4. Greece had a strong individualist ethic. Man was the measure of all things and reason reigned. Socrates and Aristotle had forgiving views of human morality; immorality was the result of ignorance or imbalance rather than a desire to defy God or consort with Satan. Therefore, the individual didn’t have to be afraid of himself. One was allowed to think, to reason, to consult different sources such as the Oracle, the mind, or the world around to gain knowledge. Each individual was believed to have a specific fate that was his/hers and his/hers alone. The deities were highly individualized and personal. This most democratic, in the literal sense of the word, society allowed and indeed expected each citizen to be fully aware and involved in politics, ostracized when they were not at court to give opinion rather than for dissenting ones.
Gnostic Christianity was also intensely individualistic. Gnosticism, meaning to know, held that to know oneself was to know God and vise versa. They took the Biblical phrase “The Kingdom of God is within you,” to a much more literal extent than did so called “orthodox” Christianity. Christianity is a highly individualistic religion, the focus is on the individual soul’s achievement rather than the group one belongs to, and the doctrine of repentance shows the individual’s ability to change and progress in spite of past mistakes.
Orthodox Christianity did not embrace individualism to this extent, at least not at first. The western doctrine of original sin (this does not exist in the Eastern orthodox religions today, but Catholics and most Protestants in the west still hold to it) claims that we are all guilty for Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. This doctrine arguably negates individuality, because it means one can be held responsible for another’s actions-and what is individual if not the actions, thoughts, and words of one person as opposed to another? (One may say that all Christianity, if following this logic, negates individuality. This however depends largely on how the atonement actually works in one theology vs. another.) While salvation is an individual process, orthodoxy (which means narrow way) held that all individuals had to do the same individual things-and conformity, no matter how small the group or the similarity, is necessarily the opposite of individualism.
The Romance of Tristan and Isolde, who are conspicuously absolved of sin by any picky readers through the drinking of a love potion, widened the road for individuals a bit. Romantic love is an individual thing-it is the defining, individual characteristics of the lovers that draw them to each other.
Parzival, then, takes this to the next level. Parzival can only save the fisher king by asking him what is wrong, which is frowned upon by society. Each knight must take their own path. Parzival’s “heathen” brother representing nature is brought into the fold. The grail king can only find relief when looking into his soul. The story is replete with individualism.