Group identity should never involve the sacrifice of the individual’s truth

Have identity politics gone too far? Rowan Williams is, very properly, making use of his last months in office by saying what he wants to be heard to say, rather than being driven by topics on which others want his to speak. This weekend, he wanted to say that ‘identity politics’ have gone too far. That is to say, if I understand rightly, that people have become so involved in campaigning for the rights of women, black people and LGBT people that they will put those rights forward at the expense of everything else. The overwhelming drive for these things has now passed the point of championing the disadvantaged and now is putting individuals before the greater good of the whole.
I would reply that, as far as I can see that is precisely what Jesus always did. When he found himself with a load of hungry disciples, and one women, Martha, was struggling to get the meal together for them, and her sister was selfishly and most improperly sitting with the men, learning, Jesus championed Mary, the improper learner, and let the good of the group go hang. When a woman with a reputation turned up and anointed his feet, a woman touching a man in public, damaging his good name, and that of his whole movement, Jesus let the movement be damaged. When he was touched by an unclean woman, he made no attempt to hide the fact, and, and, and…
I cannot think of one single time when Jesus in fact put the good of the group before the good of the individual. It seems that each time he had a choice, he went for the individual. It is true that these were individuals, they were not ‘movements’. There is however a reason for movements,and why there are gay pride marches, and not straight marches. It is, generally, that those who have power already do not need to protest.

There are of course exceptions, exceptions where whites and men (who look like the majority) protest. They are generally those who feel disadvantaged, those who have lost a power they used to have. Both the white urban poor become BNP, and those who believe women cannot be priests, and that they contaminate male priests just by being ordained, they both protest. I think that generally the difference between them and ‘rights’ voices is this: the voices of feminists, gay and civil rights are asking for inclusion on strictly equal terms. The voices of those who have had and are losing power are asking for others to be excluded. ‘Don’t have blacks as equal members of society, don’t have women in this or that position of power.’ They are not asking ‘Allow me to be all I can be.’
And that is the thing, isn’t it? Jesus’s overriding concern seems to be that each person should be all they can be; forgiven, healed, learning, acting in love. You might call this ‘the individual’s truth’, their being what they are called to be, and not impeded because they upset others. I cannot imagine any circumstance in which he would ask a person to stand back from office because it would upset others. Instead he asked others to do as he did: to further the individual, and to allow the group to support and care for those who were in any way hurt.
At the same time, I do not think that Jesus’s gospel is very individualistic. He has his ‘twelve’ who are his ‘new Israel’. He is envisaging a new community, living together, holding both truth and possessions as a common good, but not at expense of the individuals within it, rather, through their fulfilment. Group identity should never involve the sacrifice of the individual’s truth.

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6 responses to “Group identity should never involve the sacrifice of the individual’s truth

  1. Rosemary, while I agree with your sentiment, I am struggling with your argument.
    I can think of one very important time when the good of the group was put before the good of the individual – the cross – and we are called to take up our crosses if we are to follow him. Sometimes God does indeed call us to stand back and bear the upset ourselves. That is the example he set, one of sacrificial love.

  2. rosemaryhannah

    I’m not arguing against sacrifice – not sacrifice per se – I am arguing against the sacrifice of individual truth. It seems to me that whatever Jesus did sacrifice, it was not his truth. Indeed, it was in support of his truth that he want to the cross, because he would not move away from it. I think however terrible the cross is,it is not, in any way whatsoever, a diminution of what one might (following Scotus) call Jesus’s ‘thisness’. Bearing the upset is one thing, and I am a great believer in absorbing hurt and not passing it on. Backing down and away from the truth is wholly another. To illustrate: it is wholly right for a woman called to the episcopate to forgive, to speak to and to forge links with those who argue against her consecration. It is wholly improper for her to pretend for the sake of peace that she does not believe she has a vocation. Taking up one’s cross involves taking up a way of life which is liable to seriously annoy others. One is not generally crucified for being quiet.

    I have begun a discussion on sacrifice here https://rosemaryhannah.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/no-more-meaningless-sacrifice/#comment-1110. Ideally I would have tackled this continuation of sacrifice when I had laid more of the groundwork, but I wanted to respond to Williams comments.

