This week is a traditional time for Christians to pray for unity. The reality is that Christianity is fragmented. Other major world religions, who also desire unity, are also subject to factional differences. But religion is not alone in this respect. Look at the political scene across the world. In the USA, Joe Biden will be the 46th President but is facing a crisis arguably as great as the tensions before the Civil War. In the UK the effects of the pandemic have exacerbated the gaps between the rich and poor. Even in more totalitarian states such as Russia, China, Turkey there are cracks in the control the powerful seek to exert.
On a more personal level, we sometimes struggle to know where our centre of unity is. The pressures of lockdown have increased the levels of anxiety amongst many people. The ‘normal’ has gone and who knows when or if it will return? Rising incidence of suicide in Japan and of domestic violence in this country also point to the fragmentation of family life.
Is there anything positive to be found in the breaking apart of the presumed normal unity of our life? I remember the thesis of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that evolution follows a path of increasing diversity followed by a new level of unity. He believed this was in a direction of progress to higher consciousness, and that humanity is the current apex of life, but that there would be further diversity and a new unity until we reach the Omega Point, a kind of cosmic consciousness. He was a palaeontologist, Jesuit Priest, theologian and philosopher, but I wonder what he would have made of our present global situation.
Not all fragmentation is diversity. Nor is all unity a state of peaceful justice. We, as a society, are struggling with how to be diverse and yet treat each other with equal respect and dignity. This week marked the 40th anniversary of the New Cross fire, which was followed by a period of violent racial clashes. We are still wrestling with institutional racism and how to overcome it. We also are still wondering how to reduce the huge inequalities of wealth and power in our society. Reportedly many new millionaires have been created during the pandemic and billionaires are even more rich than they were before.
So, I am trying to see in what ways the breaking apart of common structures and customs can lead to opportunities for a new and more equal basis for us to relate to each other. Out of a crisis new beginning perhaps can come. I hope and pray that President Biden will make progress in that direction and that when we have more freedom of movement again in this country we will treat each other with greater respect and more equitably.