Giles Fraser warns of the dangers of community
MY FAVOURITE Star Trek villain is the Borg, a collective
consciousness that is constantly out to assimilate individual identity into its
beehive-like whole. The Borg is not intrinsically ill-intentioned; it is part
of its nature constantly to expand and control: "We are the Borg. You will be
assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to
our own. Resistance is futile." The logic of the Borg is to collapse all
individuality into itself.
Such is the popularity of Star Trek that the term "Borg" has taken
on a life of its own. For computer geeks — who are often fans of science
fiction — those who use Microsoft software have been assimilated or "Borged".
Like all good science fiction, Star Trek plays on contemporary
fears. In the case of the Borg, it’s the fear of a political community in which
individuality is annihilated in the service of the whole; the fear of Communism
or of being an insignificant cog in the wheels of multinational capitalism.
It’s the fear of being taken over by forces beyond one’s control.
This brings me to the Windsor report. It strikes me that the report opens
the door to a dangerously Borg-like Anglican Communion. "A body is thus
‘autonomous’ only in relation to others: autonomy exists in a relation with a
wider community or system, of which the autonomous entity forms a part," it
asserts. Alongside such sentiments go an unquestioned valuation of community
(good) and individuality (bad).
For a number of years now, theologians have been laying into the
Enlightenment and the celebration of the individual that forms so central a
part of Enlightenment philosophy. We have been persuaded to hear "individual"
as another word for selfishness. But, to those who have cause to defend their
individuality against Borg-like political communities, the word "individual" is
another word for freedom — not the freedom of egocentric self-assertion, nor
the freedom to shop, but the freedom from totalitarianism or collective control.
Recent Anglican theology has emphasised the sinfulness of the go-it-alone
individual, only to become dangerously naïve about the dangers of community and
collectivism. Our Trinitarian theology has repeatedly emphasised the oneness of
the three, but rarely the threeness of the one.
What lurks in the pages of the Windsor report is the prospect of a
multinational religious conglomerate, into which individual Christians are
called to dissolve themselves in the name of communion. "We are the Borg. You
will be assimilated."
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in
philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.