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By Reverend Father Charles E. Irvin | March 2001

Unity with diversity

As Americans entering a new century, we have a problem. Actually it’s an old one that has occupied the mind of philosophers over the centuries. It’s the problem of the one and the many. We bump into it when we struggle to maintain unity with diversity, commonality with individualism, community with pluralism.

What’s legal and constitutional seems to be the only binding force holding us together these days. Law does, we must remember, impose values on us all. It seems that we ultimately base our American community on what is simply the lowest common denominator of norms after everyone’s values have been privatized and reduced to mere personal opinions. Perhaps we are a litigious people because we are an amoral people.

The opposite reaction to all of this is attractive to many folks, namely to impose uniformity on everyone in the name of unity. Everyone must conform, and exactly conform, to a particular set of norms, rules and doctrines in order to “belong.” If you don’t, well, then you are an “outsider,” and “alien,” “un-American.” It’s our secular form of excommunication. Diversity is disloyalty. To belong is to be orthodox; to be heterodox is not to belong.

The ancient Romans faced the same problem, as have many other societies. They came up with a motto that exhorts us: In necessariis, unitas; in dubiis libertas; in omnibus caritas. “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity” sounds good until you begin to work it out in any particular social order. We all know that as Catholics we are trying to work it out in our own faith tradition. So are Protestants, Jews and others. It all gets further compounded when we enter into ecumenical discussions. The central problem always revolves around the distinction between what is necessary and what isn’t absolutely necessary; between what is absolute and what is relative. Charity isn’t a big problem. Truth is.

The way to get around truth is to introduce doubt.

If you can follow doubt with confusion then you can write your own rules.

But, we must ask, “Was Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of His life absolutely essential for us, or was it not?” To put the question starkly, if God loves us all anyway, and if God is going to save everyone anyway, why did He send His only-begotten Son among us to suffer and die for our redemption? Did Christ matter – or is everyone’s way, truth and life just as good as anyone else’s?

A lot of people suffered martyrdom for our faith – a lot of people gave their lives over to spend themselves in caring for us, teaching us, and bringing us to Christ. It’s hard for me to say that they didn’t have to because “everyone’s going to heaven anyway and so your religion doesn’t matter!”

We think that faith matters. We are dedicated to sharing it, not simply keeping it to ourselves.