A War of Gods: Occupy, Community and the Sacred

Our perception of the sacred determines the community we seek. The sacred isn’t only a matter of belief; it is also an expression of where we live and whom we seek to live with in community.

What is the sacred? A simple definition of the sacred is that to which we assign ultimate value. Using this definition, community is a unified body of persons based on a shared understanding of ultimate value. Working backwards from the concrete to the abstract, it is possible to discern someone’s understanding of the sacred by examining the nature of his or her community.

For example, a person who resides in a gated community seeks a special level of insularity and security in an environment that is perceived as a threat to his or her wealth, safety and homogeneity. A typical gated community is an enclave of homes surrounded by a wall with one or more guarded entrances. The organizing principle of a gated community is not insularity or security but homogeneity. There are viable alternatives to a gated community for ensuring insularity and security. If one only sought insularity, a country home would suffice; and if one only sought security, an alarm system or private security company would be sufficient. The only way to ensure homogeneity in a community, however, is to restrict access for membership and visitors.

What does the organizing principle of a gated community tell us about its members’ understanding of the sacred? Since the residents in a gated community assign ultimate value to homogeneity, the sacred becomes a projection of their fetish for sameness. The god of the gated communities, like the members themselves, demands sameness above everything else. Sameness is the ethical principle by which the members of a gated community judge themselves and outsiders. The sacred is sameness. The stranger and outsider are feared because they represent the antithesis of sameness: the otherness of diversity.

In contrast to a gated community, diversity is the norm in an open community. The sacred cannot be defined in a uniform way to appeal to all, or even a majority, of residents in a diverse neighborhood. There is fluidity to the sacred in an open community because diverse perspectives invite dialogue, mutual understanding and change. A resident in an open community may have rigid opinions, but their exposure to a diversity of other opinions held by neighbors requires them to, if not change, at least, acknowledge that their own opinion is only one among many. In a diverse neighborhood, residents may create hierarchies based on observable differences, such as racial identity, and reject the principle of equality in diversity, but they cannot reject the objective fact of diversity itself. Diversity is sacred in open communities because any attempt to impose homogeneity would lead to the destruction of the neighborhood. The affirmation of diversity is a basic requirement for the survival of an open community. It is more than a politically-correct slogan. It is a way of life.

What are the implications of these two perspectives of the sacred and community for the Occupy movement? It is obvious that the 1% is more homogenous than the 99%. The fetish for sameness that typifies residents in a gated community is also an organizing principle for the 1%. Similarly, the affirmation of diversity is an organizing principle for the 99%. The ideological bubble that characterized the Republican Party in the 2012 election was a reflection of the fetish for sameness that is representative of gated communities and the 1%. Demographically, it is an expression of wealthy white male Christian privilege. Diversity is the death knell for gated communities; and a social movement that seeks to restore the principle of fairness in a diverse society is the death knell for the 1%. The conflict between these two opposing views of the sacred and community – a fetish for sameness and the affirmation of diversity – is pivotal in a conflict between the 1% and the 99%. It is a war between gods.

We must learn to talk about the sacred in a new way within the Occupy movement if we hope to establish the affirmation of diversity as an organizing principle in society. The sacred must not be reduced to a wholly transcendent spiritual realm that exists apart from society and everyday life. It is crucial to understand the affirmation of diversity as an expression of the sacred.

Diversity is not merely a haphazard collection of dissimilar beings or objects. It is the unfolding nature of the universe. The fetish for sameness is a biological absurdity. By asserting that the sacred can only be recognized in a singular thing, the organizing principle of the gated community and 1% stands against nature; and is doomed. On the other hand, by asserting that the sacred is recognizable in a multitude of things, the organizing principle of the open community and society stands with nature; and is bound to grow.

The god of the 1% claims that the sacred can only be seen if you look for it in one thing while the god of the 99% claims that the sacred can only be seen if you look for it in everything. The outcome of the war of the gods is self-evident.

This is a revolutionary claim about the sacred. It means that there are no gatekeepers guarding the walled enclaves of the sacred. If the sacred is accessible in everything, it is equally accessible to everyone in every moment. It is within us, not as sameness, but as difference. The fluidity of the sacred is a reflection of diversity. It is never fixed in a singular form because it exists in all forms – or more precisely, in the interrelatedness or wholeness of all forms. Since the universe is in a continual state of change, the sacred itself is always changing. The only thing that doesn’t change in a changing universe is the interrelatedness of being. Our interrelatedness can never be understood as a relationship between beings that are the same but only as a relationship between beings that are different. The sacred is diversity. We must learn to see it in everything or we will see it in nothing.

Participation in the Occupy movement that arises from an embrace of the sacredness of diversity will embody a process of social change that keeps our focus on interdependence. The challenge is not primarily to overthrow the 1%, but to develop a capacity for seeing the sacred in all beings. There isn’t a blueprint for creating an open society where the affirmation of diversity has ultimate value. We don’t have gatekeepers or guardians to tell us where the sacred can be found or how to access it. We have to discover it for ourselves within the movement, the process of social change and, especially, our everyday lives.