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THE HEALTHY CHURCH: EMBODYING DIVERSITY
Some suggest that all major world religions are at the bottom more or less the same. What is significant in each is common to them all. What makes each differ from others is only a husk conditioned by various human mentalities but holding an identical kernel. John Hick comes close to this view in that, together with Jalalu’l-Din Rumi, he argues that “the lamps are different, but the Light is the same” (An Interpretation of Religion [Yale, 1989] 233).To speak in a Christian voice from the perspective of such an understanding of religion means to engage in cracking the husk of difference that distinguishes the Christian faith from other religions and displaying the kernel which unites it with them. Whoever speaks authentically in a Christian voice will end up agreeing with representatives of other religions provided they do the same.
While all major religions have much in common, including some fundamental
convictions, and while their adherents all possess the same human dignity
and therefore command the same respect, it is not clear that all religions
are at bottom the same. Most of their adherents would disagree with the claim
and feel that the one making it does not sufficiently respect them in their
own specificity but is, as it were, looking through them in search of an artificially
constructed essence of their religion. My sense is that they are right. Major
religions represent distinctive overarching interpretations of life with
partly overlapping and partly competing metaphysical, historical, and moral
claims. To treat all religions as at the bottom the same is to insert them
into a frame of meaning without sufficiently appreciating, as M. Barnes puts
it (Theology and the Dialogue of Religions [Cambridge, 2002] 182),
“the irreducible mystery of otherness” of religions. It is because all major
religions are not at the bottom the same that it is worth engaging in dialogues;
such dialogues are exercises in mutual learning about ourselves and others.
Equally, it is because all major religions are not at the bottom the same
that their adherents rightly argue with each other about the merits and truth
content of their respective religions.
But concentrating on differences seems to be a major mistake, so basic that it includes a mistake about how to define something. As any introduction to logic will make clear, you cannot define an entity by noting only its specific difference; you must also include in your definition its proximate genus. Human beings are rational animals; “rational” is the specific difference and “animal” is the proximate genus. Applied to the world of religions, what is important about the Christian convictions about God is not simply that God is the Holy Trinity, but also that the Father of Jesus Christ is the God who called Abraham and delivered the Jews from slavery in Egypt, which is, from a Christian perspective, the God whom Muslims worship as Allah. Similarly what is important about the Christian sacred texts is not only that they contain the New Testament, but also that they contain what Christians call the Old Testament, which is originally a Jewish sacred text, and that there is a significant overlap between Christian and Muslim sacred texts. To think of one’s own or of another religion simply in terms of its differences from one’s own is to fail to respect it in its concreteness.
In fact, both of the above approaches are wrongheaded because
they abstract from the concrete character of religions, the one by zeroing
in on what is the same in all religions and the other by zeroing in on what
is different. In this they miss precisely what is most important about a
religion, which is the particular configuration of its elements, which
may overlap with, differ from, or contradict some elements of other religions.
For religions are embraced and practiced in no other way but in their concreteness.
To speak in a Christian voice is then neither to give a variation on a theme
common to all religions nor to make exclusively Christian claims in distinction
from all other religions; it is to give voice to the Christian faith in its
concreteness, whether what is said overlaps with, differs from, or contradicts
what people speaking in a Jewish or Muslim voice are saying. Since truth matters
and since a false pluralism of approving pats on the back is cheap and short-lived,
we will rejoice over overlaps and engage others over differences and incompatibilities,
so as to both learn from and teach others.
The topic of my talk is “Living With the ‘Other’”, and my presentation has a simple outline. I will try to answer three questions: (1) Who is the other? (2) Who are we? (3) How should we relate to each other? I will then conclude with a brief reflection on the relation between the universal reach of Christian love (any and every person) and particular obligations toward those with whom we have special relations (such as family, ethnic or religious group).
Before I proceed, let me make one linguistic observation. The title
of my talk uses the singular “other” with a definite article. This is how
the word is often used in philosophical, sociological, and anthropological
literature (cf. M. Theunissen, Der Andere. Studien zur Sozialontologie
der Gegenwart [Walter de Gruyter, 1977]; T. Todorov, The Conquest
of America: The Question of the Other, transl. R. Howard [HarperCollins,
1984]; E. Dussel, The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of ‘the Other’
and the Myth of Modernity, transl. M. D. Barber [Continuum, 1985]) There
is nothing wrong with such use, provided we are not misled by the singular
to make two mistakes: either to think that the other is only of one kind,
or to reduce all distinct features of others to an abstract otherness. First,
“others” are many. They come in a variety of shapes and colors, speak diverse
languages, espouse different religions, and are characterized by different
cultural markers. The grammatical singular denotes a plural reality, which
I will partly indicate by shifting back and forth between the singular and
the plural. Second, otherness is not an abstract undifferentiated quality.
