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Communities of Ultimacy: Re-post from an older blog of mine


To think of community from the standpoint of social struggle may seem a bit strange at first. We think of community as an subset of society that has acheived a level of internal cohesion. However, communities are also sites of struggle and conflict, both internal and external.

Political concerns would mostly focus on external conflicts. Such conflicts can be between communities or between other social forces and communities.  An assumption here will be that everyone participates in a community. For some, this is constructed by personal choices, for others it may be the community of one’s birthplace. In this connection, we won’t consider racial communities, as we will cover them in our consideration of ethnicity.

Of key interest here is religious communities. While some of the self-selected communities we mentioned above can be religious or focused on a spirituality, most religious communities place the source of their identity above personal choice. This is most strong in communities such as the Catholic church, which claims divine authority. However, we are also interested in communities that do not fall into the classic understanding of religion, such as humanists. In order to treat such non-religious communities as categorical equals to typically religious communities, we will classify these communities under the rubric of "communities of ultimacy." For humanists, human reason is the ultimate source of value. For Catholics, Christ’s authority is the ultimate source.

The example of humanism and Catholicism should bring to mind the question of inter-community conflict. Humanists and Catholics often regard themselves as in conflict. Various issues arise here, abortion, same-sex intimacy, biblical authority, religious doctrines, etc. The goal of our vision of radical liberation is to propose ways of approaching conflicts between communities in order to promote intercommunal cooperation in the struggles for social liberation. A radical liberation vision depends on such cooperation.

However, it is obvious in the case of Catholicism that some aspects of present-day Catholicism militate against cooperation with this sweeping vision of liberation. Abortion is considered a basic right among progressive activists, but a mortal sin by official Catholic teaching. This suggests that another line of radical liberation work will be internal to communities. We already know that movements against capitalism, for example, have expressed themselves within Catholicism, such as the Catholic Worker movement in the USA and Liberation Theology in Latin America.

To flesh out a progressive vision of community, I find it helpful to distinguish between aspects of community that are directly political from those that are more personal. A community’s shared convictions and rituals are not directly the object of political activism. That is not to deny that some of these convictions and rituals can be politically influenced and influential politically for their participants. The distinction that I am trying to draw is between theology and ceremony versus power distribution and external community interactions.

A community will have both pathological and transformative characteristics. We all can think of how many religions have anti-liberative convictions, such as a prophesied divine fiery destruction of the earth. A transformative alternative conviction could be the panentheistic/pantheistic view that God is fully present within nature. We can also discern a clear contrast between hierarchical and egalitarian decision-making. A religion that shifted from a punishing to a nurturing theology will have profound impacts on the personal spirituality of its participants. It will also impact the understanding of the physical body and propose rituals that honor the body and nature.

Communities that adopt a radical liberation vision will do so because some of their members begin to advocate such a vision within the existing institutions. Many times the distance between where the community is and where radical liberation would take it are extreme. Nevertheless, such struggles are necessary if radical liberation is too succeed in religious societies like the USA or Africa.

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