Research Paper: God, Individuality, and Religous Institutions

In my English class this fall, I wrote a research paper. It got an A, so I guess that it’s pretty good. So, like my earlier paper, I’m posting it online. Hey, why not?

Download PDF

In the modern western world, it has been often thought and told that God is a tyrant who hates individuals. This tyrant wants everyone to be a mindless drone. “On every hand are the enemies of individuality and mental freedom . . . At every turn we run against cherubim and a flaming sword guarding some entrance to the Eden of our desire” (Ingersoll par. 1). These opinions are often backed with examples of the Roman Catholic Church, the Puritans, John Calvin, or others. The advocates of these beliefs often hold the presumption that certain religious institutions and God agree on this matter. However, the Bible, along with other writings, shows how the God of Jesus (Hereby referred to as simply “God’) encourages individuality and why these religious institutions’ views on
individuality show they are separate from God.

This matter is very important as many individuals have attributed their success to God, while others have done otherwise. Non-believing individuals claim that God diminishes individuality. Meanwhile, believing individuals claim the opposite; that God enhances individuality.

Individuals are often thought as so because of their pursuit of self-pleasure. But is this individuality? Individuality, according to the Webster’s New World Dictionary, is “the sum of the characteristics or qualities that set one person apart from others; individual character” Character, as we know it, grows mostly due to challenges and trials of life. So, if individuality is determined by character, a better character makes a better individual. Therefore, an individual is not determined by his or her pursuit for self-pleasure, but by his or her character.

Many individuals, such as Ingersoll, saw the hypocrisy and oppression of religious institutions (in this case, the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Churches). This has led to many individuals to either abandon their belief or continue their disbelief in God. However, it is important to notice these individuals almost always overlook the foundational writings of the church—the Bible. Many, if not all, of Ingersoll’s arguments are against the religious institutions themselves, and not God. This shows that though the religious institutions are offenders of individuality, God has not been shown to be allied with them. This is the error of these individuals. They are certainly correct about the religious institutions, but not correct about God and His true position on individuality.

In order to show the differences between the religious institutions and God, the Bible must be used to show the hypocrisy of the religious institutions, much like how libertarians use the Constitution to expose the hypocrisy of politicians. By showing that the institutions contradict what is often accepted as the will of God, we can see the separation of the two. We see so many individuals in the picture, such as Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul. These were individuals whose individuality were enhanced and encouraged by God. The only “drones” explicitly noticeable are the Pharisees or other unbelievers. This shows that the view of individuality by God and religious institutions differ.

God’s view on individuality can first be shown for His care for each individual. Foster writes about how no one seemed to care about him—and realized God did, “This understanding was a real breakthrough as well as a hang-up for me. Nobody pursued me. Nobody thought of me as worthy of praise. Yet here God is seeking me, paying a price to love me.” Though nobody else seemed to care about Foster, not even the church he was attending, God did. Jesus also spoke of God’s great love for the individual:

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? . . . If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith (Luke 12:24-28 KJV)?

This is a very uplifting verse for an individual, much different than what many religious organizations and people say on God’s relationship with the individual. For example, according to one individual, the cause of Africa’s lack of reform can be pointed to Christianity’s ineffectiveness to make known the important of individual communication with God (Derroitte 158). By suppressing the importance of God’s care and focus on the individual, a community can suffer along with the individual. It is important to grasp the concept of God’s focus and care for the individual if one is to understand the differences of religious bureaucracy and a true relationship with God.

Forgiveness, one of the main traits in the Bible, is key to enhancing one’s individuality. It also reflects God’s care and concern for the individual, which can also enhance individuality. In his book Accept No Mediocre Life, David Foster writes, “Instead of holding your past sins and failures over your head, God will turn your past into a beautiful story of grace and redemption. . .You’re not one in a million; you’re more like one in several billion. Embrace your uniqueness and don’t apologize for it” (20). Forgiveness and grace help individuals move on from their past. Without it, guilt would hold individual confidence down. Many individuals are held back due to problems in the past. After the past is “erased” or forgotten, then the individual is able to move toward the future. An example of this is shown through the conversion of Paul. According to the book of Acts in the Bible, Paul (Then called “Saul”) was an authority figure who persecuted the Church (Acts. 7:58). After his conversion, his individuality is enhanced. This is shown through the letters he wrote to the Church. For example, Paul writes to Timothy about his amazement of God’s trust in him: “. . . the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1 Tim. 1:11-12). Paul was simply in awe about God’s trust and concern to lift him up as an individual, even when he persecuted the Church. By lifting him up, God allowed Paul to enhance his individuality.