Individual traits of others matter a great deal for how we relate to them.
Others may be simply different from us (say, speak Hungarian instead
of Croatian). Or we may disapprove of some of the constitutive features
of their otherness (such as their use of alcohol or their practice of genital
mutilation). Or the other may be someone who has transgressed against
us (such as Hutus having massacred hundreds of thousands of Tutsis). Indeed,
the other may be and often is all three of these things together. So “the
other” is a shorthand which opens a window to a richly diverse reality, not
the indicator of the full content of that reality.
But this is not a diversity of “anything goes.” For the most
part, we don’t think that all religion and all values are either relative
or that there is a rough parity between them. To say that our societies are
culturally and religiously pluralistic is not so much to prescribe how each
culture should be evaluated and how they should relate, but to note that
a plurality of cultures is a social reality. We live near or with people
whose values and overarching interpretations of life differ markedly from
ours and who have sufficient social power to make their voice heard in the
public square. In terms of living with the other, the main challenge today
is this rubbing shoulders with diverse people in an increasingly pluralistic
An alternative way to construe identity is to think of it as always including the other. This is an inclusive understanding of identity. As persons or cultural groups, we define ourselves not simply by what distinguishes us from others and what we therefore need to keep pure from others. Instead, we define ourselves both by what distinguishes us from others and by what we have in common with them. This notion of identity is consonant with the OT account of creation. In Genesis God creates by separating things (say, the light from the darkness) and binding them together. When God creates a human pair, God both separates Eve from Adam and brings her to him so that they can become one flesh. Distinct-and-bound creatures necessarily have complex identities because they are what they are not just in and of themselves but also in relation to others. As P. Ricoeur puts it in Oneself as Another (Univ. of Chicago, 1992), the “selfhood of oneself implies otherness to such an intimate degree that one cannot be thought of without the other, that instead one passes into the other.”
For such inclusive identity, two things are critically important, and they both concern boundaries. First, in order to have an identity, you must have boundaries. For without boundaries we would not have “a world”; everything would be jumbled up together and nothing distinct would exist, which is to say that just about nothing would exist at all. To have anything except infinite chaos, you must have boundaries. Hence when God creates, God separates. If boundaries are good, then some kind of boundary maintenance must be good too. Hence when boundaries are threatened (as they often are in a variety of ways), they must be maintained. Second, if to have identity one must have boundaries, then to have inclusive identity one must have permeable and flexible boundaries. With impermeable and inflexible boundaries, a self or a group will ultimately remain alone, without the other. For the other to come in and change the self or a group, the other must be let in (and, likely after a while also politely let out!).
Our homes provide good examples of complex and dynamic identities circumscribed by permeable and flexible boundaries. When I go to a foreign land I like to buy a local work of art. I bring it home and place it in our living room, my office, or wherever. A space that is properly our own contains a number of “foreign” objects. They are windows into worlds that have become part of me—Cambridge, Madras, Prague, St. Petersburg, Zagreb. As such, they are also symbols of an identity that is not self-enclosed, but marked by porous boundaries and therefore shaped by the other. Occasionally, I move a work of art to a different room to make space for another. Sometimes it even ends up in the basement. Something analogous happens with our identity. We enter new relationships and they shape us; certain things recede into the background and others receive new importance. We live as ourselves in that things which make up our identity multiply, shift, and change. Our boundaries are flexible and our identity dynamic.
Some of that change simply happens to us. Others with whom we are in close contact change, and as a consequence we change too. When my son, Nathanael, came into our family, I changed, whether I wanted to change or not. Moreover, I changed in ways that I could not fully control. Relationships are by definition made up of more actors than one, and persons can react to the presence and action of others, but they can neither control fully that to which they will react nor the conditions under which they will react. Chance and unpredictability come with having permeable and flexible boundaries. At the same time, we can refuse movement of our identity in certain directions and we can initiate movements in other directions. In encounters with others we are not a rudderless boat at high seas. We can significantly craft our identity, and in the process we can even help shape the identities of others.
