When I decided to embrace — or at least contemplatively accept — Christianity back in the midst of my high school era (shortly after dinosaurs roamed the earth, but a bit before the invention of the World Wide Web), one of the notions of the faith which greatly impressed me at the time was the idea of a singular, universal and unified, profoundly cohesive and comprehensive set of beliefs which defined and melded and bound all of its adherents into a shared commitment to certain common values and purpose — without resorting to fear, threats, or mental conditioning or manipulation (apologies to those who may have experienced a drastically different or even potentially negative exposure to Christianity). I came to realize that the resulting worldwide affiliation of like-minded individuals were connected not just by their profession of faith, but also by their very real experiences and personal encounters with an inexplicably risen Savior and the unfathomable inhabitation in their lives by the selfsame Spirit of God.
Now certainly, many religions might claim to possess comparable firmness of faith, coherence of concepts, or harmony of ideals. What I found intriguing about Christianity is that the essence of its underlying premise in many ways transcends any basic theory of religion; is often uniquely stark yet subtle in presentation; and in some ways possesses a remarkably fundamental or integral approach with regard to addressing an individual’s inner personal development and relationship to himself and others. For myself, this was crucial to formulating an understanding of its actualization, application, and agency. I deduced that its tremendous valuation of both the individual and the multitude, equally important to the healthy growth and progress for each, attested to the validity of Christianity as an ethos that I could willingly apply myself to, despite some of my own personal misgivings and apprehensions. After all, becoming part of a larger whole can sometimes elicit either comfort or anxiety (and perhaps a measure of both).
In “Star Trek,” one of the most formidable and intimidating foes of the United Federation of Planets is the cold, calculating Collective of single-minded, cybernetic, humanoid drones known as the Borg. The eerily mechanical intonation of their infamous phrase, “Resistance is futile,” often evokes dread in their targets and represents total annihilation of individuality and full suppression of free will as they seek to assimilate into their dominion all who stand in their path toward the ultimate goal of complete compliance and congruity with the consolidated hive mind. As with most good villains, the Borg are more complex than simply robotic monsters who devour and consume their victims. From their perspective, the Borg are actually improving the quality of life of those whom they coercively assimilate, elevating them to a more efficient role in the scheme of life. In an episode of the “Star Trek: Voyager” series, the young lady who was a former Borg drone designated Seven-of-Nine confronts the manifestation of the centralized hive mind, the “Queen,” in a revealing conversation:
QUEEN: Assimilation is complete.
SEVEN: Three hundred thousand individuals have been transformed into drones. Should they be congratulated as well?
QUEEN: They should be. They’ve left behind their trivial, selfish lives and they’ve been reborn with a greater purpose. We’ve delivered them from chaos into order.
SEVEN: Comforting words. Use them next time instead of “resistance is futile.” You may elicit a few volunteers.
As unsettling and objectionable as the Borg are in their uncompromising and unrelenting impulse to arbitrarily appropriate and confiscate the identity and essential substance of entire populations, their goal as a society is in some ways similar to what we might expect or experience in real life to a degree. Groups of people at just about any scale — teams, clubs, organizations, corporations, nations, civilizations — often operate with an overall desire for general consensus of thought, ideals, and purpose. Very often, the effectiveness of a group may depend on consistency and stability of conduct and operations, as well as mutual accord regarding goals and aspirations. There are many groups – social, political, devotional — that operate based on an assumption that they can provide purpose and order in individuals’ lives by asserting (and in some cases, enforcing without regard to volition) submission to their philosophies and practices. The fictional Borg consider their
compulsion to assimilate as necessary for innovation and survival, which is perhaps not entirely so inconceivable, though their methods are unquestionably harsh and unforgiving. True innovation, though, can sometimes require radical or disruptive motivation both from within and without.
As I came to recognize the truth of Christianity for my own life, my fledgling perception of it was that rather than simple, cult-like conformity of behavior or appearance, it instead seemed to advocate a highly individual and personal experience that encouraged diversity and flexibility within the context of a common uniformity of belief and intent. To me, it appeared that the core of Christianity consists not merely of ritualistic or reflexive rites, mannerisms, and ordinances, but rather of individual observance, affirmation, and cognizance of the facts of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, along with the spiritual awareness of the ramifications of these facts; all coupled with an earnest devotion and accountability to the members of this comprehensive, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community, which is sustained by and sustains its many constituents as they demonstrably share a mutual connection with the Author of their faith. This global community, I came to understand, is in fact the Church.
This theme of commonality by a shared assertion of faith and interdependence of support and service among all members is found throughout the New Testament.
The apostle Paul, in particular, seemed to be fond of utilizing the metaphor of the human body to help describe this amalgamation of many parts in one:
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5)
“... but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
And so while the Church may be a kind of “Collective” in its own sense, unlike the Borg, we are fully capable of exercising free will and contributing to the health of this body, both locally and at large, not merely because we have been “assimilated” into it, but because we desire, out of our response to the grace and love conveyed to us, to serve our Lord and one another.
This motif of spiritual and practical solidarity is even showcased in many of the hymns and contemporary songs we offer as part of our worship activities in our various congregational assemblies. We may sing it, but do we really appreciate the implications? As odd as it may seem, I sometimes wonder how effective the Church would be if it could somehow adopt some of that “hive mind” quality of the Borg.
What if we, all the believers who make up the body of Christ everywhere, could collectively and synergistically tap into the thoughts and will of the head of this body, that is Jesus, and carry out his desires on our end? I suppose that in some ways, we do achieve this to varying degrees across the globe as we, through our assorted local assemblies, strive to be light and salt to a sometimes dark and distasteful world, doing our best to rely on the Spirit of God to guide our efforts. Like the different parts of a body, we each have our own unique abilities and functions, both as individuals and as distinct parishes.
More and more, I am developing a sense that just as each personal participant in a local assembly can contribute in different and important ways to that congregation, the congregation as a whole should and often does play a specific and vital role within a given region in supporting the overall mission of the Church.
Perhaps part of the key to this reverie of a truly complementary and collective body of Christ is for us to somehow overcome the somewhat sectarian and provincial nature of modern Christian factions. Indeed, one can dream of such spiritual assimilation.