The term “individualism” has a variety of nuances. For purposes of this work, the term is used to refer to the value, protection, and promotion of the rights and beliefs of the individual. That’s a good thing. Each individual should be valued in a society.
Yet, when we talk about protecting the individual, a valid question is raised, namely: “From what does the individual need to be protected?”
In answering this question, we begin to understand the dominant philosophy that drives our modern sense of justice in the West.
Our civil philosophy and sense of justice demand that the rights and beliefs of the individual must be protected against the rights and beliefs of the majority. Now, from one perspective this is very logical and necessary for a just society.
If you don’t give some type of protection to the individual or minority group, then the majority will simply outvote them and ify any influence a dissenting individual or minority group might have in society.
Yet, from another perspective, the unchecked promotion of individual rights can be incredibly damaging to a society because the majority opinion is intentionally suppressed in order to let the minority opinion be expressed.
Such a promotion of individualism first manifests itself in the expectation that the larger society should adapt for the individual, but the individual is not expected to adapt to the larger society.
A second and even more disastrous manifestation is a complete cultural shift of morals and responsibilities in which the values and opinions of the minority are forced upon the majority by the courts. When this happens on a regular basis over the course of centuries, not only does the majority opinion become subservient to the individual/minority opinion in the courtroom, the majority opinion actually loses its influence over the larger society.
This is what has happened in the United States, and this is what is destroying our nation. Our unchecked promotion of individual rights has evolved into an expression of irresponsible individualism.
Considering the fact that the U.S. was formed during the Enlightenment Period, it should come as no surprise that our nation embodies the philosophies and pursuits of that era.
Yet, it also embodies the inherent dangers of the Enlightenment Period, namely, an overemphasis on the individual. It’s absolutely essential to understand that one of the principal goals of many contemporary secularists is the empowerment of the minority opinion and the subjugation of the majority opinion.
This goal isn’t rooted in some national or global conspiracy theory. Rather, the goal of protecting and promoting the individual/minority opinion is rooted in the naïve belief that protecting the minority opinion from the majority opinion is the true expression of democratic justice. Our blind commitment to irresponsible individualism works like this — since defending the individual/minority opinion was clearly the right decision at some points in our history (e.g. the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, the Civil Rights movement), then it must be the right decision all the time (e.g. financial aid for illegal aliens, the promotion of the LGBT agenda, supporting polygamous marriage, the promotion of Islam in the West, etc.).
Ironically, this approach to individual rights is incredibly narrow-minded and anti-intellectual even though it is embraced by many who perceive themselves as intellectuals.
A recent example of the thoughtless pursuit of irresponsible individualism is depicted in the legal action being taken by the polygamists portrayed in the TV show, “Sister Wives.” Their attorney, Jonathan Turley, states on his blog dated July 13, 2011: “We are not demanding the recognition of polygamous marriage. We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations … In that sense, the challenge is designed to benefit not just polygamists but all citizens who wish to live their lives according to their own values — even if those values run counter to those of the majority in the state.”
Did you catch the last section of the quote? In the name of justice and freedom, the courts are being used to suppress the values of the majority. This has been going on for decades, but hardly anyone challenges it because we have been taught that this is how a democracy works. Under the current system of thought, it’s an injustice to offend an individual or minority group, in this case polygamists, but it’s proper to promote values and opinions that “run counter to those of the majority” regardless of how many people are offended. That’s not a democracy. That’s irresponsible individualism.
Ironically, irresponsible individualism is the greater injustice because it offends the majority of a nation’s citizens. You see, irresponsible individualism doesn’t dominate our society because it’s synonymous with justice. It dominates our society because the majority have failed to stand up for their beliefs. For over a century now, many of our leading thinkers, politicians, and judges have been aggressive in their protection and promotion of the beliefs and values of the minority opinion while at the same time vehemently opposing the beliefs and values of the majority of our citizens. This is the reason, not in part but in whole, that America has changed so quickly with respect to its beliefs and values. What else would you expect when our leaders deliberately work against the beliefs and values of the majority of our people?
The next time you hear people say they’re frustrated because they don’t know why our nation has changed so much, set them straight. Tell them why we’ve changed. Tell them it’s the result of leaders who have convinced the majority that they must, in the name of democracy and justice, submit their beliefs and values to the minority opinion, but be sure to tell them that’s an illogical lie. It’s the lie of irresponsible individualism.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from Rit Varriale’s book, Reformation in Responsibility: A New Ethic for a New Era. The Biblical Recorder published a story about Varriale and his book in the June 9 issue. Varriale is pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby.)