Who are we? We are people with inclusive and changing identities;
multiple others are part of who we are. We can try to eject them from ourselves
in order to craft for ourselves an exclusive identity, but we will then do
violence not only to others, but also to ourselves. Who is the other? Others
are our neighbors who differ from us by culture and whose very otherness
is often a factor in our conflicts with them. Now, after the discussion of
inclusive identity, we can say that the others are also not just others.
They too have complex and dynamic identities, of which we are part, if we
are their neighbors. Just as we are “inhabited” by others and have a history
with them, others are also “inhabited” by us. If persons and groups are attuned
to such complex and dynamic identities, they will not relate to each other
according to simple binary schemata: “I am I and you are you” (in case of
persons) or “you are either in or out” (in case of groups). Their relations
will be correspondingly complex. How do such complex relations look?
We have reasons for wanting to keep others at bay. For one, we are afraid for our identity. Above all we fear being overwhelmed by others and their ways. There is a German word for this fear: Überfremdung . It is as if a guest in your home would start to bring in her own furniture and rearrange and take out yours, cook foods and play music you do not like, and bang around working when you would like to sleep. So you say to your guest as politely as you can, “This is my home, and this is not how I want to live. Go back to your own place, and there you can live as you please. Here we are going to live as I please.” Globalization brings others into our proximity. The consequence is often the feeling of Überfremdung . Smaller cultures, like the Macedonian and the Albanian, are threatened by the huge wave of global mono-culture washing over them. They are attracted to many of its features, but they fear that the centuries-long, rich traditions which give them a sense of identity will be replaced by a culture foreign and shallow. Prosperous Western democracies worry that the processes of globalization, which bring to their lands people in search of better living, will undermine the very culture that made possible the freedoms and prosperity which they enjoy.
Second, we fear for our safety. The myth of an “innocent
other” is just that—a myth. Relationships between people are always sites
of contested power, and there is a permanent danger of misuse of power, especially
between those who are reciprocally “other.” Yet we should guard lest we,
in refusing to accept the myth of the innocent other, embrace two other myths
at the same time: the myth of the “innocent self” and of the “demonic other.”
Our sense of identity, fear for safety, and old enmities all militate against the will to embrace the other. So why should we want to embrace the other? First, it may be in our interest to do so. The alternatives—either building a wall of separation or perpetuating enmity—are often much worse. As proximate others, we are intertwined by bonds of economy, culture, and family. Severing these bonds can be worse than trying to live together. But the more important reason is that living with the other in peace is an expression of our God-given humanity. We are created not to isolate ourselves from others but to engage them, indeed, to contribute to their flourishing, as we nurture our own identity and attend to our own well-being. Finally, for Christians, the most important reason for being willing not only to live with others but positively to embrace them is the character of God’s love as displayed in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died for all human beings because he loved them all. Though not divine and though in no way capable of redeeming anyone, human beings, too, should love indiscriminately, each and every human being, including not only “the other” but also the enemy (cf. G. Outka, “Universal Love and Impartiality,” The Love Commandments: Essays in Christian Ethics and Moral Philosophy, eds. E.N. Santurri and W. Werpehowski [Georgetown Univ. Press, 1992] 9).
We may be persuaded that it is good to embrace others, and we may want to embrace them, but still find ourselves unable to do so. Our fears and enmities may get the best of us. Our previous failures may make us lose hope. How do we acquire the will to embrace the other? How do we sustain it through difficult times? Let me try to answer these questions with a story. I was in Zagreb, Croatia, speaking at the promotion of the Croatian translation of my book Exclusion and Embrace. As I was explaining the idea of “will to embrace”, which is central to the book’s argument, I noticed a person in the audience who was listening intently but restlessly. After I finished my lecture and the crowd had cleared, he almost charged toward me and said, “But where does it come from?” And I said, “Where does what come from?” He said, “Where does the will to embrace come from?” He was agitated. He went on, “Is it inborn? Can one learn to will in such ways?” We went together through different possibilities. Ultimately, I said, the will to embrace comes from the divine Spirit of embrace, which can open up our self-enclosed sense of identity, dispel our fears, and break down the hold of enmity over us.
The appeal to the Spirit does not exclude other sources of the will to embrace but includes them. The Spirit of embrace is the Creator Spirit, who has fashioned human beings to live in loving relationships with others. So we may well be motivated by the fulfillment that love provides. The Spirit of embrace is also the Redeemer Spirit, who is calling into being communities which embody and through their practices transmit the will to embrace. So our characters may be shaped through communities of embrace. And yet ultimately the source of the will is that same Spirit which rested on Jesus Christ and led Him to die for the ungodly.
