Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
John Donne's Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, and several steps in my Sickness contains both the phrases “no man is an illand” and “for whom the bell tolls.” The 1623 spelling may be unfamiliar to many. Unlike many of the quotations I chose for this book, where true origins are unknown or debatable, there is universal agreement that this is Donne's image. His assertion describes a major tension between conservative and liberal worldviews. Are we autonomous beings who make choices freely (conservative)? Or, are we incontestably a part of a whole (liberal) and unable to act in isolation? Should our responses deal with individuals (conservative) or society (liberal)?
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing.
John Donne's words, in their original context and in common use, speak of how humanity is always in the processes of uniting and dividing. We cannot escape it because we are not unto ourselves and therefore we constantly need to seek new equilibrium with those we are in relationship with. Jesus' words are often reduced to speaking of the unity of humans with God but such a reading misses the implicit human-to-human connection that the vine and branch image implies. Jesus’ words include the notion of our interconnectedness. There is no doubt that Jesus considers no one to be an island. What's more, he is in the centre of the island we are all part of, if not actually being the island.