I don’t think it came from my church or my religious faith. If anything, they taught me to value community.
An oft-told sermon illustration says that a fire burns hot while its embers are gathered together. Remove any single ember from that fire, and that ember soon grows cold and lifeless.
The same applies to human interaction. I have been known to argue that a truly isolated individual can never be fully human. Our relationships make us who we are.
The error of thinking that communitarianism is more moral than individualism is an old one, as well as a very common one among the modern left: many of the ancient Greeks, including Plato, thought disciplined Sparta was somehow more moral than individualistic Athens on this basis.
But they were, and are, wrong.
In the gospel, it is pretty plain that Jesus took pains to cut all conventional tendrils of community. He did not marry. He rejected allegiance to family (“What have I to do with you, woman?”) and demanded that any true follower do the same (“Let the dead bury their own dead.” “Whoever does not despise his own father and mother for my sake is not worthy of me.”) He apparently rejected ties of nationality, speaking openly to Samaritans, praising Samaritans and Roman soldiers; and this stance was affirmed by the early church (“neither Jew nor Greek in Christ”). Given that, as an itinerant teacher and preacher, his occupation was “Pharisee,” he obviously felt no strong allegiance to his class or trade (“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees!”).
In this “rugged individualism,” he stands, of course, directly in the tradition of the prophets, who almost to a man left their settled communities and lived a life of wandering, often in the desert. Truly isolated individuals.
So it would seem that Christianity and Judaism (not to mention Buddhism) are clearly on the side of individualism being more moral than life in community. Not all communities, clearly, are equally bad—the church, too, is a community—but the need to reject community seems to be prior in all of this. A principled, strict, individualism comes first, and then voluntary communities can be formed by a conscious contract among individuals retaining their inherent individual rights.
The lesson of history agrees. The idea that community comes first was, as the names imply, the core ideal of both Fascism and Communism, not to mention the Cosa Nostra and the Ku Klux Klan. The greatest crimes of mankind have always been in the name of community and communitarianism.
The problem is that community--”peer pressure”--subverts conscience and free will. “Following community values” can be a great excuse for doing deeds that, if we accepted individual responsibility, would seem plainly immoral.
Every tie that binds us closer to the other members of a given group, after all, automatically and equally also loosens our bonds to all the members of humanity who do not belong to that group.
We will not be saved because we belonged to the right club.
Sparta is long gone, and there are few traces remaining. Fascism, too, is gone, and the old Soviet empire. Freewheeling, trading, Athens went on to found Western Civilization, and is still there, thriving.