We are not the Borg

You’re sitting in the captain’s chair, eyes riveted to the viewscreen as an enormous mechanical cube looms ominously before you, dwarfing your starship.  Unbidden, a soulless, synthesized voice echoes shipwide: We are the Borg.  You will be assimilated.  Resistance is futile.

Of all the villains in the Star Trek universe, perhaps none was as distinctive nor as creepy as the Borg, a powerful alien race who lived only to conquer and assimilate other species and their technology.  Unfortunate captives were turned into “drones”–part humanoid, part machine–and linked forever to a “hive mind,” never to have a private thought again.  Indeed, drones severed from the hive mind became confused, unable to think for themselves–unless, of course, mentored in the more humane ways of the Federation by a compassionate Starfleet captain.

In an exaggerated way, the Borg seemed to embody the ambivalence of Western individualism toward the idea of community, playing on the fear of losing our individual independence to the will of the collective.  (Although with their preference for the perfection of cubes and spheres, the Borg may also be playing on our traumatic memories of geometry class.)  So here’s the question: what kind of “collective” is the church?

Paul writes this to the church in Corinth:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Cor 1:10, NIV)

“Agree with one another in what you say” is more literally, “say the same thing.”  Interestingly, some other translations (e.g., CEB, NASB, NRSV) have eliminated the verb “say/speak” entirely, leaving only the more general concept of agreement–as if the command to say the same thing sounded too much like a mindless parroting of the party line.  Translators also render that last word differently: where the NIV has “thought,” others have “purpose” (so CEB, NRSV) or “judgment” (NASB).  And Paul will say similar things elsewhere, using still other words to suggest that Christians should all think the same way (e.g., Phil 2:2).

So is the church supposed to have a hive mind?  We are the Church.  You will be assimilated…

Yes, I’m being facetious.  But only a little.  It’s worth thinking about just how ready we are to let our individualism be challenged by Paul’s teaching.  Is church just something I do for me?  Is unity or consensus something I’d be willing to work for?  To sacrifice for?  And just what kind of unity are we talking about anyway?

There’s some profit in looking at the nuances of the words Paul uses for “say” or “mind” or “thought” or “purpose.”  But the more important point may be the repetition of the word “same” (“say the same…same mind…same purpose”)–and all of this as a way of steering the Corinthians away from the prideful attitudes and behaviors that divide them.

Paul isn’t telling the Corinthians to literally think the same thoughts and say the same words; the point is rather that spiritual unity should be a shared value which shows in the way they speak and relate to one another.  Believers in Corinth had apparently imported some of the self-aggrandizing habits of the surrounding culture into the church, and in so doing, were compromising the gospel.  Against such habits, Paul needed to challenge them to put the cross front and center in the life of the church.

So what was the problem in Corinth?  More on that in the next post.