Self-centred culture will create division
Today we hear a great deal about personal autonomy. This philosophical concept is generally understood to be the ability to decide to be one’s own person, to live one’s life according to reasons and motives that are taken as one’s own and not the product of external forces.
This does not mean we have the freedom to do whatever we want. Every person should also be governed by an internal force that we call conscience.
A well-formed conscience guides our personal freedom in determining right from wrong. As individuals we do not live in isolation; we are part of a community.
St. Paul speaks about this interconnectedness when he uses the human body as an example for life in Christ.
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member, but of many … If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (I Cor.12:14;17)
So all the parts work together for the common good of the body. This is the principle of the common good and it maintains that the good of each person is intimately connected to the good of the whole community.
Another example can be found in the Holy Trinity.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself.” (CCC 234)
This mystery of faith can teach us about life, especially the dynamic between personal autonomy and the common good. Our God is a community of three persons; unique and yet one in substance. The communal relationship has as its source of power the Divine Love that is shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see unity in the midst of diversity.
Is this not a model for us as we seek to live in community?
Why is there division in the world?
A simple answer, from a Christian perspective, is Satan. You only have to look at the news today and you know that there is evil in this world. The devil sows seeds of division by tempting us to turn inward rather than outward.
When the common good is ignored, a self-centred culture will create division. My moral compass becomes the self: if something does not affect me negatively then it must be OK. Not everything is subjective and there are eternal truths that guide us and help us to build healthy communities.
Exaggerated individualism can also hinder public discourse and promote a belief that unity means uniformity, especially in thought. We need to be able to talk with one another without fear of being labelled or simply shut down.
There are critical issues facing us today that seem to be creating a great deal of division. Some of those issues are about life, family, morality, faith, the environment, and they are of vital importance to the good of the person and the good of our society. They need to be addressed in a spirit of respect and charity.
In his first encyclical on Truth, Unity and Peace (1959), Pope St. John XXIII made known to the world his desire to call an Ecumenical Council (Vatican II). He was concerned about the growing divisions that he saw in the world during the Cold War.
In order to set the tone for this significant gathering of bishops he offered this guiding principle: in essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity and in all things charity. This simple truth is just as significant today as it was almost 60 years ago.
We should promote the things that unite us, and try to overcome the things that divide, while maintaining a spirit of charity (love).