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Beware of the Borg

02 November 2006


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.

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