Faith and the Idolization of Individualism

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As Americans, there are fewer things we value more than our individualism.

This idolization of individualism has lead to a myriad of issues. One of the serious consequences of this individualism is putting the self at the center of what is and what is not true. In this highly individualistic culture, the self has become the ultimate determinant for what is true and what is not.

  • No longer do we accept a higher authority – God – as the determiner of what is right or wrong. If what God says doesn’t jive with me and my  experience, my personal experience trumps God’s standards.
  • No longer do we accept a shared-cultural understanding of social and moral norms.
  • What works for you doesn’t work for me. As long as what I believe and what I do doesn’t hurt you, who are you to tell me that what I’m doing is wrong?

One of the problems of this heightened individualism is that the individual experience is never sufficient for properly understanding the world around us.

We need the voice and the experiences of others. We need the wisdom and the value of others to help us to get a proper perspective of the world. Our understanding and our perspective will always be limited and incomplete without the voice of others.

I write all this because, it seems to me, the idolization of individualism has worked its way in how American Christians view our faith. We place our individualistic experience, our personal understanding of what God says above all other authorities. We have a hard time submitting to the understanding, teaching, and the authority of the church.

What we seek – the connection between who God is and who we are on a personal level – is not a bad thing. This is, in fact, a good thing. Who God is must make a difference at a personal level.

However, how we pursue this as individuals in a culture that has made an idol of individualism is the problem.

Faith, by its very nature is communal. Faith is never the possession of one. Faith belongs to the community. Faith is birthed in community. Faith is nurtured in community.

And it’s in community our communal sharing of life and faith that faith begins to make sense to the individual person. You take the individual outside of faith, and a faith experience apart from community is a mutation. Such faith is not what God ever intended.

Faith is birthed, shaped, formed, and lived out in community.

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