As things are playing out, civilization could end pretty much the way the movie Thelma and Louise did, with everyone gunning for a cliff at high speed, then stepping on the gas as the precipice looms. Faced with the worst economic upheavals in three generations and the looming insolvency of Medicare and Social Security, elected officials are mired in unremitting partisan squabbles. Financiers rescued by government bailouts walk away with billions in bonuses, seemingly indifferent to the devastation they have wrought. Clerics charged with the pastoral care of the faithful instead offer protection to pedophile priests who prey on small children. World leaders preoccupied with short-term economic gains are unable to agree on long-term climate controls needed to save the planet.
The common denominator in each of these dispiriting scenarios is a single-minded pursuit of one’s own self-interest at the expense of the common good. What is lacking in every case is singleness of heart, a biblical term that refers to the ability to recognize what we hold in common, whether it’s a common need, a common purpose or even our common humanity. Without singleness of heart, we are unable to subordinate our immediate interests to any end greater than ourselves.
Singleness of heart is not the same thing as single-mindedness. Terrorists can be single-minded in pursuit of goals that a person with singleness of heart would never consider. If your starting point is your common humanity with others, then you naturally seek to find common ground with them in the hope that it will lead to a common resolution of problems. Two minds can reach agreement if there is singleness of heart. Any fool can latch on to differences or disagreements. Most will at least pay lip service to the idea of shared humanity. But comparatively few can really see through to the heart of the matter, which is that each is the other.