In the current cultural and social climate saturated with contentious and polarizing rhetoric, the idea that we belong together in community may appear out of place. More and more, digital landscapes have become havens for vitriolic postings, revealing little to no interest in finding common ground or cultivating genuine dialogue. Similarly, through in-person interactions, the practice of civil discourse, the virtue of humility and the art of listening to others have too often given way to insensitive tactics driven by our need to prove our point at any cost.
This combative and divisive approach is made worse by our propensity to overvalue our individualism, independence and pride, which prevents us from generously opening our hearts to others in need. With a cultural ethos that rewards and thrives on individual success, it’s not difficult to see how fighting for and doing all we can to have it our way becomes paramount. Consequently, we find ourselves becoming more isolated and indifferent to the joys and struggles of those around us.
I suspect that this drive to double-down on our individualistic views for how the world should be ordered will continue to influence our attitudes and behaviors. In family, professional and social circles, we will continue to seek what seems best for us. And while there is some good in having the temperament and skills to negotiate vigorously for what matters most to us, there is more to the picture. In short, our personal needs and desires are situated within the larger human web of intersubjectivity and the common good.
As people of faith and spirituality, we know this quality of being interconnected and interrelated all too well. In sacred Scriptures, for instance, we discover images and metaphors that encourage us to embrace our communal identity and spirit. “We were baptized into one body in a single Spirit, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as free men, and we were all given the same Spirit to drink … Now Christ’s body is yourselves, each of you with a part to play in the whole (1 Corinthians 12:13; 27).
Our faith reminds us that our personal dignity and group identity are rooted in being the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God (Genesis 1:27). Ours is the God who reveals reconciliation, community and solidarity: “God has composed the body so that greatest dignity is given to the parts which were without it…If one part is hurt, all the parts share in its pain. And if one part is honored, all the parts share in its joy” (1 Corinthians 12:22;26). How each of us will responds to this Gospel vision of reconciliation and solidarity depends on our own personal circumstances in life. On the other hand, what is not negotiable or dependent on us is precisely the dignity given to us in Christ.
Therefore, in a world that seems increasingly entrenched in avoiding the griefs and joys of our neighbors, and overly preoccupied with individualistic goals, callous opposition and divisive rhetoric, it can be hard to embrace the Gospel vison of a fraternal, compassionate and communal life. Still, as people of faith, we dare to hold on to this gift of dignity, community and shared belonging. “So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belongs to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God (1 Corinthians 3:18-24).
F. Javier Orozco
First published September 17, 2020 in the St. Louis Review