Having summarized several aspects of Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart last October, I want to turn briefly to Nathan Hatch’s work in Democratization of American Christianity which should help to create a better vista of how our current doctrines and practice are be compromised by individualism.
Hatch attempts to show how the democratic spirit of early America set the tone for the American church as it took on the spirit of the age. This democratic spirit emerged in three profound ways. First, American’s rejected the traditional separation between clergy and laity where power and virtue was transferred from the educated elite to larger body of individuals.1 Apart from the well educated elite and tradition, individuals were free to explore their “spiritual impulses” thus defining faith for themselves. Filled with democratic hope, Christianity was to become a liberating force for all people from authoritarian structures. From these beginnings, Hatch says that three tendencies emerged for American Christianity: 1) mingling of diverse and contradictory sources, 2) fragmentation, and finally inversion of authority. American religious experience mirrors what was taking place in the name of equality and freedom both at a national level and within its constituents by the systematic and simultaneous raising of the common individual by casting off oppressive authority and placing that authority into the hands of each person. A largely untrained people became the prime interpreters of scripture, now taken from the oppressive hands of educated clergy revealing a populist common-sense or self-evident hermeneutic.
 Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 9.
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 35.
The lifestyle enclave becomes a means of self-expression where the self has been divided between the working public life and private and intimate sphere of the home. Once the self is separated from family, religion, and work, individuals can express their “unique identity” by joining lifestyle enclaves. Rooted in private leisure and consumption, enclaves gather those who are “socially, economically, or culturally similar” to enjoy like-minded individuals. In contrast to a community which seeks to be inclusive, celebrating the interdependence of public and private life, the lifestyle enclave is exclusive. Marriages and church affiliation reduced to the affinity of lifestyle enclaves.
If we have separated the self from family, religion, work, and tradition, what is left to constitute the self? The simple answer is our preferences. But, what are these choices really based upon? If selves are simply defined by their preferences which are arbitrary, “each self constitutes its own moral universe, and there is finally no way to reconcile conflicting claims about what is good in itself.” Without any larger objective framework for right and wrong, good and evil, the self and its feelings become the moral guide. The self is constantly in progress but without fixed moral end and is able to adapt behavior to various social roles. Self-awareness and self-knowledge leading to personal happiness become the keys forming ones personal moral convictions.
Finding oneself also means finding the story in which our life seems to make sense. Yet they seek to do this as individuals without reference or perceived shared experience with a “larger generational, historical religious context” Each life stage becomes a crisis of further individuation. Public work and the private lifestyle enclave become the means of orienting or filling ones divergent selves.
The individual, while striving for self-reliance still seeks out social interaction in the lifestyle enclave. He is afraid to admit the need to such interaction at the expense of his independence and identity. Rather than an empty, unencumbered, consuming self, what would the interactions of a encumbered self look like? The authors suggest Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue to describe communities of memory. Communities are in many ways constituted by their past and re-telling those stories as its central narrative, and by doing so, “offers examples of men and women who have embodied and exemplified the meaning of the community.” Traditions are built upon the stories and lives the community and “contain conceptions of character, what a good person is like, and of the virtues that define such a character.” These stories tell of health and sickness, success and failure bind the community to the past and turn to the future in hope. We see our part in the story being woven into the greater whole. This takes place at the family level as we pass on stories, heirlooms, and practice family rituals. Communities of memory are also practiced at the national level seen in our holidays and monuments. But powerfully we see the potential for this in the church. Each Sunday and liturgical year, our journey to the church building and worship services re-enact and re-constitute the Christian narrative and community. History and memory become the key to constituting ones future. These communities are enacted in special ways called “practices of commitment.” Memories, hopes, and fears are not only passed on orally but are also practices that define the “patterns of loyalty and obligation that keep the community alive.” Yet, where history is forgotten, community “degenerates into life-style enclaves.”
America has had a varied past of established and disestablished religion. However, once it is disestablished it becomes a private matter to be practiced within the church walls and at home. For many in America, religion is a private and optional matter not to enter the public domain. As a private matter, the autonomous individual, apart from the constraints of any religious system is free to concoct a spirituality as they choose. The authors highlight a woman named Sheila Larson who has named her religion or faith after herself. “Sheilaism” is based on “her little voice” to “love yourself and be gentle with yourself” and “take care of each other.” Since religion is a private matter, diversity or plurality is not only acceptable but encouraged.
 Bellah, 72.
 Ibid., 76.
 Ibid., 76-77.
 Ibid., 82.
 Ibid., 153.
 Ibid., 154.
 Ibid., 221.
Another significant part of Bellah's study that is helpful for many is the articulation of therapeutic tendencies of our culture. Therapy is often related to the expressive individualism we just explored because it focuses on the individual and ones choices about roles, commitments, that one will make. Yet these choices are not based on a larger framework again, but according to “life-effectiveness” as the individual perceives it. Therapy itself suggests a need for cure. But from what? The cure seeks to re-adjust ones social construction between self and the world, private and public meaning. Individuals are able to think in terms of commitments regarding such decisions as marriage, work, and church, as either enhancements or entanglements en route to self creation of ones individuality. In the cultivation of self we see its connection to expressive individualism but its larger root comes from the rub by the incompatibility between the natures of public utilitarian individualism and the private expressive individualism. Only by accepting and asserting ourselves can we enter into “real” relationships.
Several common themes emerge for American individuals: self-reliance, leaving home, leaving church, and work. Self-reliance is a nineteenth-century term popularized by Emerson. Self-reliance in the biblical and republican traditions maintains a collective note expressed in the Puritans who left society to rely upon each other. Yet for the utilitarian and expressive individualists, self-reliance was purely individualistic.
