The recent referendum on independence for Scotland seems symptomatic of a trend.  Russians in Ukraine want independence.  The Kurds in Iraq.  The Basques in Spain.

It’s an age old problem.  How do you maintain the blessings of unity without sacrificing the independence you need.  We haven’t figured that one out very well in our society regarding marriage.  The Christian church hasn’t figured it out very well either.  To my count 19 Christian denominations are represented in Oak Park-River Forest-Forest Park, not to mention at least 13 independent congregations.  And we’re not even talking about the Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is and Unitarians.

It’s a recurring theme, repeated in the joke: When a couple gets married, the two become one.  The question is which one.

I have a lot of friends from Africa and Thailand.  In both places, marriage has been more traditional, i.e. the relationship is based much more on playing gender roles than it is here.  People in the traditional parts of those societies don’t struggle with the question of identity.  It’s set for them at birth.  That, of course, is both a freedom and a restriction.

In Western society we have much more freedom to be “ourselves.”  The price we pay for that totals billions of dollars in psychotherapy bills.  In Thailand, good luck trying to make a living as a shrink.  Psychology is not their thing.  You might say that it should be, but I’m tempted to think it’s a chicken and egg dilemma.  In other words, perhaps Western civilization created the psychological world view rather than psychology coming to the rescue of Western civilization. 

I  belong to a Thai congregation.  One of the forces that binds those immigrants—most of them anyway—together is that they are aliens to one degree or another in a foreign land, but when they are together on Sunday afternoon—eating really spicy food, greeting each other with a wai and a sawadee krup/ka, speaking their heart language—they are at home.  They immigrated here to take advantage of the freedom to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but like expats throughout the ages they feel a chronic pull towards home.

I realize that I bring this “e pluribus unum” problem up frequently, but I keep getting reminded of the issue by the things I see happening all around me.

 

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...