Shame is widely used in religious institutions. It is common knowledge that over the centuries, religious institutions have used shame in order to maintain membership or an untarnished image. Eric S. Raymond, a neo-pagan, writes about Christianity promoting self-loathing as virtuous in “Suidicalism.” (par. 7) Paul Coughlin, a believer in God, agrees:

Shame is big in the church. Helps keep guys in line. Keeps their heads down. Keeps them humble. Supposedly.
Actually, without shame, guys might be able to live the vital life God intended. This world would be a lot better.
Instead, we have passive, naive Christian Nice Guys. We sit next to them in church all the time, not realizing their identity is being squashed, their will being broken . . . (No More Christian Nice Guy 14)

At first it would seem strange to see two individuals with such a different beliefs would agree on such a subject. But again, it must be understood that it is possible for religious institutions to be separate from God, while claiming to be with Him. An individual opposing a religious institution may appear to be opposing God, though in reality may be actually helping Him. This is what causes this misunderstanding. Shame, especially when used by a religious institution, is corrosive to individuality, holding it back. According to Coughlin, God intends us to be without shame, allowing the individuals to make the most out of their lives. This message is much different from that of the religious institutions. The second greatest commandment of God, according to the Bible, is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). We must love others as well as ourselves. If we hate ourselves, how can we love others? Also, with forgiveness—the reason for Jesus’ ministry, shame is removed due to the forgiveness of the past. After that, boldness appears. Boldness is a strong trait of bravery, which is a strong trait of individuality. Without it, no one would be able to express their individuality! Fear would hold everyone back if it weren’t for bravery. Everyone would be silent, keeping their personality inside them, just waiting to pour out. It allows the individual to be able to take a stand for him or herself and for others.

Boldness, however, should not be confused with an exclusive product of pride or as the opposite of meekness. Boldness and authenticity are fundamental to individuality. Without authenticity, the true individual is hiding within him or her. Individuality cannot be “real,” because the person is not “real.” Boldness is the ability and willpower to stand up for oneself. It is a product of strength. But likes all forms of strength, individual strength can be as harmful as it is helpful. Pride is the excessive strength (or thought of it) of the individual. No one needs a bomb to cook a steak. Of course, a bomb would hurt the attempt to cook the steak, much like pride hurts, rather then helps, individuality. In one of Paul’s letters to Timothy, Paul writes “. . . that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15 KJV). Think of the boldness it would take to describe oneself as the chief of sinners. It may seem like a statement of timidity at the first glance. However, in most cases of pride, we see individuals hiding and running away from their problems. In essence, they’re afraid. The proud are afraid of themselves. Pride, clouding their mind from themselves and others, plants the fear of self-failure. However, with meekness, Paul was able to cast off his past and move forward with his life. This shows that meekness does not mean one is not bold. In fact, meekness can cause one to be bold.

Meekness is often confused with timidity. Erwin McManus writes about true, passionate believers in The Barbarian Way. He writes how they aren’t afraid or appreciative of religious institutions, which shows a conflict between God and religious institutions (6). Also, in the Bible it becomes clear God shows his view on individuality by helping individuals throw off their timidity. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7 WEB). For example, according to the Bible, Moses was the meekest man on earth (Num 12:3). In the book of Exodus, however, Moses was not timid when he saw the golden calf. The book writes, “…he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it” (Exo.32:19-20). Moses doesn’t seem to fit the common conception of a meek individual. Something must be wrong–perhaps it is our perception of what meekness really is. Is meekness merely timid weakness? Or something deeper? Meekness is the necessary humility needed to avoid the swamp of pride. Being meek does not mean one must be weak or timid.

