One and All

9781742614250-197x300I have always enjoyed the offerings of Hugh Mackay, no less his current title The Art of Belonging, which I have just begun to read. His journal-like writing as a sociologist has always been most accessible.

This work is worth chewing on for anyone remotely involved in community work, especially faith communities. The struggle of the human need to elevate self-autonomy while voluntarily submitting to social cohesion finds many expressions in school canteens, tennis club committees, coffee klatches – and parish councils. I daresay we see the same dynamic alluded to in the New Testament correspondence of the Apostle Paul and his contemporaries.

In discussing the human need for social interaction, even in a highly individualistic culture, Mackay quotes another social analyst, Richard Eckersley, in a sidebar ‘Redefining the Self’ to a paper titled ”Whatever Happened to Western Civilization?” in The Futurist, (November-December 2012).

It has an inviting twist that excites my imagination. Here it is:

Redefining the Self

One specific example of how a cultural redefinition might take place—encouraging
self-interested, competitive individualists to become, instead, more altruistic and cooperative—is by changing how we construe the self.
When I was at school we were taught that the atom was made up of solid particles,
with electrons whizzing around the nucleus like planets orbiting the sun.
Now, we think of the atom as more like a fuzzy cloud of electrical charges. Similarly,
we currently think of the self as a discrete, biological being with various
needs it seeks to satisfy. Like atoms combining into molecules, we form and dissolve
bonds with other separate selves to create and terminate relationships. Sociologists
talk of modern society as one of “atomized” individuals.

What if we were to see the self not as a separate physical entity, but as a fuzzy
cloud of relational forces and fields? This would be a self of many relationships, inextricably linking us to other people and other things and entities. Some are close
and intense, as in a love affair or within families; some are more distant and diffuse,
as in a sense of community or place or national or ethnic identity; and some
may be more subtle, but still powerful, as in a spiritual connection or a love of nature.
These relationships can wax and wane, vary in intensity and charge (positive or
negative). Importantly, they never end—for example, the break-up of a marriage, or
the death of a parent or child, does not “end” the relationship, but just changes it.
Transforming how we see the self in this way—as a fuzzy cloud of relationships—would
change profoundly how we see our relationships to others and to the world. It would, for example, reduce Western culture’s fear of death, and all that means for well-being. It brings us closer to how indigenous people see the self, and represents one way that scientific and spiritual views can be compatible.
It would alter radically our personal choices and our social and political goals.

It seems to me that this reflects well the “dying to self in order to live abundantly” urge from Jesus. It also reminds me of the “body of Christ” metaphor that Paul employs to plead cohesion amongst the followers of Christ – yet it does not have to be confined to such. This is a Mary moment – something to be pondered.

Published by wonderingpilgrim

Not really retired but reshaped and reshaping. Now a pilgrim at large ready to engage with what each day brings.

6 thoughts on “One and All

  1. mmm being pondering on this, and can honestly say I do not see myself as a “fuzzy cloud of relational forces and fields”. What comes to my mind is this : “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well…
    in fact the whole of Psalm 139 is so amazing worth reading and re reading. God knows me, and God knows you. Happy reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m still pondering and still find myself attracted to thinking this way over the plethora of relationships that have engaged my involvement over the decades. Locked as we physically are into space and time, many of these interactions are relegated to distant memory as I’ve had no further contact. Once or twice the memory has been awoken when someone contacts me and says “Remember when…” followed by ” it changed my life…” Something is happening that is beyond the physical way I am conditioned to think – something that transcends space and time – and extends the reality of Psalm 139 even deeper and wider. I even begin to consider the “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12 in a fresh way.


  3. I have been listening to Dr Caroline Leaf, who wrote the book Who switched off my Brain, and who is a cognitive neuro scientist, said this : “Where the brain goes, the mind follows”. We are not only a product of what we eat, but of what we read and think too.


  4. I think such a proposition is very limiting if that is where it ceases. We are a complex outcome, not only of what we read and eat, but genetics, environment, education, historical context and the social networks that have influenced us through life and keep on influencing us. I also believe we are capable of discussing, analysing, reflecting on and discerning the truth of the effect of all these things. The great thing is that this is not at all inconsistent with loving the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind and strength (and our neighbours as our selves). We need not distrust the loss of our individuality when we think and act as part of a collective (the Body of Christ) – indeed we become more fully ourselves, being transformed into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: