For some, individualism is seen as a virtue with a particular connection to America’s historical successes and present-day advantages. From self-confident entrepreneurs to inventive scientists and engineers, much of American culture celebrates individual courage, initiative, and energy. The John Wayne image of the “self-made man” who takes “personal responsibility” and depends on no one dominates many (especially conservative and libertarian) views of a life well lived.

Individualism is also seen as a vice in connection with America’s historical injustices and present-day problems. From self-absorbed narcissism to the commodification of every aspect of life, this darker sense of individualism highlights selfishness, a lack of awareness, and a naive trust in one’s own powers. Thus individualism is seen by many as a seductive force that removes one’s focus from the needs of others.

Both senses of the word are concerning to some religious people, because they remove an individual’s focus from God’s power, might, and wisdom.



Cynthia Kurtz

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