to the interpretation of Scripture than any one individual can discern. It is a willingness to give full weight to the views of those who have gone before us in the faith.
Understanding Doctrine: Its Relevance and Purpose for Today, Zondervan, 1990, p. 25. www.zondervan.org.
Brenda Salter McNeil
Cultural transformation in a church or organization must go beyond interpersonal models of changing “one person at a time,” which dominates Western evangelical thinking. The goals of reconciliation need to shift from interpersonal acceptance to building reconciling communities of racial, ethnic, class and gender diversity.
Taken from Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil (c) 2020 by Brenda Salter McNeil. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Brian (Graham Chapman) and cast
Brian: “Look, you’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals.”
Crowd: “Yes, we’re all individuals!”
Individual: “I’m not!”
Life of Brian
I often found myself preferring the company of people outside my congregation, men and women who did not follow Jesus. Or worse, preferring the company of my sovereign self. But soon I found that my preferences were honored by neither Scripture nor Jesus. I didn’t come to the conviction easily, but finally there was no getting around it: there can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life apart from immersion and embrace of community. I am not myself by myself. Community, not the highly vaunted individualism of our culture, is the setting in which Christ is at play.
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eerdmans, 2005.
In the twenty-seven years since the killing of President Kennedy, there has been a good deal of disturbance in the American dream. The cult of individualism, of a man’s (not so often a woman’s) ability and right to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and wit, which lies at the heart of that dream, has produced more Oswalds, more Sirhans, more Mansons and Jim Joneses, than Lincolns, of late. The representative figure of American individualism is no longer that log-cabin-to-White-House President, but rather a lone man with a gun, seeking vengeance against a world that will not conform to his own sense of what has worth.”
Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991.
Our modern theology, which in many ways has ceased to be personal, i.e. centered on the Christian experience of “person,” nevertheless – and maybe as a result of this – has become utterly individualistic. It views everything in the Church – sacraments, rites, and even the Church herself – as primarily, if not exclusively, individual “means of grace,” aimed at the individual, at his individual sanctification. It has lost the very categories by which to express the Church and her life as that new reality which precisely overcomes and transcends all “individualism,” transforms individuals into persons, and in which me are persons only because and inasmuch as they are united to God, and, in Him, to one another and to the whole of life.”
Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
“We Bokonists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a [karass] by Bokonon.”
Cat’s Cradle, 1960.
It is tragic how few people ever ‘possess their souls’ before they die. ‘Nothing is more rare in any man,’ says Emerson, ‘than an act of his own.’ It is quite true. Most people are other people.
We have been so soaked in the individualism of modern Western culture that we feel threatened by the idea of our primary identity being that of the family we belong to-especially when the family in question is so large, stretching across space and time. The church isn’t simply a collection of isolated individuals, all following their own pathways of spiritual growth without much reference to one another. It may sometimes look like that, and even feel like that. And it’s gloriously true that each of us is called to respond to God’s call at a personal level. You can hide in the shadows at the back of the church for a while but sooner or later you have to decide whether this is for you or not.
Simply Christian, 2006 SPCK; HarperSanFrancisco.