The Rule of Affinity

Two men had robbed a bank a few miles away and while being chased by the police made a wrong turn into our neighborhood. Full of canyons and dead ends the robbers got lost, ditched their car, shot at a cop, and ran into backyards a few hundred yards from our house. Soon a police helicopter hovered over our block.

After a little while the sound was aggravating– infuriating even. It shook our house and rattled our nerves. While the police told us to stay inside and away from their barricades everyone was drawn out of their house by the thunderous claps of the helicopters blades.

It stayed like this for 5 hours.

That’s what it took for neighbors to talk. A police barricade. Locked down on a Saturday afternoon and each of us couldn’t stand being in our houses. With no way to escape… we were forced to talk. Names were shared, hands were shaken, houses were pointed to, stories were told, and we all got to know one another a little bit.

The Rule of Affinity is so powerful in our culture that this is what it takes to meet the people who live within 300 yards of my bedroom. Power outages, blizzards, bad storms, earthquakes, and other moments that force us awake from our Affinity stupor reminding us that there are actual people behind those front doors and mailboxes.

The Rule of Affinity is all-powerful. I don’t mean that it’s an axiom or a rule of thumb, I mean that it rules our lives like a king rules his people.

  • Where you work is defined by affinity.
  • Where you worship is defined by affinity.
  • Who you are friends with is defined by affinity.
  • What you do with your free time is defined by affinity.
  • What you eat? Affinity.
  • What you wear? Affinity.

This list never ends because affinity rules our lives. Our affluence affords us choices. And our choices drive us to seek deeper and deeper levels of affinity. We do what we do because we like it and avoid what we don’t like.

Think about it like this: Whenever you have a choice, the Rule of Affinity drives your choice to gather not by proximity but by affinity. 

The internet, especially social media, amplifies this effect. Because you can find community with people just like you online you don’t need proximity. Affinity allows you to consider your best friends to be people you’ve never met face-to-face. You know 500 things about a stranger but nothing about a neighbor. That’s the power of the Rule of Affinity over your life.

And yet, the Rule of Affinity is actually killing your soul. You feel like you’ve found community with people just like you but what you’ve really found is communal loneliness and further isolation.

Affinity is shallow. It’s weak. It’s junk food. It lacks the full flavor and nutritional value of Proximity.  Intellectually, affinity is small. It’s easy. It’s drinking a Coke and calling it a fine vintage. It’s foregoing literature for a grocery aisle romance novel. One result is that we live in a society of psychiatric drugs. We medicate the pain caused by the Rule of Affinity’s malnutrition. Filled with false community and Affinity’s lies about our place in the world we lean on drugs to seek a normal we know nothing of. As we drive toward further and further affinity we gain more and more isolation, our soul starving our soul further, eventually leaving us a rotten core of our true selves.

The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, challenges us to reject the Rule of Affinity for the realities of Proximity. In the Garden, Satan tempted Eve with affinity… “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) While Adam and Eve had perfect Proximity to God, Satan tempted them with the Rule of Affinity where they could gather with God on their terms.

The Gospel overcomes the Rule of Affinity and re-introduces the Garden’s Proximity into our lives. Jesus’ re-introduction of Proximity looks at the bank robbers face and says, “There’s a better way. You seek something temporary and I offer something permanent and beautiful.

Jesus gutted the Rule of Affinity with His invitation to new way of living,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-39






6 responses to “The Rule of Affinity”

  1. disqus_KGEQQxNj4f Avatar

    So true. We all knowingly long for community, but we so often choose the easiest path to quenching that thirst for relationship. We want something easy, something that works on our time, something with no risk of rejection (this why porn has become such an issue). We search for a surface-level relationship that keeps us hidden behind an insecurity that if penetrated, could let others see our true selves “..but what you’ve really found is communal loneliness and further isolation.”(I really like that part).

    Brian – Youth Leaders Summit team member

  2. Kris Fernhout Avatar

    Neil Postman, a social/technology critic, had many similar thoughts. His contention in 1992, pre-facebook (which asks users to categorize themselves so people with similar interests can find each other easier) that the new definition of community involved finding people who were similar and thought the same as opposed to an old definition of community where people with different ideas and beliefs lived together and negotiated their differences in the interest of social solidarity. There’s an interesting interview with him done with him in 1992 (just as the internet started to grow in popularity and continues greatly to the Rule of Affinity). You can see it on youtube at the following web address. Worth watching. Postman’s quotes and thoughts on community and affinity are at minute 21.

  3. Dr. Kelly Flanagan Avatar

    Adam, now I know who you are! : ) And why Andy recommended us to each other. Enjoyed your post here very much. Thanks for the calling to connect with the people closest to home!

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      It’s been fun to hear from folks this week who are celebrating filling in their chart. Bit by bit, they are getting to know their neighbors. It’s a first step!

  4. Joel Lund Avatar
    Joel Lund

    Very compelling stuff, Adam. Love the concept of affinity versus proximity. The former is mindless (which means “unexamined” and not a good response for believers); the latter is intentional and what we are called to strive towards.

    Joel –
    Prepare For Rain (

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      Thanks for the comment, Joel. I think this is your first comment here. Welcome.

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