Is American individualism selfish?

Hey, thanks again for sending in questions related to our recent sermons. This last week in the sermon, I drew a distinction between individualistic cultures like the US. And collectivistic cultures, like the ancient cultures in the Middle East, like Israel real in Egypt, and there’s still many collectivist cultures today. And as an example, I said in the US. For example, when you hear a car alarm go off, the only thought in your head is, is it my car alarm?

Or won’t somebody turn that off? There’s very rarely a care or concern or interest if it’s somebody else’s car and that car is getting robbed, that I need to go do something about it because it’s not my car, right? I’m going to worry about my car. Whoever’s car that is over there is going to worry about that guy’s car. And in a collectivistic culture, or collectivist culture, there’d be much more connection between individuals, whereas you would feel like, what belongs to my brother is my concern.

What belongs to me is his concern, and we’re going to run out there and take care of it. I had somebody after the service with military experience explained to me, like, if you go to war with one particular guy out of a culture over in the Middle East today, or Pakistan, Afghanistan, over there, it’s really understood collectivistly. And so you can’t go to war with just one guy. You kind of go to war with everybody because of how collectivist they are. So the question comes in is, is American individualism selfish?

And the answer is, maybe not. It can be. Not necessarily. Is there’s god doesn’t god doesn’t specifically tell us to be one way or the other. He kind of tells us to be both ways, both individualistic and collectivist.

You could ask the same question is a collectivist culture lazy? Well, it could be. It doesn’t have to be. In Scripture, we see a lot of examples of an individual’s responsibility to him or herself, and we see a lot of examples of an individual’s responsibility to the community and the community’s responsibility to the individual. There’s a lot of great things about American individualism.

I think it’s made us phenomenally rich, which, again, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Historians say that where this really came from is the majority of people in the US. Came here as immigrants trying to make it kind of these entrepreneurial spirits who had to make it on their own, that had this attitude of, I’ll pull myself up by my bootstraps and make it happen. And if you have a whole lot of people who have that kind of mentality, then you produce a phenomenal amount of effort and work. And so that’s fantastic, right?

Like, great. I’m glad we’ve invented everything that we have in our world leader. At the same time, that attitude’s probably made us really lonely. And we are on people that measure these sorts of things, whereas collectivistic cultures are much less lonely. They feel much more connected to the community around them.

They feel the support of others. They don’t feel like they have to be out there on their own. So there’s pluses and minuses in every type of culture. No culture has it exactly right. No culture has it completely, exactly wrong.

God has given common grace to every culture that they retain some amount of God’s intention and his image in how they do things. And it’s a good way that we can learn from each other and say, hey, we’re a little weak over here and you guys are a little strong in the same area, so what can we learn from you? And vice versa. There’s a passage in Ephesians four, verse 28 actually, where Paul speaks to both the individual and the collective and how they interact with one another. And he says, he who steals should do that no longer, but he should work so that he has something to provide to those in need.

So it’s the individual needs to work. So there is this pull yourself up by your bootstraps, which is so fundamental in America, and it was wonderful. But then the reason that you would pull yourself up by your bootstraps is not actually for you, it’s for the collective. And if everybody’s pulling themselves up by their bootstraps but at the same time has a totality of orientation toward the good of others and isn’t thinking about self at all, then you have I mean, that would just be the best, right? It’s like both individual and collective kind of functioning together, kind of the good of both of those kind of mindsets functioning at the same time.

And that’s what Paul says we should be. So that’s what I mean by god doesn’t got god isn’t totally individualistic. He isn’t totally collectivist. He has a plan for both of those, tells us to really be both of those. So no individualism is not selfish, but it could be.

Just like collectivism isn’t lazy, but it could be. And we need to be corrected kind of by the other side of we aren’t and always, of course, corrected by scripture. So thanks for sending in the question and we will see you next time.