DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Minimal Common Culture and the Imago Dei

Written by: on October 9, 2023

“If we do not agree on a minimal common culture, we cannot cooperate on shared tasks and will not regard the same institutions as legitimate; indeed, we will not even be able to communicate with one another absent a common language with mutually understood meanings.” [1] 

In his book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Francis Fukuyama takes us on a fascinating journey through political history and philosophical thought. The journey is made all the more interesting because it is quite the reversal of Fukuyama’s post Cold-War position on liberal democracy, as he wrote about in The End of History and the Last Man. [2]  He previously held that liberal democracy had decisively won out over fascism. Nearly 30 years later, he admits the fragility of liberal democracy, and he ties that fragility to the innate human need for recognition. [3] His solution? A “minimal common culture”, in other words a set of shared values despite our ideological differences.

I grant that Fukuyama is writing from a totally secular perspective, but I honestly struggle to see how we arrive at the set of shared values. Who decides what those values should be? And where do Kingdom values come into play?

Our Citizenship is in Heaven

In Philippians 3 the apostle Paul outlines all the old characteristics he used to value, outward signs of religiosity. Those same values he left behind to take hold of life with Jesus. He uses this vivid phrase “I consider them all garbage” to indicate a radical value shift that happens when we follow Christ. Verse 20 has always been particularly meaningful to me because it tells us “But our citizenship is in heaven.” None of us truly belongs in America or Indonesia or Canada or France, despite what our passport says or what our home address is. As products of our culture, we likely share some of the same values with those around us, but hopefully our values resemble the Kingdom of God even more.

The topic of citizenship is something I think about quite frequently, even more so in the past year or so as we have put in our application for French citizenship. We will eventually have an interview where we will have to prove that our values align with French values. Mostly the interviewer will want to see that we are well integrated into French society. He or she will want to know how we practice equality, fraternity and liberty and (probably most importantly) the fourth value that isn’t stated in the national motto: laïcité or secularism.

Laïcité, in a nutshell, is the French government’s way of embracing Fukuyama’s “minimal common culture.” It means that there is freedom of religion as long as that religion is kept private and it does not go against French laws or values. Of course, this presents an interesting dilemma because, as Paul points out in Philippians 3, our faith in Christ is so transformative that it’s not something we can keep private. It is meant to permeate every aspect of our being. It is meant to reorder our values completely.

In the midst of the internal conflict and anxiety I feel, I remind myself that I am ultimately a citizen of heaven. It is right and good and a cause for rejoicing when society’s values conflict with Kingdom values because it affirms that Jesus is my true King. Fukuyama hints at this when he cites Mother Theresa as an example of extreme altruistic behavior. He acknowledges that motivation (which I would argue is synonymous with value) varies enormously among individuals. [4] 

Fukuyama argues that the solution to the divisive political atmosphere of the present day lies in an equal recognition of the groups that have previously been marginalized [5] and a larger definition of national identities that take account of the diversity present in a given nation. [6] He points to Alexis de Tocqueville’s idea of successful democracy which “requires citizens who are patriotic, informed, active, public spirited, and willing to participate in political matters.” Fukuyama adds, “In this age of polarization, one might add that they should be open-minded, tolerant of other viewpoints, and ready to compromise their own views for the sake of democratic consensus.” [7] 

With respect to Fukuyama, I would rather have an identity based on the recognition of the Imago Dei inherent in each person. The respect and a willingness to sacrifice for others is only possible when we recognize the worth of each person, a worth that ultimately comes from the fact that we have been created by God and in His image. 

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1 Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, (2018), 52.

2 Francis Fukuyama. The End of History and the Last Man, (2012).

3 Louis Menand, “Francis Fukuyama Postpones the End of History,” The New Yorker, August 27, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/09/03/francis-fukuyama-postpones-the-end-of-history.

4 Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, (2018), 21.