Once we understand reciprocity involved in the relation of otherness, we will have more reasons to be interested not only in what we think about ourselves and about others, but also in what others think of themselves and of us. This is what I mean by “inverting perspectives.” There are pragmatic reasons for this endeavor. As R. Williams has written in his comments on the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center entitled Writing in the Dust (Wm.B. Eerdmans, 2002 ), “we have to see that we have a life in other people’s imagination, quite beyond our control.” Not attending to other people’s imaginations of us may be dangerous. But there are also moral reasons for this inverting of perspectives. Commitments to truth, to justice, to life in peace with others all require it. We cannot live truthful, just, and peaceful lives with others in a complex world if the only perspective we are willing to entertain is our own. To be unwilling to engage in inverting perspectives is to live, as Immanuel Kant put it, as a self-enclosed one-eyed Cyclops in need of another eye which would let him see things from the perspective of other people.
What does inverting perspectives entail? First, we need to see others through their own eyes. It is natural for us to see them with our own eyes, from our own perspective. To see others through their own eyes takes a willingness to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong and others right in their assessment of themselves, a leap of imagination to place ourselves in their position, a temporary bracketing of our own understanding of them, and receptive attention to their own story about who they see themselves to be.
Second, we need to see ourselves through the eyes of others . Sometimes we think that if we know anything well, it is ourselves that we know well. But I can fail to see something well not simply because it is too distant, but also because it is too close. Moreover, I have a vested interest in seeing myself in a certain way—noticing that what is positive but not that is negative, or letting that which is positive overshadow or relativize the negative. Because we often fail to see ourselves adequately, we need to learn how we are perceived by others. Take as an example the debate on so-called orientalism (the stereotypes that the Christian West has about the Muslim East) and occidentalism (the stereotypes that the Muslim East has about the Christian West). Where the West may see itself as “prosperous,” the East may see it as “decadent”; where the West may see itself as “freedom loving,” the East may see it as “oppressive”; where the West may see itself as “rational,” the East may see it as “calculating” (cf. A. Margalit and I. Buruma, “Occidentalism,” New York Review of Books [January 2002]). It is important for the West to see itself from the perspective of the East, and to inquire seriously as to the adequacy of its own self-perception in light of the way it is perceived. The same, of course, holds true for the East.
Inverting perspectives is second nature for the weak. In encounters
with the strong, they always have to attend to how they and their actions
are perceived by the strong. Their success and even survival depend on seeing
themselves with the eyes of the other. The strong are not in the habit of
taking into account what the weak think of them; they can do without inverting
perspective. If the weak do not like what they see, so much the worse for
the weak. If the only thing that matters to the strong is power and privilege,
they will charge ahead, without regard for the perspective of the weak. But
if they want to be truthful and just, they will want the weak to free them
from their own false judgments of themselves and of their relations with others.
I could refuse to engage the other with arguments. I could simply
insist that I am right. But the result would be irreconcilable clashing of
perspectives. In the absence of arguments, the relative power of social actors
would decide the outcome. True, we cannot argue interminably, for life would
then have to stop. As we are in fact acting even when we are waiting to resolve
our own intellectual questions—there is no exit from acting, as W. James
has argued in “The Will to Believe” (The Will to Believe and Other Essays
in Popular Philosophy and Human Immortality [Dover, 1956] 1-31)—so we
will be acting even as we are waiting to argue through our differences in
perspectives. But we can act in our best light, and then return to argument.
In fact, this is what citizens in well-functioning democracies do: they argue,
they vote, and then, if some of them don’t like the result, they argue and
vote again. And as N. Wolterstorff has suggested, they do so even when a
larger polity does not have “a shared political basis,” but lives with “a
politics of multiple communities” (“The Role of Religion in Decision and
Discussion of Political Issues,” in Religion in the Public Square: The
Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate [Rowman & Littlefield,
Even if we all have our own maximalist definitions of moral terms shaped by culturally specific and “thick” morality, we also share minimalist moral definitions which “are embedded in the maximal morality” (3). We can argue successfully over cultural boundary lines because we understand and for the most part acknowledge minimalist definitions of relevant terms. When incommensurability threatens between diverse communities, it is not because in principle rational argumentation between them is impossible, but because the readiness to seek through common discourse the truth which transcends one’s own convictions is lacking or because the communities do not possess even an elementary willingness to share the same social space.
