Friday, May 14, 2010

Name some of the effects of “individualism” on morality and spirituality.

NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.

Fr. Ashley notes that Nominalism, with highly prescriptive approach to morality and its “excessive emphasis on individual realities,”[i] diminished the sense of connectedness we share in the Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints. One can see immediately that this perspective tends to pit individuals against the rest of the world rather than helping them to see the cloud of witnesses they have urging them on to victory. In the Reformation theology of Luther, this subjective turn focused on the internal experience of the believer rather than the Communion of Saints or the community of the faithful.[ii] René Descartes would come along over half a century later and initiate a similar change in philosophy with his famous statement, “Cogito, ergo sum,” initiating a turn to the subject which would infect Enlightenment and modern philosophy and undermine the notion of objective reality.[iii] As Ashley notes, this individualism became very common in American culture, stemming primarily from this individualized Protestant spirituality.[iv]

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, National Socialism (Nazism) and Marxism would reject this notion of individualism and swing to the opposite extreme—a radical collectivism, where the individuals needs would be subservient ostensibly to the good of the people, although in practice the State benefited more than the collective people.[v] Along with a rejection of the individual as the highest good would be a suppression or rejection of faith in God with a redirection of that faith to the sovereign State or the Party.[vi]

Neither of these extremes conforms to a truly Christian morality. While individuals are responsible individually and equal in dignity to one another, we are also beings in community with one another who thrive or fail together. Living in community, individuals can meet their full potential spiritually, as well as emotionally and materially.[vii]

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 3B—Lesson 6,” International Catholic University, 27 February 2010,
ii. Ibid.
iii. Benedict Ashley, “Philosophy for Theologians—Lesson 3: The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture,” International Catholic University, 28 February 2010
iv. Ashley,
v. Ibid.
vi. Peter Kreeft, “The Pillars of Unbelief - Karl Marx,” 1988, Catholic Education Resource Center, 28 February 2010
vii. Ashley,
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