Archive for philosophy

Influence of American Culture | Individualism

Posted in NTBC C&C with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by Mark Hanson

When thinking of American culture, what does individualism look like, how do people express their individualism?

  • This is most immediately seen in our externals. It shows up in the choice of clothes, hair style, tattoo’s, piercings, music, friends, groups, political leaning, gender orientation, homes, cars, electronic equipment, hobbies, drugs, drinking, etc.
  • But there is also the internal elements that can be effected as well. Attitude, belief, conviction, preference, morals, and conscience among other things also communicate the individualism of the inner person.

When thinking of American culture, how would you define individualism? And what does that look like?

  • Vernacular, The word individualism has been used to denote a personality with a strong tendency towards self creation and experimentation often associated and seen in various forms of art.
  • Technically, an individual unit refers to something “indivisible,” the lowest possible denominator, typically describing a singular thing, like “a person.”
  • Conceptually, individualism makes the individual its focus and starts with the idea that the human individual is the most important. It promotes a person’s goals and desires through independence and self-reliance while opposing external authority upon one’s self, whether by society, group or institution, or even considering the interests of society at large. It does not place value on the sacrifice of self-interest for any higher purpose. It is a method of giving measurable meaning to life.

Taken to an extreme individualism will result a complete rejection of all authority, in other words anarchy. Individualism in its fullest sense, is just selfishness taken to the highest degree. America hasn’t gone that far as a whole, but there are many who believe in this concept as a guiding principle for life. It has supported things like self-esteem, self-awareness, self-love, self-image, etc., often come up in conversation when someone says “what is true for you is not necessarily true for me,” which reveals their understanding of relative truth. If “I” preside over what is “individually” right for me, then ones own authority is supreme and no one else has the right or a corner on the truth to say otherwise

Is there anything wrong with attempting to be unique and stand out from everyone else?

  • Inherently, uniqueness is not wrong otherwise every person who have to be identical. Instead you have to ask yourself why you are doing something, what is the motivating factor in making the decision? Is it to make yourself more visible so you draw attention and impress others? Is it so you be accepted into another group? Is it something where the one determining factor is how it will benefit self?

Does this concept fit with what the Bible teaches about individuality for the believer?

  • John 5:30 “… I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”
  • 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 — “… You were bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit which are God’s.”
  • Romans 12:1-2 — “… Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

As Christians we must always keep in mind that American individuality is all about self, and has little to do with service. God has created us to be individuals so we can in turn give that uniqueness back to Him.

So how does individuality fit within and look like in the Church context?

I think too often we stop reading Romans 12 right after verse 2, but the following applies to how we are to then live:

  • Romans 12:3-5 — “… so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

God uses one main illustration to show what individualism within the church looks like:

  • 1 Corinthians 12 — “… But all these work from one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ… But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body… Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular…”

God grants every individual uniqueness since there are no two identical people on this planet. He also gives special gifts and abilities to individuals for the purpose of using them in service to and for God. We must be taking full advantage of the individuality that God has given us for the benefit of others. The primary place this should happen in in the church. With the analogy of the church being the “body,” each individual is required to comprise the greater whole of the “individual” church body.

>> The Point

We are individuals. God has created us that way. But we cannot place any confidence in our individual uniqueness. Our meaning in life must be derived from God and from our new family in Christ found in the church. Meaning is not created by making myself more unique, it is created when the gifts and talents God gives me are used in service, first to the household of faith, and then to everyone else rather than just consumed for selfish gain and benefit.