Positive engagement with the other is not just a matter of arguments.
Even when arguments fail to bring anything like consensus or convergence,
we can still cooperate in many ways, unless a dispute concerns acts of grave
injustice. The belief that we must agree on overarching interpretative frameworks
and all essential values in order to live in peace is mistaken. It ultimately
presupposes that peace can exist only if cultural sameness reigns. But even
if one considered such sameness desirable, it is clearly unachievable. Take
major world religions as an example. A consensus between them on overarching
interpretations of the world is not on the horizon in the near future. Must
their adherents be therefore at war with one another? Of course not—they can
live in peace and cooperate, their fundamental disagreements notwithstanding,
and they can do so out of their own properly religious resources. Though the
practice of Christians sometimes seems to falsify this claim, everything in
the Christian faith itself speaks in favor of it, from the simple and explicit
injunction to live in peace with all people (Rom 12:18) to the character
of God as triune love (cf. M. Volf, Christianity and Violence [forthcoming]).
Such welcome is possible on Christian terms because we Christians should not think of ourselves as having a pure national, cultural, racial, or ethnic identity. Not only do we, along with Jews and Muslims, believe that all human beings are creatures of one God and therefore that the humanity which unites them is more significant than any difference that may divide them. Further, an image of the Christian life which looms large in the Bible and in the Christian tradition is that of a pilgrim. A pilgrim is not defined primarily by the land or culture through which he or she is traveling, but by the place toward which he or she is on the way; his or her primary identity comes from the destination, not from any point along the journey. And the land toward which Christians are moving is God’s new world, in which people from “all tribes and languages” will be gathered. Being a pilgrim does not exclude a whole range of secondary identities, such as citizen of Macedonia, ethnic Roma, woman, or mother of three rebellious teenagers. But in Christian understanding, all these identities ought to be subordinated to the primary identity as a person on the way to God’s new world.
The unsettling of Christians’ sense of cultural identity cuts deep. The Apostle Paul writes that Christians “are not their own.” This is a strange thing to say. A lot of things are my own, and I guard them carefully. And it would seem that what is more my own than anything else is myself. And yet the Apostle insists that we are not our own, but belong to the Lord. As a Christian in Paul’s sense, I am so much not myself that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Christian identity is taken out of our own hands and placed into the hands of the divine Other, and by this it is both radically unsettled and unassailably secured. Because Christ defines our identity in the primary way, Christians can confidently set on a journey with proximate others and engage without fear in the give and take of the relationship with others that marks an inclusive identity. What will be the result of this engagement? Like Abraham’s, it will be a journey of faith and hope toward the land which one has not yet seen.
But should we not maintain our boundaries so as to protect our cultural identities? Yes, we should. If I am crushed in the process of embrace with the other, this is no longer an embrace but an act of covert aggression. Whereas the will to embrace the other is unconditional, the embrace itself is not. It is conditioned, first, on the preservation of the integrity of the self. Boundaries are good, I argued earlier, because discrete identities themselves are a good. And because both are good, they have to be protected. Earlier I have argued for protection of identities—of one’s self and of one’s group—by appealing to creation. To have anything distinct at all and therefore to have “a world,” you must have and maintain boundaries. Hence when God creates, God separates (and binds together, of course). One can argue for protection of identities also on the basis of redemption . Since God showed redeeming love in Christ for all humanity, the self cannot be excluded as a legitimate object of love. I should love myself, provided my love of self is properly related to the love of God and of the neighbor. And since I can love myself, I can certainly love my group because such love includes both the love of the neighbor and the love of the self (since my own well-being is often connected with the well-being of my group). Hence one is entitled to ensure that the embrace of the other does not endanger the self.
Moreover, the embrace is predicated on settling of the disputes with the other around the questions of truth and justice. How should these questions be settled? For Christians, the guardian at the boundaries of identity is Christ, and the self inhabited by Christ is therefore committed to making the story of Jesus Christ his or her own story. A one-word summary of that story is grace. Now grace is grace only against the backdrop of the law of justice. I am gracious in situations of conflict if I forego the rightful claims of the law, forgive, and reconcile with the other. I am gracious in situations of need if I do not only what the law of justice prescribes, but also engage in acts of generosity toward the needy. In the act of grace the law of justice is not inoperative; to the contrary, its demands are implicitly recognized as valid. In showing grace, however, I “transgress” the law of justice, not by doing less than it requires, but by doing more (cf. J. Murphy, “Mercy and Legal Justice,” in Forgiveness and Mercy [Cambridge, 1988] 169).
