Sunday, November 17, 2013, 00:01 by Fr Paul Chetcuti
Equality may be wrongly understood as a blanket concept that denies differences. It could change marriage into simply a neutral, logistical exercise for people of any sex to be together.
No man (or woman) is an island, or so the saying goes. Being human is all about being with others. We originate in others (parents), grow with and thanks to others (family, society), and find our fullness in loving and giving life to others (children). Hence our passionate desire for and need of others.
Yet, the magnet that draws us to others may become the greatest repellent. Needing others may make us dependent. Acceptance by others comes at a price. We need to please, conform, adapt and give in to their demands, risking our identity as well as our autonomy. So we end up loving those we fear and fearing those we love. We are torn between the fear of loneliness and the fear of being devoured by others.
According to the dominant fear that conditions us, we may become ‘homophobic’ – fearing sameness – or ‘heterophobic’ – fearing diversity. (Here I take these terms to include, rather be reduced to sex and gender.) These are the mythical Scylla and Charybdis, through which we humans need to navigate if we are to survive as individuals and as a human race. Being human is living constantly between a rock and hard place, as they say.
Assimilating ourselves to those who are more like us gives us a false sense of comfort, protection and safety. Sameness may be safe but sterile because it cannot beget life.
On the other hand, if we seek refuge in our diversity, we risk being destroyed by aggressive competitiveness and lonely individualism. We condemn ourselves to be not just islands but barren rocks fully exposed to the battering of life’s storms. Human society has oscillated between these two extremes.
Homophobia – the fear of sameness – has led to the rise of the post-modern supremacy of the individual. Uniqueness has been turned into false autonomy making us a society of lonely and lost individuals. We have sacrificed communion with others for the false freedom of self-sufficiency.
Heterophobia – the fear of diversity – has led to the claustrophobic attitude where otherness is banned or shunned. We invoke equality, when, in reality, we mean uniformity.
Equality, wrongly understood, can become the blanket concept to deny differences. Gender equality starts meaning that men and women are simply and universally interchangeable. Marriage becomes just a neutral, logistical exercise for people of any sex to be together.
Political correctness becomes a favoured means of denying the harsh realities of our fragility and disabilities. Loving our sacred motherland while practicing economic wisdom becomes an acceptable face of racial discrimination. Our intolerance puts on the mask of liberal laissez-faire whereby our differences are denied in the name of hollow equality.
If we want to survive biologically and, even more crucially, to remain human, it is urgent that we navigate more effectively and safely between these rocks and hard places. The Christian faith in a Triune God gives us the right compass for this journey. Our God is, at the same time, diversity and communion, different and equal, one and many. This is because His very nature is Love.
If love for one another can be found deep in our hearts, we will discover that diversity and equality may and can make good bedfellows. We need to fear neither our togetherness nor our diversity. To be equal, we do not need to be the same. Diversity is the source of life.
Homosexuals and heterosexuals, black or white, men or women, disabled or able-bodied – may we have the courage to acknowledge who we are, the humility to accept that we are different, and the love to put these differences at the service of the universal good.
Mother Teresa has forcefully and simply expressed this life-giving truth: “What I can do, you cannot do. But what you can do, I cannot do. Together let us do something beautiful for God.”
May this life-giving spirit inspire all the decisions that will determine how life will survive and thrive in Malta.
Fr Paul Chetcuti is a member of the Society of Jesus.