Brian McLaren’s “Toward the Other” (Christianity ≠ Hating People)

Recently, Brian McLaren posted a video “Toward the Other.” The video summarizes the main points of McLaren’s new book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve watched the video, and McLaren, as always, gives us a lot to think about. Personally, I think he pretty much nails it, and I live in hope that I and many others can put into practice more and more an expression of our Christian faith that, as McLaren says, moves toward the other.

Here is the gist of it. When the matter of inter-religious friendship and collaboration comes up, McLaren says that the tendency is either to focus on the big differences between them or to proclaim that all religions are the same. “The truth is,” McLaren says, “we are very very different. Our biggest problem, though, isn’t our differences.”

Our biggest problem is that we build our religious identity by enforcing hostility toward the other. “I learn who I am by learning who I am against.” This “oppositional identity” is rooted in “fear of the other.”

McLaren is certainly correct, that hostility toward the other is rooted in fear (or as Yoda puts it, “fear leads to anger”). I would add that fear is focused, albeit under the surface, on the loss of some “certainty” that group thinking provides.

At any rate, anyone who has their eyes half open can see patterns of belligerence against the other in Christian history–whether “other” is someone of another faith or even another Christian whose theology differs from yours. (The former breeds crusades and the latter inquisitions, both of which are marked by the shedding of blood, whether actual or metaphorical.)

At any rate, McLaren’s question is, “Can we find a way of holding Christian identity that sends us toward the other with love and hospitality rather than with fear and hostility.”

That, as the cliche goes, is a great question–and a timely one at that.

Coming at this from the point of view of a biblical scholar, however, an immediate hermeneutical and theological problem presents itself. The pink elephant pirouetting around the room is: the fear-based religious hostility McLaren tells Christians not to be a part of is part of the Christian Bible.

And there is no way of avoiding this problem.

Remember the Canaanites? (For a reminder, see here, here, and here.) Israel is commanded by God to exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan–men, women, and children. They are the “other” and their existence side-by-side with the Israelites might be a bad influence (see Deuteronomy 7:1-5). The best solution, apparently, is to kill them all.

McLaren says that Christians must begin to address the culture of fear and hostility by coming to terms with Christianity’s past. This is no doubt correct, but the deeper issue may be more difficult to address–In Scripture, God himself promotes the notion that religious identify is built by enforcing hostility toward the other.

I plan on returning soon to this 13-minute video to highlight a few more issues McLaren raises. In the meantime, watch the video for yourself. It’s great stuff.

my thoughts about thinking about violence in the Bible: a counterpoint
Canaanite genocide: it's OK because it wasn't THAT bad (was it?)
my interview with Brian McLaren (part 3)
the Canaanites weren't the "worst sinners ever": engaging Copan and Flannagan on Canaanite extermination

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