If balkanization is a problem, the seemingly obvious solution is for us to focus on being as much alike as we can be. I remember reading a science fiction story years ago about a cult that decided this was the case. They developed a strong doctrine based on everyone being the same–and then, in the logical consequence of the doctrine, every member was surgically altered so that everyone looked the same.
The story was based on the idea that no matter how much they wanted to be the same, there were still differences that could not be erased. In that fictional group, someone was murdering members of the group. I don’t remember the story all that well but it seems to me that the reason for the murders was that one member of the group felt that those being killed were not quite the same as all the others.
And so while making everyone the same might seem to be the antidote to balkanization, it really isn’t. We are different and no matter how much we try to be the same, we will never make it. Our differences are basic to our humanness–it begins in our genetic makeup and is reinforced by our experiences in life. We have significant similarities and significant differences and both are a part of who and what we are. We can no more ignore our differences than we can ignore our similarities.
We need to learn to celebrate our differences without making them a basis of division. I am left-handed. Being left-handed makes me part of a minority–about 10% of the population is left-handed. Since the majority of the population is predominantly right-handed, most things are designed and build by and for right-handed people. Technically, that is a form of discrimination which puts me at a disadvantage and occasionally in danger–some tools designed for right handed-people put us lefties in danger by causing us to reach over or around spinning blades and other parts in order to use our dominant hand.
I didn’t have a choice about being left-handed–it is ultimately a result of factors beyond my control. I have spend my life living left-handed and learning how to adapt myself to living in a right-handed world. But I have never spent much time trying to differentiate myself from the right-handed majority nor have I spent time blaming or shaming the right-handed (except in fun when everyone knows we are having fun). I don’t worry about being minority, majority or whatever–I just do what I do to function. And when I can’t function as left-handed in a right-handed world, I either adapt or find a right-handed person to do the job.
I really don’t need to create a militant left-handed group. I am left-handed and like being left-handed but that is likely because I don’t know anything else. But I don’t need to put down right-handed people to enjoy my left-handedness. I can celebrate and enjoy what I am without going the balkanization route. Being left-handed isn’t one of the major flash points when it comes to human difference, although it has been at times and continues to be in a few cultures.
There are many differences that are flash points in life–but they are flash points because of cultural, ethnic, political, theological issues. Someone or some group decides that being from one ethnic group is not as acceptable as being from another group. But the truth is that these differences are part of human reality. We can be different and still be human. We can barbeque hamburgers or goat or egg plant and still be human. We can read the Bible in KJV or NIV or the original Greek and Hebrew and still be Christian. We can celebrate Communion with wine or grape juice and still be faithful to God.
And if we pay attention, the differences we see and experience can help us experience more of the fullness of life and faith. As we discover how others have faced and dealt with life and faith, we gain a deeper and broader understanding of the possibilities. We discover that different is not wrong or better or strange or sinful–it is just different. Some difference we can embrace–I like my Kenyan friends’ food. Some, we can’t embrace as easily–I always have to figure out how to use right-handed tools safely. But we can celebrate the differences–just as God does.
May the peace of God be with you.