Here is an interesting thing that I found in an article in a recent ‘Age’ (reprinted from the New York Times)(Newspaper). The author, David Brooks was meditating upon the movement in opposite directions for complete autonomy, while at the same time, being very lonely. He finishes by saying ‘Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, I get the sense that a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements. It would not surprise me if the big change were…an end to the apotheosis of freedom.’
Looking at his other articles, I would not be surprised if he did not already know that the ancient Greek philosophers dealt constantly with the problem of ‘the one and the many.’ Even in ‘Star Trek’ the issue is attended to. Remember? Spock, as a rational scientist always privileges ‘the many’ over ‘the one’ . He thinks that the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the one. But when James T. Kirk goes after him, he, in perhaps good old US individualist fashion, says ‘Sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.’
Even in the scientific method there is the same problem. The official version of the method says that the ‘one’ is a specific case of a more generalised theory (‘the many’). It is only as ‘each individual case’ can find its place among the many that it makes sense. But science too has the problem of ‘the one’ and ‘the many’ because often it is the ‘outliers’, the rare events and the contradictions presented by individual results that cause the scientists to re-think the general theory.
So the problem is everywhere: both in the drive for the opposite poles of individualism and community, and in the relationships of individual results in science, and the ‘general’ theory.
David Brooks says something else in his article. He reminds us of a Ryan Lewis song which goes “We cam to live life like nobody was watching, I got my city right behind me, if I fall, they got me.” David Brooks comments ‘In the first line they want complete autonomy; in the second complete community. But of course you can’t really have both in pure form.’
So my thinking about this is that David Brooks is looking for a model, that will deal with the problem of ‘the one’ and ‘the many’.
Oftentimes, the solution to this problem is put out as compromise. Nobody gets what they want, but everybody gets what they can live with.
Another solution is the idea of either dictatorship or democracy. Democracy, in theory at least, favours ‘the many’ while a dictatorship favours ‘the one.’
But I think that Christianity has a very good model that can deal with the problems of ‘the one’ and the many’. This model is called ‘The Trinity’.
Here is how it works. First up God, as the most ‘real’ thing that there can be is revealed to us as Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. Their relationships are described in those paradoxical terms that unite the ‘one’ and the ‘many’. The idea goes that each ‘persona’ (Greek: hypostasis) Father, Son and Spirit, has its own ‘self’. The three are not all the same, but each persona has a distinct being. These distinctions are to be maintained, not collapsed into one another.
But, and here is the paradox, the three persona form a community of Oneness. The three are not three gods, but One God.
This paradox then is the starting point for our reflection. In God, the problems of the ‘one’ and the ‘,any’ are solved.
But is there anything more that can be said about this? Well yes. The thinking goes further. How is it that the three can become one without losing their identities? The answer that is given is ‘by dancing.’ This means that the ‘three’ of the Trinity are involved in a ‘dancing around’ of mutual self giving love. The technical term for this dance is ‘perichoresis.’ (we also get the word ‘carol’ from the same root, since a ‘carol’ was originally not a song, but a dance).
So the way in which the problems of ‘the three and the many’ are dealt with is by participation in, and a modelling of the life of god in our lives. We too are called to ‘dance around’ in mutual love.
This dancing has two features to it that I think are important.
First of all is the idea of ‘movement.’ Sometimes the needs of the one do out weigh the needs of the many. But sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. The trick to deciding about this is flexibility and movement. This is ‘the dance’. Dancing works best when involves a constant movement and a negotiation of who is leading and who is following. The idea of ‘god as Trinity’ builds this movement into the overall picture, and so mitigates against a stuck-ness in either a commitment to ‘the one’ or a commitment to ‘the many’.
But this movement is dangerous. The most frightening thing abpout learning to ski (another kind of dance) is that when one unloads the skis to make a turn, there is no edge in the snow to hold you. Turning on skis involves the trust that in making the ‘turn’ that one can find another ‘anchor point’ in the snow.
The same is true of relationships. To give ones self to another, to give up ones individuality for the sake of togetherness, or to take back ones individuality, at the expense of togetherness risks losing either ones self, or the community.
This is where love comes in. When one knows that one is loved by the other, then it is the love that holds the relationship, while we are ‘giving ourselves up’ to the other, or ‘taking ourselves back’ from the other. It is love and trust that give us the freedom to take part in ‘the dance’.
This is a pretty big ask, but I think it is a model that works, and that is better than much else that is out there. This model, of God, the determiner of our reality, as Trinity is one reason why Christian faith should not be dismissed or relegated to the realms of ‘spirituality’ or ‘the private’.