Depending upon how one defines individualism, the values proposed by it could either run counter to one’s Christian faith or create a stronger sense of community. Generally, the concept of individualism assumes the importance of the individual in relation to larger social organs like government, church and family. However, Christian faith calls for an individual to quell one’s desires for the cause of concerns larger than oneself.
Individualism, a core belief in American society, describes the value of the individual in terms of his relationship with the community. Originally a term used in the French Revolution to decry those interested in upsetting the current social order, in American society it is closely associated with personal freedom and limited government. Individualism sits on a spectrum along with collectivism, and one’s definition of the term depends upon where one sits along that spectrum: The more individualistic one is, the greater value one places on independence from church, state, family and community; the more collective, the more one believes in the necessity of these institutions.
Much like political or civic individualism that favors individual over external authority, Christian individualism is an attitude that describes those who, as professing Christians, choose not to subscribe to an individual denomination or an external religious authority. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, it is less a theological or specific belief as an attitude or orientation to church authority. The term could be applied to any denomination to indicate its refutation of certain religious doctrines; for example, a Catholic could view a Protestant as being individualist for moving away from Catholic authority.
Liberty and Christianity
Religious individualism and its emphasis on the needs of the self could run counter to selfless service required of the Christian faith. It may be difficult to serve one’s individual interests while also giving to the poor, for example. Furthermore, Christianity demands submission to God’s will, something that may not always coincide with an individual’s needs. The French aristocratic political philosopher, Alexis de Toucqueville, described individualism in terms of a kind of moderate selfishness that disposed humans to be concerned only with their own small circle of family and friends. On the other hand, the values of individualism and Christianity don’t necessarily have to be in conflict.
A natural extension of American individualism merged with Christian faith is the Christian agrarian movement that seeks a moral alternative to mainstream consumerism. Christian agrarians seek responsible stewardship by practicing sustainable, small scale farming, and turning away from conventional agriculture and fragmented, modern living. Christian agrarians exhibit many of the values of rugged individualism by working hard to prosper independently of large, bureaucratic organizations, while also abiding by Christian tenants of faith, charity and self-sacrifice.
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