Individuation is a natural part of human development, yet it is a hyper-individuation in America. “Childhood is chiefly preparation for the all-important event of leaving home…in late adolescence” and becomes a recurring theme throughout life. Coming of age means “breaking away from dependency on parents and relying themselves.”
Not unrelated to leaving home, many American’s leave church as well. It is expected that during ones youth, decisions will be made about whether or not to attend church and subsequently which one. Individuals cannot merely assimilate the views of their parents but must make them “particularly and peculiarly one’s own.” This is heightened in Protestantism by “demanding…a unique conversion experience.” The authors point out a fantastic irony by saying, “just where we think we are most free, we are most coerced by the dominant beliefs of our own culture. For it is a powerful cultural fiction that we not only can, but must, make up our deepest beliefs in the isolation of our private selves.”
The demand to “make something of yourself” through work is also a common theme for American individuals. Our sense of work shapes how we view ourselves. For some, jobs are to make a living. For others, the career traces progress through achievement and advancement and is built on success and self-esteem. Whereas calling suggest that ones work and morals are inseparable as an offering of the self into a community for the larger good.
 Bellah, 47.
 Ibid., 47.
 Ibid., 98.
 Ibid., 55.
 Ibid., 57.
 Ibid., 63.
 Ibid., 65.
 Ibid., 66.
For Americans, freedom is likely the most deeply resonant and shared value of American society. Yet this freedom, is conceived in the libertarian sense (as we have commented often this semester) as freedom from others values, ideas, lifestyles in both private and public life. Commonality is shared only in the right of the individual to pursue ones own ideals. Justice, based individual rights, becomes the only means to effect and ensure such equal opportunity. In so far as success, justice, and freedom all are common American themes, they provide little help in talking about anything beyond the individual.
The authors suggest that cultural traditions are conversations or arguments about the meaning of the groups shared destiny. Americans have often used a biblical and/or republican mode of discourse to speak of the country’s shared destiny and meaning. The Puritans become the prime exemplar in their desire to create a community where one could live a truly spiritual life. A libertarian sense of freedom is rejected in favor of a “moral” freedom of what is “good, just, and honest” in the context of the covenant between God and humanity. In contrast, the republican ideal casts Thomas Jefferson as the exemplar of public participation for the larger good of society. Equality is conceived as a universal principle defined in primarily political terms to allow equal citizen participation in a self-governing society.
The authors describe individualism in two particular forms: utilitarian and expressive. Benjamin Franklin is the epitome of the utilitarian expression of individualism where the individual rises to success through hard work and personal initiative. Many believed that if each individual vigorously pursued his or her own interest, the social good would also automatically emerge. Societal participation becomes contractual where individuals enter merely to advance ones self-interests.
Expressive individualism, a form of Romanticism and best exemplified by Walt Whitman, arose in reaction to the materialistic pursuits of utilitarian individualism. Expressive individualism sought to cultivate the self and self-expression where each person has a “unique core of feeling and intuition that must unfold if individuality is to be expressed.” These sentiments are easily identifiable in Whitman’s writings, as well as, Emerson, Thoreau, Melville and others. For the expressivists, “the ultimate use of the American’s independence was to cultivate and express the self and explore its vast social and cosmic identities.”
 Ibid., 27. See Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 206-207.
 Ibid., 30-31,
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 333-4.
“How ought we to live? How do we think about how to live? Who are we, as Americans? What is our character?” So begins Habits of the Heart. Its authors, delving into the life and values of “white, middle-class Americans” explore the pervasiveness of individualism. Their study and title gives homage to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America by returning to his “admiration and anxiety” over the great strength of American individuals, as well as, the potentially isolating tendency of individualism. Tocqueville described these American mores or “habits of the heart” not only as “ideas and opinions but habitual practices with respect to such things as religion, political participation, and economic life.” He described it as the disposition of “each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraws into the circle of family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself”…where individuals “imagine their whole destiny is in their hands”…finally forgetting their ancestors and descendents.
This sociological study explores the nature of the individual’s participation in both public life through local politics, activism, and voluntary associations and ones private life in terms of love, marriage, and therapy. The first chapter highlights four very distinct individuals which serve to illumine their points through out the text. Even though they betray sharp contrasts in many ways they all share a common individualistic vocabulary in conversations about morality, society, and politics which they call the “first language of American individualism.” Their differences often come in a variety of second languages.
These four individuals give us a broad look at cultural values and the difficulty of reconciling them. The authors claim that our “American cultural traditions define personality, achievement and the purpose of human life in ways that leave the individual suspended in glorious, but terrifying, isolation” because ones selected “values and priorities” are merely a personal choice, as long as it does not interfere with the choices of others, and not justified by a “wider framework of purpose or belief.” The good is then defined by one finds rewarding however, as ones preferences change, so does the good.
Where there is no shared standard value system, individuals all exist on equal ground where tolerance becomes the virtue of plurality. As a private matter, one cannot impose upon another’s chosen values. In such a world, conflicts are resolved by “honesty and communication” of ones “needs and desires” as matters of “technical problem solving, not moral decision.” Morality then is based on the highly subjective nature of personal preferences. Values are arbitrarily chosen. As a result, successful self-reliance and self-fulfillment become the standards for choosing those preferences and yet, that self-fulfillment is done in radical isolation without means of affecting that same fulfillment for others. The only, and very ironic, fragile unity that such a strident diversity is able to bring about is in the language of individual rights.
 Robert N. Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), xli.
 Ibid., xliii
 Ibid., xlii
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 16.