For individuality to be enhanced, there must be a set direction, or an open road of life available to the individual. Without this, an individual would be either lost or held back, or both. Many individuals unfortunately often hear the opposite from the religious institutions. In “Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan writes:

The man answered, “Because I fear that this burden that is upon my back will sink me lower than the grave, and I shall fall into Tophet. And, sir, if I be not fit to go to prison, am not fit (I am sure) to go to judgement and from thence to execution; and the thoughts of these things make me cry.”
Then said Evangelist “If this be thy condition, why standest thou still?’ He answered, “Because I know not whither to go.” (12)

Evangelist, the person who directs the man to God, asks why he is maintaining his individual status quo. He answers that he doesn’t know where to go. his man had been stuck and lost because he did not have a direction or road to follow. This is very important to use if one is to argue against the belief (Held by Christendom as well as non-believers) that God is holding people back or “keeping them still” (Ingersoll par. 14). In fact, He is pushing them forward. God gives people direction in order to throw off their individual status quo. In order to do this, He must first give us direction. In Pilgrim’s Progress, He does this by sending Evangelist to guide the traveler throughout his journey. By giving the traveler a sense of purpose, his individuality was enhanced, giving him the strength and meekness to move forward.

Though it is often considered to be the opposite, God’s view on individuality applies to both men and women. The individuality of women seems to suffer from chapter 5 in Ephesians. In verses 23 and 24, it is often perceived that the individuality is diminished. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:22-23 KJV). However, there are several other verses that put this in perspective. Another verse used in this argument is in Genesis when God says he will make a “helper” for Adam, referring to Eve. In the book of Psalms, however, it reads, “Behold, God is my helper. . .” (Ps. 54:4 WEB). Does this mean that God is less of an individual, a slave? Of course not. Also, as mentioned before, following God does not lessen one’s individuality. So, if a wife follows her husband as one follows Christ, individuality would be enhanced, not diminished.

God is often thought to hate those who think. Ingersoll writes:

The church hates a thinker precisely for the same reason a robber dislikes a sheriff, or a thief despises the prosecuting witness. Tyranny likes courtiers, flatterers, followers, fawners, and superstition wants believers, disciples, zealots, hypocrites, and subscribers. The church demands worship — the very thing that man should give to no being, human or divine. To worship another is to degrade yourself. (“Individuality” 9)

This is a good argument against religious institutions. However, another writing, which illustrates the difference between the religious institutions and God and explicitly claims their separation, puts this matter in perspective. “Escape from Christendom,” by Robert Burnell, explains the difference between “Christian City,” which represents the religious institutions, and the “City of God” with the surrounding wildernesses, which represents true fellowship with God. The description of Christian City paints a city of drones and zealots, which better reflects Ingersoll’s claim the the people from the City of God, “He sees busy people hurrying hither and yon with their Bibles and shiny attached cases, looking like men and women who know their destiny” (Burnell 10). When a traveler decides to end his journey for the City of God and stay, an old man is sent to encourage him to keep going: “it is clear they lack something which the old man with eyes like a prophet possesses.” (Burnell 10) The inhabitants of Christian City act the same, feel the same, and think the same. However, the old man had spark within him. He was a swan among ducks. The traveler notices this immediately, which convinces him to continue his journey. According to Burnell, individual commitment to God is important. In order for individual commitment to be individual, individuality must be enhanced. Without the individual, individual commitment is impossible. However, the religious institutions don’t seem to share this view, and this difference is shown by the religious institutions’ view on individual thinking.

By understanding God’s view on individuality and how it conflicts with that of the religious institutions, we see a separation between the religious institutions and God. It may seem strange, or even impossible, that there could be a separation or conflict between God and institutions claiming to uphold his views. Many individuals, both believing and non-believing, hold the belief that the religious institutions’ views are exactly in line with God. However, by looking at the examples above, one can find the opposite to be true.

Individuals–whether for God or not—are still individuals. However, individuality is enhanced and strengthened by God. According to Rev. Tom Jenkinson of the Capital Area Biblical Studies fellowship, the Bible reflects God uplifting individuals equally, not exclusively (Jenkinson). Also, the book of Acts in the Bible states that God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) Humanity, of course, often does not share this trait. The difference between believing individuals and non-believing ones isn’t the amount of individuality; it’s the purpose behind it. Individuals, such as Ingersoll and Raymond, are ultimately for themselves. However, individuals such as Paul or Moses, are ultimately for God and others. We can see this through the actions of the individuals. Paul used his individuality for the members of the first century church. Moses, as an individual, bravely defended his people from destruction. However, Ingersoll and Raymond uphold the belief that self-fulfillment and individuality are intertwined. Self-sacrifice and individuality can cohabit in an individual. Self-sacrifice, of course, requires self. Self-sacrifice and self-fulfillment are the differences between individuality without God, and individuality with God.

