Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thoughts on Unity

My neighbour asked me to share my thoughts on unity with her. She is preparing a worship service for her church and had recently discovered that I am a theologian. So far our efforts to connect to have the actual conversation hasn't panned out but I've been thinking and thought I'd share some of my thoughts here. I also think that it fits into the theme of the day.

The first thing I think about for unity is that it is not uniformity. This is foundational. Uniformity is, in my thinking, the opposite of unity. It is the inability to recognize others as others but to insist on conformity. In a real sense this represents the devaluing of the human spirit/potential, the inability to allow each of us to explore our unique journeys, or at least to not explore them in the company of those who insist on uniformity. Unity can only occur when there is real difference and a choice to live with the tensions that such differences might produce.

I will take a step further and say that unity, ideally speaking, celebrates difference. Unity is the overcoming of the tensions difference create not by subsuming all differences into some indefinite slurry, but rather by recognizing that we are not all identical and that our dissimilarities are often the sources of our strengths. These strengths are the contribution that makes unity desirable. When we bring our unique selves to the community we enrich the whole. (The opposite is when we force conformity then we rob the community of its ability to act/create.) So, religiously speaking, when I come to community I bring my whole identity with me.

In a very real sense there is a notion of tolerance implicit in unity. Not the kind of tolerance that forces differences to be understated, but the sort that is willing to explore the differences in others to understand why those differences matter to the other. Tolerance means we accept the other as the other truly is, even if we disagree with the position of the other. As a second step we try to understand the other on their own terms. Paying attention to how their difference(s) contribute to a stronger community.

It might be easy to see how this unity, that I describe, can take us beyond even our own religious identities. This is what makes hatred so offensive to me. It is a violence against difference, an intolerance of difference and an enemy of unity.


byron smith said...

What is the role or place of Christ in unity?

One of Freedom said...

Good question. Actually for a Christian Christ should have a lot to do with unity. Whenever I think through unity I am always influenced by the idea of Social Trinitarianism, God as community in full celebration of difference. Then there is Christ's incarnational example - who he invited/included in his table fellowship.

It is when you start to move beyond the boundaries of religion that things get trickier. As a Christian I can see Christ in the actions of those who work for unity, be they Moslem, Athiest, etc. But to claim that this is Christ in action is sort of offensive. In the way the Rahner's notion of an Anonymous Christian is offensive. But it is a particularity of my faith stance. What I would do is say that such actions demonstrate qualities that are/should be evoked by the best of Christian religion.

The way I envision unity allow that sort of breathing room. It allows that I can draw on the explanatory powers of my religion to understand my connection to an other - but at the same time the other does not have to accept my religions mediation of their actions. But that we both recognize a good that we are engaged in - unity.

In another way, I would say that Christ also gives a clear imperative to Christians to hold their particularity. Incarnationally through the example of resisting unjust religious claims. What we, as Christians, need to remember is that unlike Christ those critiques should be reciprocal. Only then can our Buddhist neighbour bring out the best Christian in us (and likewise we should always bring out the best Buddhist in them).

Becky said...

Rather than "tolerance" the term I much prefer is "appreciative understanding". Tolerance is necessary to survive in civil society, but appreciative understanding is what we need to grow and appreciate diversity - so to really experience unity.