Brexit, Trump, Fences and Neighbors

Brexit Vote Map
Brexit Vote Map

The book Burning Religion is a study in the spaces between people in disagreement, between political and national views, between church and secular life, and even between nations. The rise of Donald Trump’s run for the Presidency, and last week’s successful “leave” Brexit vote in Britain highlights the issue of the spaces and the boundaries between the variety of people in our world.

Consider these conflicting proverbial nuggets of wisdom: “Good fences make for good neighbors.” (Robert Frost, but no one can really claim first dibs on this quote) “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion, too. Imagine all the people. Living life in peace…” (John Lennon)

Robert Frost's Mending Wall in Derry, NH
Robert Frost’s Mending Wall in Derry, NH

The ancient proverb, which was tracked across multiple nations through millennia by Wolfgang Mieder in his work, “Good fences make good neighbours: history and significance of an ambiguous proverb”, ascribes benefit to delineated boundaries. Every one of us, who have been robbed, or had our car or house broken into, can attest to the sense of violation we feel when this occurs. Even the Bible warns in the Mosaic covenant against moving your neighbor’s boundary marking stones. (Deu. 19:14)

John Lennon’s song, “Imagine” has captured the hearts of a few generations now. It espouses detachment from ownership. Even to the point of detaching ourselves from our deeply held or personally “owned” belief systems – both political and religious. In celebration of values, which supposedly belonged the Native Peoples of North America, we see boundaries and ownership as the sources of social dissonance and violence.

These two competing values cannot both be true in all situations. They can potentially both be true in different settings, and in limited reference, but these contradicting thoughts present us with a problem: which one is true? Or, if both are true, when are they individually applicable? Caroline Westerhoff suggested that this described the, “irresolvable tension between boundary and hospitality.”

The difficulty of applying these apparently conflicting values is an important aspect of politics in our changing world (consider the immigration crisis in the Middle East/EU), and it may also be a chief definer of how we express our spirituality to the world around us.

How do we navigate the tension of these proverbial values? Your thoughts are accepted as valuable here. Leave a comment below.

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