The Death of Common Sense and Collective Wisdom

“A house divided against itself will not and cannot stand.”

–Jesus Christ, as quoted by President Lincoln   

“We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

–Ben Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

‘Tis not in numbers but in unity that our great strength lies

–“Common Sense” by Thomas Paine,

“Common Sense” was an historic pamphlet written by Paine in 1776 to inspire colonial opposition to King George’s tyranny.  His principal was that the common good of the group supersedes the self-interest of a few individual. Paine wrote the revolution to come was a fight, not only for Americans, but people everywhere.  The 13 colonies put aside their own interests to unite behind this ideal to defeat the British. It was a victory for freedom and a triumph of Paine’s common sense principle, that the common good is advanced by collective wisdom and actions more than by individuals acting alone.

In 1941, Paine’s ideal worked to perfection to defeat Nazi and Japanese terror. American and European governments laid aside national interests to unite and save the world from fascist tyranny. If the allies hadn’t hung together, we don’t like to imagine the consequences.  But common sense won the day.

These days it’s a much different story. For instance:

In the Mid-East, Americans, Russians, Europeans and Arabs can’t agree on a strategy, much less form a coalition to confront the threat of radical Islam. Failure to form a common front against the dark cloud of ISIS  (ISIL ) may prove all of our undoing. It’s certainly the undoing of common sense.

Four years ago, GOP candidates told us their mission was to defeat President Obama. They campaigned hard against each other, knocking each other off, leaving only George Romney standing. Losers failed to support Romney, proving their loyalty was not to their party, but to personal ambition. The GOP loss that year is further evidence of Paine’s wisdom. Personal sacrifice is worth it, to achieve common goals.

Paine’s principle wasn’t original. It was on Jesus’ mind when, on the night of his betrayal, he ordered  future leaders of his church to put loyalty to the body and its mission ahead of personal goals. To demonstrate this, he washed their feet, explaining this act of agape love exemplified of how they were to treat each other. Later he put his imprimatur on this ideal, praying passionately for his church, not yet born, “Father make them one as we are one,” repeating his plea to the Father five times in John 17.

St. Paul advanced Christ’s principle of unity. He likened the church to a human body with many members. Each member benefits when it cooperates with the others for the sake of the whole. Christ, the head, coordinates the body’s functions by his Holy Spirit.  When members put aside personal ambition and preferences for the sake of the whole church, great things happen. He wrote to Christians at Rome, Love each other as brothers and sisters, in honor preferring one another over yourselves.” Romans 12:10

Sadly, we see this ideal practiced all too rarely in the church, where ministries tend to cater to the needs of individual members while neglecting building up the whole body of Christ.

Lord, forgive our foolish divisions which hold back the advancement of your kingdom. Send your Holy Spirit to convict us of our need to put the goals of your kingdom ahead of our own.

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