The Lost Community

La communauté perdue, ou rompue, peut être exemplifiée de toutes sortes de manières, dans toutes sortes de paradigmes : famille naturelle, cité athénienne, république romaine, première communauté chrétienne, corporations, communes ou fraternités — toujours, il est question d’un âge perdu où la communauté se tissait de liens étroits, harmonieux et infrangibles, et se donnait surtout à elle-même, dans ses institutions, dans ses rites et dans ses symboles, la représentation, voire l’offrande vivante de sa propre unité, de son intimité et de son autonomie immanentes. (La communauté désoeuvrée, 29-30.)

The lost, or broken, community can be exemplified in all kinds of ways, by all kinds of paradigms: the natural family, the Athenian city, the Roman Republic, the first Christian community, corporations, communes, or brotherhoods—always it is a matter of a lost age in which community was woven of tight, harmonious, and infrangible bonds and in which above all it played back to itself, through its institutions, its rituals, and its symbols, the representation, indeed the living offering, of its own immanent unity, intimacy, and autonomy. (The Inoperative Community, 9.)

I think Jean-Luc Nancy, the author of this quote, is fundamentally wrong—at least on his characterization of the first Christian community. A reading of Acts and Paul’s letters will show far less than a “lost age” of “tight, harmonious, and infrangible bonds.” The idyllic passage in Acts 2:44, “All the believers were together and had everything in common,” the height of community and communication of goods, comes before the community is, properly speaking, “Christian.” And by the time the church of Antioch arises and the designation “Christian” is given for this strange mix of Jews and Greeks (11:26), the Church is in serious disarray: the baptizing of an Ethiopian, conversion of Saul the murderer, persecution in Jerusalem, Spirit-filling of Cornelius the Roman, and Peter’s vision regarding the abrogation of kosher laws all contribute to a great commotion that demands the calling of the first council at Jerusalem (Acts 15). However, lest this little act of community politics be thought to restore order, Paul writes Galatians (esp. 2:11-14). The Christian community is always already a disorderly community, a broken body. In the end, the Church is the community of the Eucharist.

Nancy on Individualism

Jean-Luc Nancy, a French philosopher, writes these provocative words on the impotence of individualism:

L’individualisme est un atomisme inconséquent, qui oublie que l’enjeu de l’atome est celui d’un monde.

Individualism is a thoughtless atomism, which forgets that with an atom, a world is at stake. (La communauté désoeuvrée, 17)

The political thought of our age, the theories that led to the founding of the constitutional democracies we enjoy (more or less) as citizens of Canada, the US and other western nations, assume individualism. Nancy suggests, in other words, our own societies are castles in the sky, they rest on air.