The Different Drum: Community Making And Peace, by M. Scott Peck
This book is an example of a work that began very well and ended with somewhat of a thud. And why was that the case? Most of this book is spent, rather sensibly, dealing with issues of peacemaking and the building of communities on an interpersonal level, looking at families, congregations, and various other groups. It is at the end of the book when the author looks at politics on the national and then the international scale where this book fails, and it fails specifically for a few reasons that are worth discussing. For one, the methods of dealing with “evil” become more problematic with the author’s pacifism the higher up you go. For another, the author seems afflicted with that postmillennial optimism that believes that it is the achievement of peace and unity on earth that will inaugurate the millennial kingdom, rather than a direct and forceful intrusion by Jesus Christ on a rebellious world, and those who are not optimistic about the possibility of genuine peace and moral progress for humanity as a whole are not likely to view the author’s suggestions as realistic. That the author, rather typically, labels this pessimism as simply resulting from fear is a notable blind spot.
This book is divided into three parts. Beginning with a prologue and introduction, and going on for a bit more than 300 pages, this marks the effort of Peck to put his thoughts about community as a method for others to follow. The first part of the book, and best part, examines the foundation of his thoughts about community-building (I), with chapters on how he stumbled into community in his own life (1), examines the fallacy of rugged individualism (2), looks at the true meaning of community (3), discusses how communities form either by accident or design in times of crisis (4), and looks at the stages of community building (5), their further dynamics (6), and maintenance (7). The second part of the book, which is also very good, examines the bridge between people and communities (II), with chapters on human nature (8), patterns of transformation (9), emptiness (10), vulnerability (11), and the issue of integration and integrity (12). It is at this point where the author moves into much more dangerous territory in looking at community as the solution to the world’s problems (III), with chapters on communication (13), the arms race (14), the Christian Church in the United States (15), the American government (16), and empowerment (17), after which there is an altar call of sorts for the author’s perspective and a look at what people are to do now.
The author’s treatment of community is almost evangelical in fervor, but I think the author underestimates the difficulties of the community he seeks. There are definitely some tensions that the author is able to recognize, such as the way in which it is hard for people to feel intimate unless there is a safe space where people can be themselves and let their guard down. And if that is true of individuals meeting in a basement or forming a group of like-minded people, that is certainly even more true when we get to congregations and larger institutions where vulnerability can be very hazardous and where issues of safety and trust are all the more important. That said, the author seems to be writing to people who are already interested in a certain degree of broadmindedness, intimacy, and honesty about one’s weaknesses and shortcomings and struggles. After all, the reader has already engaged with this book and (more than likely) others by this oversharing and vulnerable and idealistic writer. Yet the author’s experience does not really allow him to understand just how dark and unsafe much of the world is the majority of people within it, and so he tends to think that the problems of trust that make peace so difficult will be easily solved through patient listening. But had the author not underestimated the amount of fear and evil that exist in this world, it is unlikely that he would have written as he did.