Table of Contents

  • Exploring the Relationship Between Individualism and the Importance of Religion
  • Religion vs. Individual Expression
  • Recognizing the Positives of Religious Belief
  • Resolving the Balance: Individualism and Religious Harmony
  • Conclusion: Embracing Individualism and Religion
  • Actionables for Personal Growth
    • Reading List

Exploring the Relationship Between Individualism and the Importance of Religion

“Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.” – Søren Kierkegaard

I first learned about individualism when I read Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was a brilliant and passionate woman. One topic she did not care for was religion.

She argued religion was stifling, artificial, and irrational. Her hostility shaped my view of it. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, where rampant corruption, hypocrisy, and weakness defined my experience.

In adulthood, I married and had children. I desired a community of virtuous individuals and a moral framework that provided discipline and meaning to my challenges as a new parent. Only through time and patience have I realized religion is essential and can coincide with individualist principles.

Religion is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman power or powers, especially a God or gods.” Religions are communal organizations that usually put the group before the individual. Prioritizing the community can lead to the individual’s exploitation. However, religion is valuable to personal growth and necessary for instructing society.

I start my post by exploring the central conflict. Next, I discuss the necessity of solving the issue. Lastly, I examine religion’s positives and how such an institution benefits individuals directly and indirectly.

Religion vs. Individual Expression

religion stifling | people praying

Religion, for all its good, can be stifling.

Religious institutions often consume individuals for the group’s benefit. These benefits can frequently appear shallow and support the group’s worst aspects. Most individualists oppose religions that impose specific rules, standards, and behaviors that stifle individual expression. Sexuality is an excellent example of how religion can marginalize people because of their personal identity.

Additionally, religion sells itself as the ultimate arbitrator of what’s right and wrong. However, there can be internal contradictions in certain religious teachings, such as the Christian God advocating for peace while actively harming and killing the innocent. Furthermore, competing secular ethical systems, such as objectivism and universally preferable behavior, provide robust arguments for why one should be good without God or a government.

Lastly, not all religions are equal. Some are more lax in judgment and guidance, while others are harsher and more destructive. While the individual can harm himself and his localities, a poorly directed religious group can do much more damage to society’s health and well-being.

Although religion has its issues, let’s examine its positive aspects.

Recognizing the Positives of Religious Belief

“A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Although religion has apparent drawbacks, there are a few positives that it delivers for the individual and society:

Religion has numerous positive aspects, even for those who are not religious. A more religious society has better social structures, such as families, charities, and communities. Religious people are happier, emotionally stabler, and mentally healthier. Religious people commit fewer crimes and create less social decay.

Religion, even from a strictly pragmatic lens, produces the social stability and happiness that individuals benefit from.

Resolving the Balance: Individualism and Religious Harmony

So, how does one fix the balance between individualism and religion?

Firstly, you must embrace a religious teaching that values the individual. Most religions, especially Christianity, have historically stood for the individual by protecting their rights, property, and lives. This history carries on even today. Any religion that desires you to sacrifice your virtuous ends for the whims of the group can be safely rejected and ignored. For example, you shouldn’t have to give up your dreams of owning a business to take care of a deadbeat brother simply because you are his “keeper.” You owe loyalty to virtuous individuals, not to lazy, ungrateful individuals.

This universality is crucial. Religions become useless when they don’t universalize standards. We should not bully a few good people to carry everyone else’s burdens. We should have standards that elevate everybody to be their best. We see social stability and success when we approach religion from this angle.

Therefore, you must be willing to challenge weak individuals and leaders. The way to maintain your individualism is always to demand greatness from everyone. If someone is to lead you, they need to be better than you. If someone is going to be helped, they need to utilize that help to pick themselves up.

As long as there are universal standards, religion will be valuable in giving people the tools they need to elevate themselves.

Conclusion: Embracing Individualism and Religion

yoga pose

Your best self can be accomplished with or without religion.

