3/12/2008 20:32

Unity Disunity

We humans have a enormous desire for community, for being a part of something larger than ourselves, for joining, for conforming, for being like other people who are like us.

We have also a penchant for excluding, for separating, for dividing each other, for identifying us based on our defining them.

Why should it be that creatures who hunger so much for unity should spend so much effort on division? What fear drives us away from creating and building what we desire? Why is it that we have (in the title of Arjun Appadurai's book) a Fear of Small Numbers of people joining our group, of increasing our community?

I think we are afraid that we are all different. Not afraid that we might be different; no: we are all different and we are afraid of that. We are afraid that when someone who has not been thoroughly assimilated is welcomed into our group and says something different from what we ourselves understand -- no, from what I myself understand, that then another in our group may say, "Yes! I understand what you are saying, I have felt something like what you feel." We are afraid that we do not have any more in common with the members of our present community than we have with someone outside our community.

We are afraid that our sense of unity, that sense which we have so carefully cultivated to fill our deep hunger for unity -- we are afraid that it is what it actually is: an illusion of unity.

The hunger to join together, to become one, is a gift which God has given us. It is one of the greatest of all natural human gifts. And we, warped, limited beings that we are, we try desperately hard to substitute some little approximation of community for the real thing. And we know that this is not the real thing; we can feel it, we can see it, we can demonstrate it, we can deny it.

In our warped, little way we see some glimmer of human community and we say, "This is it! This is true community! This is all there is!" We try to twist our hunger to fit within our shadow until we ourselves are warped and twisted and small, so small, in fact, that we believe ourselves when we say that this little cupful of community is the whole wide ocean to which we have been called.

And then, should someone from the outside step one foot into our cupful of everything, and some of everything should splash out and we should hear it dribbling into the ocean, then -- what have we then? Even less than a cupful. Even less than an illusion. Nothing.

Therefore we are afraid.

How could we not be afraid? Only if we could straighten out, only if we could become less twisted around, not contained by our little cup. Only if we could be as big as we actually are and if we could touch the ocean of unity that is as big as big as it could actually be. Only then could we not be afraid of losing a little of our cupful of everything.