As we can see, God encourages and supports individuality, despite the common view that He doesn’t. Many individuals, such as Ingersoll and Raymond, believe that individuals are made through self-fulfillment. However, by simply looking in the dictionary, it becomes clear individuality is determined by character, and does not rely on the amount of self-fulfillment.

Understanding God’s view on individuality allows an individual to see the contrast between the religious institutions and God. As implied by Burnell, the followers of Christ have a spark of individuality not seen in the narrow-minded residents of Christian City. By attempting to bottle the power of God, the religious institutions have a differing view on individuality. Perhaps the reason for the difference is that limiting individuals allows a religious institution to have more power, which fits the case of the Roman Catholic Church, particulary during the Middle Ages.

Another reason could be a simple misunderstanding of some passages in the Bible. Several passages in the Bible use an extreme in order to make a point. For example, “And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27)? Does this mean to follow Christ one must literally hate their family? No, because we are told to “love thy neighbor” (Lev. 19:18). The Bible, like many forms of writing, uses figures of speech. No one who says, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” has eaten an entire horse. By saying the extreme, we can better understand a point. By misunderstanding the figures of speech used in the Bible, some religious institutions have diminished individuality, believing it to be God’s will.

Whatever the reason may be, it is clear the the religious institution’s view on individuality differs from God’s. This unfortunately has caused people to move away from God. Langston Hughes writes about his story of his “conversion,” which caused his disbelief in God (Hughes ). Instead of encouraging individual commitment to God, the church used pressure from the other members in order to turn an individual to God. McManus writes about the conversion of children, “So many of us have put or hope in teaching our children about God rather than guide them to the barbarian way.” According to McManus, many people are directing their children to God without letting them find Him themselves, as if they were “pushed” to believe. By seeking and following God, individuality must be developed. In this case, McManus calls it “the barbarian way,” a term he coined for the untamed, individual commitment to God.

It is unfortunate that the religious institutions have turned many individuals away from God, rather than to Him. However, by understanding that God’s view on individuality is different from that of the religious institutions, the many claims of individuals like Raymond, Ingersoll, and Hughes appear to be aimed at the religious institutions, not God. Perhaps the religious institutions are also wrong on other matters, not only individuality. Starting with the individual commitment to God, an individual may be able to see other differences and separations.

Individuality is important to all of us. It’s what makes an individual individual. As we have seen, it is also important to God. By encouraging individuality, God allows individuals to live to their fullest. By following God, individuals can enhance their individuality through doing the things God wills them to do. Too often people blindly follow stereotypes, claiming to be individuals. More individuals are needed, true individuals. Not an individual of self-pleasure, but of character. One who is ready to stand up and answer the challenge. Are you ready to follow God as an individual?

Works Cited

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress. Dodd, Mead and Company. Lynchburg, VA. 1979.

Burnell, Robert. “Escape from Christendom.” Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN. 1980.

Coughlin, Paul. No More Christian Nice Guy. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN. 2005.

Derroitte, Jean. Churches and Health Care in the Third World . Brill Academic Publishers. New York. 1991.

Foster, David “Accept No Mediocre Life.” Time Warner. New York. 2005.

“Individuality” Def. 1a. Webster’s New World Dictionary. Simon & Schuster. New York. 3rd College ed. 1988.

Ingersoll, Robert G. “Individuality.” 1878. Bank Of Wisdom. 5 Oct. 2005 (

Jenkinson, Tom. “The Power of the Renewed Mind.” 2005. Oct 21, 2005 (http ://

The Holy Bible: King James Version. 1995. Muskegon, MI. Oct 3, 2005. (http ://

McManus, Erwin R. The Barbarian Way. Nelson Books. 2005.

Raymond, Eric. “Suicidalism”. 2005. Oct 6, 2005. (http ://

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment