America prides itself on being a “Christian” nation, a nation “under God” with “liberty and justice for all.”
But is it really liberty and justice for all, or is it just liberty and justice for the individual, the “successful” individual, the individual with the right skin color, the right family and neighborhood, the right access to wealth and opportunities?
We worship at the altar of American individualism.
Our nation “under God” is the nation of the individual. We cherish a national belief that if “one” only works hard enough to pull oneself by his (or, more rarely in the metaphor, her) bootstraps, one will find success.
In this nation “under God,” we also cherish the idea that the grace of God covers all. How can we be under a God who created every human being with love and grace, while worshiping the accomplishments of the individual?
See the irony?
Is American Individualism a Godly Trait?
American individualism and the idea of American exceptionalism go hand-in-hand. American individualism says:
I worked my way up the ladder at this job.
I earned this car and this McMansion.
I built this empire.
I am an exceptional individual in an exceptional nation.
American individualism ignores the plight of the collective. American individualism has no time, or desire, to love one’s neighbor. In America, so many people are treated as mere dust under the feet of the “successful.” Those people trapped in poverty by family, skin color, or a bad economy, do not have any bootstraps to pull themselves up. They are left in the dirt in a primal struggle to survive. People locked out of the job market with disabilities, or a history, or family responsibilities are disdained as “nonproductive individuals.”
Imagine. We as a nation have the disrespect to call children of God nonproductive individuals.
Whatever happened to community? Who is their brother’s keeper in this system of individual achievement? Is this God’s plan for a “godly nation”? Did He change His mind since the Old Testament when he continually told Israel to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow? Is God’s plan different for America?
No, American individualism is not God’s plan. Over and over in the Bible, God told us to love and take care of each other. The mighty prophets of old spoke God’s voice to Israel to take care of the poor and to practice hospitality. Jesus said that to love one’s neighbor as oneself fulfilled all the Law and all the prophets. We now have the Holy Spirit to whisper God’s word in our heart. She teaches us the wisdom of Love.
Neither God, nor Jesus, nor the Holy Spirit teaches us to be selfish, greedy individuals. We are all children made in God’s image. No one is greater. I cannot find exceptionalism, American individualism, or even a pair of bootstraps anywhere in Scripture.
American individualism is a national, and personal, sin.
American Individualism and God’s Grace
The American Protestant church, for the most part, follows the Calvinist doctrine of grace alone. John Calvin proclaimed that God chooses people individually for salvation, and that Jesus’ blood only covers these individuals.
Calvin’s doctrine teaches that we are saved by God’s grace alone, not by any of our works of faith or charity. Taken to the extreme, people turn this doctrine into a magic salvation prayer. They believe that if they say one prayer to Jesus asking for God’s grace and forgiveness of their sins, they are saved for eternity. They have no responsibility to change their life or do works of charity.
The Calvinist salvation prayer is their ticket to heaven, get out of hell free card. They treat the blood of Jesus like a game of monopoly.
I have even heard American Calvinists actually speak against works of helping one’s neighbor, saying that works are vain boastfulness (Calvin himself believed in works of charity as evidence of faith). These lazy, greedy Christians disobey all of Scripture that commands us to care for the poor and least of these. They pursue the reckless rat race of American individualism, covered themselves with the “grace of God.” What blasphemy.
Now, I do believe that salvation starts by the grace of God. He calls us out of a human life of sin, selfishness, and greed. We would not pursue selfless kingdom living in our own dark human hearts. His work of grace transforms us into people with the capacity to love and live selflessly.
What I don’t understand is why those Christians who believe in grace alone do not extend that same grace to their poor neighbor, their struggling employee, their sick brother.
No Place for American Individualism in God’s Kingdom
God’s kingdom is a wedding feast to which all are invited, but few come. Jesus’ kingdom is a narrow road of picking up your cross, giving your riches to the poor, and being a good Samaritan on the road of the hurting and the oppressed.
God’s kingdom is not a place of the exceptional individual, but a place of a servant who is a living sacrifice.
Romans 12:1-2 NIV
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Reject prideful, greedy American individualism today. Embrace the humble collectivism of loving your brothers and sisters in need. Follow Jesus in the way of the cross and the holy kingdom. Then we will truly have a nation under God, with justice and liberty for all.