Two things follow from this understanding of grace. First, grace is very much compatible with ongoing arguments between parties about what relations between them would be just and with the demand that one not be treated unjustly. Second, the receiver of grace has no claim on the grace of the giver; though the giver may be obliged to give (as Christians are obliged to forgive), the receiver cannot demand to be given.
The four elements of relating to the other— commitment to
consociality, inverting perspectives, engagement, and embrace—leave many
thorny issues unresolved. I have said nothing about political arrangements
most suitable for living with multiple others. Nicholas Wolterstorff has
argued for a particular kind of liberal democracy as best suited for culturally
and religiously pluralistic societies. It has two features that distinguish
it from other conceptions of liberal democracy, notably from that of J. Rawls.
First, it is not necessary to have a shared political basis rooted in the
idea of public reason. Instead, we should learn to live “with the politics
of multiple communities” (The Role of Religion, 109). Second, the
state should be “neutral with respect to the religious and other comprehensive
perspectives present in society,” and that neutrality should be understood
“as requiring impartiality of the state with respect to all comprehensive
perspectives rather than separation of the state from all of them
(115). I share Wolterstorff’s position. Important as the four elements of
relating to the other that I have analyzed are in their own right, they can
be also seen as part of an ethos of a genuinely pluralistic liberal
democracy of the kind Wolterstorff advocates.
Avishai Margalit has distinguished what he calls “the Christian project” from “the Jewish project.” The Christian project, he writes, “is an effort to establish, in historical time, an ethical community based on love. This community, ideally, should include all of humanity, and it should be based on the memory of the cross as an ultimate sacrifice for the sake of humanity” (The Ethics of Memory [Harvard, 2002] 72). In contrast, the Jewish project “retains the double tier of ethics and morality at least for historical times, and postpones the idea of a universal ethical community to the messianic era. Jews are obliged to establish themselves as an ethical community of caring. The force of the obligation is gratitude to God for having delivered their ancestors from the ‘house of slaves’ in Egypt…In distinction from ethics, morality, in the Jewish view, is based on a different source. It is based on the debt of gratitude all humanity owes God for having been created in His image” (72).
The basic obligation in the first-tier communal ethics is care,
and the basic obligation in the second-tier universal morality is respect.
To the brother—whether he is a family member, compatriot, or co-religionist—we
owe care; to the other, we owe respect.
But do not people to whom we are “thickly” related demand special attention? A spouse and children seem to do so. Why not fellow members of the same ethnic group? Insisting that “every human being is my neighbor,” some Christians have advocated that we should be impartial in our love, extending it to those to whom we are “thinly” related no less than to those to whom we are “thickly” related. Yet even those Christian theologians who, like Augustine, claim that “all people should be loved equally” (Augustine, Teaching Christianity, transl. E. Hill, in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century I/11 [New City, 1996] I.29), insist that “proximity” makes a difference. Augustine writes, “since you cannot be of service to everyone, you have to take greater care of those who are more closely joined to you by a turn, so to say, of fortune’s wheel, whether by occasion of place or time, or any other such circumstance.” Other Christian theologians, like Thomas Aquinas, have claimed that all neighbors should not be loved equally; we have special relations to some people and “the union arising from natural origin is prior to, and more stable than, all others” (Summa Theologica , transl. Fathers of the English Dominican Province [Christian Classics, 1981] IIa IIae, q.26, a8). So to claim that love’s scope is universal does not imply that we do not differentiate in how we ought to love those with whom we have special relations and those with whom we do not.
There is no good reason to wed the claim that love is universal
in scope with what G. Outka has called “simplified egalitarianism” which
does not take into account that “our capacity for reciprocal help and harm
is deeper and more varied with those closely related to us.” The Christian
claim that we should “love” all people, not just those with whom we have
special relations, does not imply undifferentiated cosmopolitanism which
would preclude giving special attention to our own family, ethnic group,
nation, or broader culture. Not only is it right to maintain boundaries of
discrete group identities, as I have argued earlier. It is also right devote
one’s energies so that the group to which we belong would flourish. What
Christians ought not to do, is fail to love “the other,” especially the proximate
other. This I take to be one of the points of the story of the Good Samaritan.
©1998, 1999 Catalyst Resources
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