5 Ibid, 27.

6 Ibid, 103.

7 Ibid, 129. 

 

 

 

About the Author

mm

Kim Sanford

7 responses to “Minimal Common Culture and the Imago Dei”

  1. mm Pam Lau says:

    Kim,
    Your last paragraph resonates deeply with how I reflect on the Scriptures and my identity with Jesus Christ. You write, “The respect and a willingness to sacrifice for others is only possible when we recognize the worth of each person, a worth that ultimately comes from the fact that we have been created by God and in His image. ”

    Fukuyama writes that confusion over identity arises as a condition of living in our modern world. The constant change, distractions, choices can be good and right; however, we now have an entire generation of very confused individuals who are genuinely in the dark about the One in Whose Image they are created.

    I am curious if/how you see people in France compared to Americans: Are they left with an unhappiness or feeling of being disconnected like I see in American because of this identity issue? How is it the same? Different?

    Thanks for your thoughtful post!

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Pam, your question has been swirling around in my head for a couple of days now. In the end I think I can say three things. 1.) The shift to a completely post-christian culture happened earlier in France than in the US (generally we think of the post-WW2 generation as the ones who walked away from the church en masse). Because we’ve been living 80-ish years in this totally secular mindset, the Imago Dei is no longer anywhere in the consciousness of average French people.
      2.) Nevertheless, in France I see a higher value placed on the dignity and humanity of each individual as compared to in American culture. “Solidarity” is a common catch-phrase that speaks to a French cultural value, a shared humanity that can’t be ignored.
      3.) I’m not sure I can speak to happiness in general. We do see quite a lot of people who are isolated and lonely. We also minister to a lot of people who are living in pretty basic, sometimes even miserable conditions. But my interpretation is not that these are identity issues, but relational issues. In other words, the American identity crisis seems to be introspective; people are asking the question,”Who am I?” I get the sense that here in France people are looking outward, asking “Where can I find genuine connection?”

  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    Kim, this is a great post, and timely given the circumstances that you and your family are and will be going through as you have applied to become French citizens. I’m guessing you all have rehearsed how you might address the questions the interviewer will ask regarding France’s values?

    I also thought it was interesting how Fukuyama talked about the “minimum common culture” issue, but like you, I also wrestle with how people arrive at a set shared values like this. It would seem that SOMEONE or some group will most likely get left out. Some group will likely remain on the margins. Then there’s the question of “who” is in charge — who is facilitating / controlling the conversation as these values are spelled out. I’m not saying it’s an impossible task, but these questions came to mind as I was reading.

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      I originally had an aside in my post that asked for the cohort’s input on my private vs. public faith question, so I would welcome input from anyone who has thoughts.

      I think my response goes something like this: My faith is an incredibly important and personal thing in my life. Because it is such a profound part of who I am, it necessarily spills over into everything I do. Luckily, I’m confident the French state would be in agreement with the ways my faith manifests itself – being a good neighbor, giving to the poor and volunteering my time, raising my children with patience and gentleness to name a few.

      Hopefully that will be a satisfying answer. Of course, the interviewers are just trying to weed out extremists of all faiths, but the citizenship decision really does come down to what this one person thinks of you. Luckily, I’ll have plenty of time to reflect on my answer; the process takes several years so we probably won’t be called in for the interview anytime soon.

      • Jennifer Vernam says:

        Really good post.

        I wonder… could you also talk about the value of pluralism? I think that it is compelling that as a member of a minority religious group you value a society that has space for your voice as well as the voice of others to be shared. In a post-Christian context, I think we, as Christians, need to be able to crosswalk how our values can map into this new culture. Thoughts?

  3. mm Russell Chun says:

    Kim thanks for this post. The image of God. I wonder if that is only a Christian thing. I don’t know if Islam believes that.

    While it motivates me to love unconditionally, I think we have ample evidence in Ukraine and Palestine, that their identities lie elsewhere.

    So few people believe this and of course this is why you are in France. To share the revolutionary thought that Jesus loves us “unconditionally” and they ARE made in HIS image.

    Wow…God Bless your work.

    Shalom..

  4. Cathy Glei says:

    I learned so much from your post, Kim. Thank you!
    If Laïcité is the French government’s way of embracing “minimal common culture”, how does that impact your role as missionaries in a country where freedom of religion is a private expression?

    Like you, I desire for my identity to simply be the image of God in me.

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