    I might further add that sacrifice is something one can only decide upon for oneself. It ill becomes any straight white man to argue that gays, blacks, and women are too loud in their protests.

  3. rosemaryhannah

    I want to add, that it is not good for the ‘thisness’ of those loudly opposing blacks, gays and women to surrender to them, either. It may keep them quiet, but it does not challenge them.

  4. What sets one individuals truth as greater than another’s?
    You may not like some people’s individual truths, I certainly don’t, but you are asking them to give them up for the sake of other people’s individual truths. I would rather they gave them up in favour of God’s truth and justice – all are equal, all are special, all are loved. If we grasped that then we wouldn’t lurch from one battlefield to another, all prejudice would be sorted in a oner.

    What we are called to sacrifice is individual truth (those individual truths that are not of God) – not my will but Your will be done – as Jesus himself prayed. Wherever there is a division of opinion someone has to give up their truths and take up, not another individual’s truths but, God’s truths. We must graciously acknowledge that sacrifice.

    Don’t underestimate the quiet ones either, they are often quiet because they have been crucified many times before, or have open wounds, I am sure you didn’t mean to imply those who are quiet are taking an easy road. Sometimes saying nothing can be the hardest thing to say and be the most powerful . There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, both are equally valid and both have their place.

  5. rosemaryhannah

    There is indeed a time to speak and one to be quiet, but my concern here is that generally it is particular groups called upon to be quiet for the sake of not upsetting others. That group only too often is one of those accused of ‘identity politics’; blacks, gays,women.

    I take it as axiomatic that ‘thisness’ (haeceity) is that very same ‘thisness’ which we bear before God. It is what Hopkins describes as the cry ‘what I do is me, for this I came’ and it is this cry which speaks to the Christ within us. We are, argue Scotus and Hopkins, most like Christ when most like ourselves.

    In this world, we can never be sure we are doing the right thing. When our ‘thisness’ clashes with the claims of another there are, however, some useful questions we can ask. One is ‘Are we suggesting that our thisness can only be fulfilled at expense of plain justice to others?’ (Can we only be happy if those in power fulfil criteria which make us happy, but disable others). This is a good consideration when we are faced with situations where blocks of people oppose other blocks. If somebody can only accept the ministry of others if they happen not to be black/gay/female, they are saying they can only be fulfilled at the expense of others, which sets alarm bells ringing. I think such demands can only be acceded to in a very limited form, and as an act of graciousness. I do not feel one needs to pretend it is what one might call an equally valid account of the truth. It is not a true demand of ‘thisness’ if it is reflecting an unjust demand (as for instance that children’s television presenters should have no visible disability)

    Another good question, and one generally more relevant at an individual level, is ‘Are we asking something for ourselves that while we genuinely believe it to be the will of God, others do not discern as being the will of God’. (Do we believe we are called to priesthood, but others around us do not, even after we have made every effort to acquire the right skills, etc.) One would know at once it was an individual matter because it would apply only to an individual – for instance, it would be as true of a white able-bodied man, as of a disabled woman. We must be prepared to concede that we may be mistaken in our beliefs about what we are called to. This is always more likely to be the case with an individual than a group. It is entirely possible for one woman to be mistaken in thinking she is the right person in the right place with the right experience to be a bishop at that time. It is much much less likely for a group of people, including man and women, to be mistaken in thinking they know several women with the right qualities and experiences to be a bishop.
    We may all be mistaken and we all need to listen to others, but I do not think any individual should be asked to give up speaking out about their essential selves – although of course they should speak ‘themselves’ without attack on others.

  6. rosemaryhannah

    Reading back over this, I wonder how far we are speaking of different things. Language is a difficult thing. I think perhaps there s a tension between ‘strongly held opinions=truth ‘ and ‘the right to strive for fulfilment in its deepest sense=truth/thisness’. There will always be a tension here, because the two do overlap. The right of a visibly disabled person to present children’s television, for instance, is congruent with the right of disabled children and adults to be seen and to be seen as making a positive contribution to society (the right to strive for fulfilment in its deepest sense=truth/thisness) but it also involves her and their belief that disability does not need to be hidden and it runs up against the strongly held opinions of others that anything which makes them uncomfortable should be hidden (both of which are in fact ‘strongly held opinions=truth’.

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