The neighbor in the self

Published on openDemocracy, by James R. Mensch, Aug 28, 2008.

(Religions and States, even when apparently open, are subject to “auto-immune” reactions which make them turn against the other within. They need to make the effort to recognise the other as a constituent of themselves).

There is a famous passage in the Gospels, where a lawyer questions Jesus with regard to the command to love God with one’s whole heart and to love ones neighbour `as oneself.’ The lawyer asks, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ (Luke 10:2). Is he someone who lives close by or a co-religionist or is he a stranger, a follower of a different faith as Jesus suggests by answering with the parable of the good Samaritan? The ‘religions of the book,’ Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have difficulties answering this question. As their respective histories show, they all manifest a double potential. They show themselves capable of promoting acts of love and extreme self-sacrifice in their followers. But they also have histories marked by religiously motivated struggles, intolerance and acts of brutality. What is the root of this double potential? How can they promote both love and violence? …

… The remedy, here, is as unremarkable as it is difficult. It involves acknowledging the other in oneself. Institutionally, it means being honest with regard one’s relation to one’s predecessors as Roman Catholicism has attempted, in the past decades, with regard to Judaism. Such predecessors are not just the otheragainst which the religions of the book and the modern secular state had to struggle to establish their successive identities. They are also a part of their identities. Like the parents and other figures in childhood development, they are not just overcome, but internalized. As such, they remain as sedimented layers of the institutional identity. The same holds for the successors against which the religions struggled. They too are part of their histories. When we view such others in terms of the openness that is the positive aspect of the transcendence of the divine, they can no longer function in our attempt to define ourselves negatively. Here, openness to the other is also openness to the other in oneself. We have to admit that this other is also our neighbour. As the parable of the good Samaritan suggest, he could be the stranger, the follower of a different faith.

The remedy, here, is as unremarkable as it is difficult. It involves acknowledging the other in oneself. Institutionally, it means being honest with regard one’s relation to one’s predecessors as Roman Catholicism has attempted, in the past decades, with regard to Judaism. Such predecessors are not just the otheragainst which the religions of the book and the modern secular state had to struggle to establish their successive identities. They are also a part of their identities. Like the parents and other figures in childhood development, they are not just overcome, but internalized. As such, they remain as sedimented layers of the institutional identity. The same holds for the successors against which the religions struggled. They too are part of their histories. When we view such others in terms of the openness that is the positive aspect of the transcendence of the divine, they can no longer function in our attempt to define ourselves negatively. Here, openness to the other is also openness to the other in oneself. We have to admit that this other is also our neighbour. As the parable of the good Samaritan suggest, he could be the stranger, the follower of a different faith. (full text).

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