Thursday, April 20, 2006

Loving the Other

Like many of you, I've been trying to figure out why there is such an abyss in America between conservatives on the one side and liberals on the other, between Republicans and Democrats, and between those on the religious right and Christians who read in the Gospels a call for social justice. This is both a religious and a political divide, and it also touches on sex and the importance we give it in this culture.

One explanation I'm working on is that the difference is based on how we love the Other. Religious conservatives and Republicans (the party that has been hijacked by the right wing) are certainly able to love others. Didn't Jesus stress the importance of loving one's neighbor? But the other for them is limited to family, church and community. The other is not the radical Other that I believe Jesus had in mind when he told us to love our neighbor. Why else did Jesus associate with prostitutes and tax collectors and all kinds of outcasts from his society?
These were HIS neighbors. But the clearest notion of what Jesus meant by neighbor is in his parable of the Good Samaritan. The man lying in the ditch, beaten by robbers, was ignored by his good neighbors. Only the Samaritan was able to love beyond the social walls that divided 1st century Palestine. For this Samaritan, anyone in need was a neighbor. He (or she?) was able to love the Other. And this I suggest is what the Gospels call us to do: Love the Other (not just the nice people, but also the soldier, the sex offender, the abusing priest, even George Bush).

Those on the left, I humbly believe, are more apt to love the Other, the poor, the hungry, those afflicted with AIDs, the woman choosing an abortion, the money lender, the prostitute, and even George Bush. We're not perfect, but our faith (secular as well as religious) impells us toward tolerance and acceptance of the Other, no matter how radical. Can we love even the terrorist?

In one of the Gospel stories, Jesus is inside of a house with a crowd outside. He is told that his mother and his brothers and sisters are outside asking for him. He shocks his audience, particularly those of us who are especially fond of Mary, by telling them that his family includes whomever does the will of God. This tells me that we cannot be partial to our family, church and community, but must love the Other, wherever he or she may be found.

I'm not sure how persuasive this reasoning is and I doubt that it's a powerful argument, since it contains a host of assumptions that show how intolerant I am of the right. But it's a start.

For an excellent perspective on this question, read Bill McKibben's article on "The Christian Paradox" which was published in Harper's Magaziner last summer. You can find it on the Sojourner's web site.

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