Over the years I have heard people make arguments and express some variation of the phrase “it’s just common sense,” or “this is common sense legislation/policy.” These types of phrases start with a few basic assumptions. 1. That the people using the phrase embodies the definition of common sense, therefore everyone should agree with them. 2. That there is such a thing as common sense and that it is common.
I don’t buy into either.
Here’s a definition of common sense that I find helpful: “Common sense is sound, practical judgment concerning everyday matters, or a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge in a manner that is shared by nearly all people.” That’s from wikipedia (not always the most reliable source, but a good summation of other definitions that expressed the same idea).
The key with common sense, I believe is the last part of the definition – “shared by nearly all people.” I think the day so “shared by nearly all people” are becoming rarer – at least in our nation. As a nation, our people seem more intent on finding ways to fight either each other, than to find common ground. We are losing the ability to even agree on basic facts even when large numbers of people watch the same events in real time. When basic core truth can’t be agreed upon, then there is no room for common sense since fewer number of things can be “shared by nearly all people.”
In order to have common sense, there needs to be a metanarrative. A metanarrative “is an overarching story or storyline that gives context, meaning, and purpose to all of life.” (Source). Again, the idea being that there is something that is more important than the individual and their experience and perspective.
We live in an age that combine, or maybe sways through post-modernism and toxic individualism. The main point being that we are losing our communal aspect. Without a communal aspect, life becomes more difficult because we are not able to build trust with other humans, with institutions, with systems, etc. Common sense requires trust. You won’t find that in any definition, but how can there be trust when we share nothing in common with anyone else?
The church experiences this division as people search for meaning and purpose and identity. Faith loses its foundational component in life, when faith is not longer a communal thing and only just a personal piety that has no public impact. Faith becomes just another compartment of life that we can shape to meet our personal desires.
But the church is designed and created to be counter cultural. That has meant different things in different times and places. For now, I think this means that there is an emphasis on communal purpose and meaning. It means drawing on identity, not in a way that separates people, but rather an identity that is expansive. It forces us to look beyond the superficial divisions that the world gets caught up in and refocuses on the core and foundational aspect of Christianity, which is identity in Christ.
I’m not arguing for a return to common sense. I’m not convinced that what was considered common sense was all that good all the time. It was just shared by nearly all people. But that doesn’t make it good though.
Rather, I much prefer a communal understanding about purpose and meaning. Something that allows us to see the importance of communal and individual meaning and purpose as something that works together.