Several years ago, I was repeatedly distracted by the idea of one-vs-many. It seemed to present itself in all sorts of contexts, the way something does when it demands admittance into our consciousness. I even wrote several posts on the subject, seeing the conflict (for that is what it was) in several different guises. When that sort of thing happens, we usually find the source of the disturbance in our own psyche, and so I searched for it there, found its personal manifestation, and set about resolving the conflict in my own life.
But it’s not merely personal. That’s increasingly obvious. It has pervaded our lives, not only in the United States, but abroad as well. It is at the root of the political unease in Europe, the religious intolerance, cultural chaos, and loss of identity. The economic success of the EU has kept the thin fabric of society together, but the edges are fraying. Brexit in the United Kingdom came as a shock; so did the phenomenal unexpectedness of Trump’s election in the United States.
It is also manifested in the Church under our current pope, whose excursions into national political and economic issues outside the Church are unprecedented in the papacy, and whose unusually reluctant and vague incursions on matters of Church doctrine have been extraordinary—as noted even by secular observers. It has almost become a cliché among Catholic journalists to correct secular reporters with “What the Pope really said was … “ His recurring theme is community, sometimes varied by references to unity. The Catholic in the pew is taught that he must not perceive himself a Catholic person, but only a part of the Catholic Church, perhaps with ecclesial, social, economic, political, racial or sexual markers attached to give him his group identity, since there is no individual identity. The notion of selfhood exclusive of these tags is sinful, hence, the reluctance of the Holy Father to refer to matters of personal morality, and his eagerness to talk about group morality.
It seems to be the reigning desire everywhere to dissolve distinction into some kind of amorphous unity. Yet this rush to “inclusiveness” has only bred intolerance, now grown to an alarming degree—such that anyone of a different opinion is not even allowed to speak but literally shouted down. Examples are too numerous to mention. The term individualism is pronounced with a sneer at best; it’s most often used to explain away the apparent evil of withdrawal, non-participation, or even just a different opinion.
This affects us on all different levels—offices and faculties, parishes and families, and of course, all media. There is no escape from the omnipresent demand for conformity, including, sadly, in our churches. Because the gospel of “Community” sounds so Christian, rather like the ease with which the Christian “God is love” was inverted to the secular “Love is God,” and opened the door for all sorts of crimes against the dignity of the human person, all in the name of love.
The many have declared war on the one, and in some way or other, we are all combatants in that war. I remember a teacher who said she loved teaching—she just couldn’t stand the students. And I remember a young assistant priest who was at our parish briefly. He was very popular, “cool,” and older parishioners were thrilled by his appeal to the younger crowd. He often remarked that he loved being a priest. One evening he held a “faith-sharing” group, and an older lady (not one of his crowd), so excited by the long-awaited opportunity to share her faith, talked about her encounter with Christ in prayer. But the priest wanted us to encounter Christ in each other, in “community.” He interrupted her with: “That’s good, Anne, but let’s give someone else a chance to speak.” The hurt on the woman’s face was visible. She didn’t say another word, and neither did anyone else, so the cool young priest was able to light the candle he’d brought with him and play his guitar for everyone. A shepherd loves his flock—it’s just those annoying bleating lambs that get in the way.
And a good pastor is now defined as a good administrator; thus our parishes become just another club we join for family or group social activities, and we are made to feel guilty for the smallest timid request for personal human kindness. We learn to curb our “expectations.” After all, “it’s not about you.” It’s especially not about you if you’re not influential in some useful way that would help the parish grow, or diminish its debt for the new social hall. And it’s most especially not about you if you’re an unattractive, unintelligent, unconnected, old, poor, lost, lonely, sick—sheep. Go away. And many do just that.
Fortunately, some Christians have learned not to confuse “pastor” with “shepherd.” And the result of the painful invisibility that comes from the gospel of community is that we seek—and then are found by—the Shepherd. He always seeks out those of us who don’t matter, for it takes a sheep to recognize the voice of the shepherd. We know him because he calls us by name, individually, personally. He does not call communities—groups, clubs, families, parishes, nations or tribes. He calls persons.
All the foregoing is the local, personal, picture; the larger and more global picture is called The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. I haven’t read that controversial book, but I’ve read the reviews, and it sounds as though someone has seen with an eagle’s eye what I have seen with my snail’s eye.
The many have always despised the One. I don’t know why. But whatever their reason, it’s the same reason that Christians are the most aware of the conflict and the same reason that Christians are persecuted now more than any other time in modern history. Ideological totalitarianism is anti-Christian by its very nature, for even though it expresses frequently as the misnomer “anti-Semitism,” it’s always been simply hatred of the Jew.