For many of us, such as myself, I’m willing to forgo certain things if I can have stability and contribute to a flourishing community. For example, with marriage, I know I’m excluding myself from certain whims and fun times, but ultimately, my decision benefits my community and myself.

Additionally, we need a set of ethical principles that bind us together when looking at the broader society. Religions like Christianity provide a moral and ethical framework that simplifies navigating a complex world.

Religion is not a necessity. We can reason our way to virtue through secular ethics. However, religion offers history, traditions, and moral foundations, especially to a society embroiled in vice and hedonism.

Religion and individualism can coexist and even complement each other. As with tradition, religious teachings do not destroy the individual but push them and others to be better than what they are, whether you’re a believer or not.

Actionables for Personal Growth

  • People In Your Life: Identify three individuals you admire and reflect on their belief systems. Do they follow a particular religion? What are their value systems? Do you think you recreate their goodness without their belief system?
  • Secular Ethics: What do you know about secular ethics? Have you gone through ethics, morality, and more significant questions like these? I suggest reflecting on what you view as right and wrong and why you might. It’s okay to settle with “because I feel it is good.” We are here to grow, not to be perfect.
  • Groups Versus Individuals: Are there groups you are a part of that you forgo aspects of your individualism to be in? Why do you do this? Do you think the cost is worth it? How can you maintain your freedom and identity while participating in the group?
  • Reflect on Personal Beliefs: What are your beliefs regarding religion and individualism? How have these beliefs changed over time? What experiences or readings have influenced these changes?
  • Engage with Religious and Secular Communities: Have you ever visited religious services or community events to observe how various groups balance individualism and communal values? What did you learn from these experiences? Are you part of any discussion groups or forums where topics like individualism and religion are debated? How have these discussions influenced your views?
  • Read and Research: What books, articles, or studies have you read to deepen your understanding of the relationship between individualism and religion? Which ones were most impactful for you?
  • Dialogue and Discussion: Who can you talk with about the topics of individualism and religion? How can you foster a deeper understanding and respect for diverse viewpoints through these discussions?
  • Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: Have you tried mindfulness or meditation practices to reflect on your values and beliefs? How did these practices affect your understanding of individualism and religion? Are you interested in exploring religious or spiritual meditation techniques? What insights do you hope to gain from these practices?
  • Set Personal Goals and Reflect on Virtue: What personal goals have you set that align with your ethical beliefs? How do you reflect on your progress toward these goals? Which virtues do you value most, and how do you cultivate these in your daily life?
  • Analyze Influential Figures: Which influential figures have you studied who balanced individualism and religious beliefs? What lessons did you learn from their lives and beliefs? How can the actions and beliefs of these figures inform your views?
  • Explore Secular Ethical Systems: How familiar are you with secular ethical systems like utilitarianism, deontology, or virtue ethics? How do these compare with religious moral frameworks in your view? How do these ethical systems address the balance between individual rights and societal good?

Reading List

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

  • “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand: A seminal work on individualism and the philosophy of objectivism, exploring the conflict between individual achievement and collectivist society.
  • “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand: A collection of essays that delve into Rand’s philosophy of objectivism and its implications for individualism and ethics.
  • “Fear and Trembling” by Søren Kierkegaard: Examines the individual’s relationship with faith and the existential challenges of belief.
  • “The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell: Explores the role of myth and religion in shaping human experience and individual identity.
  • “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis: A theological exploration of Christian beliefs and their practical implications for individuals seeking moral and ethical guidance.
  • “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt: Investigates the psychological underpinnings of morality and how religious and secular ethical systems shape our understanding of right and wrong.
  • “The Life of St. Maximilian Kolbe” by William LaMay: Looks at the life and death of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life to save a fellow inmate in a Nazi concentration camp.

Please remember it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

Refer to the linked articles and studies throughout this post for detailed evidence and case studies supporting these views.

*Image credit to Unsplash.