‘And the second is like unto it’

Jason at blip reads Peter Rollins’ Insurrection, and mostly likes it. His praise is qualified by this criticism, which I find thoughtful and thought-provoking:

As much as I like Rollins’ insistence on loving the other as the way in which we love God, this is also where I disagree as well.  For in his insistence on finding God in the other comes a rejection of “thin spaces” (124) where God is also experienced.  Yes we see, hear, and love God through others, but I want to leave room to also see, hear, and love God in nature, in prayer and meditation, in music, in solitude.  Admittedly, these ways of experiencing God are often considered more “direct” and thus preferred and sought after and that should be avoided.  But to say God is only found in loving another leaves out too much and could end up leaving us a God who is solely a social interaction, who is wholly immanent and in no way transcendent.

Jason’s reservation there reminds me of Jesus’ response when asked which commandment was the most important. That was a straightforward question, but as usual with Jesus it didn’t receive a straightforward answer because he seemed to think it was the wrong question asked for the wrong reason. Instead of picking one rule as the most important, he boiled all the rules down to two: Love God and love your neighbor.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Those two things, Jesus said, were alike and inextricably linked, yet still distinct. He prioritizes the two, yet also suggests that it would be impossible to do either one without also doing the other — that each one, in a sense, defines the substance of the other.

So Jason’s review of Rollins’ book had me thinking about these categories of immanent and transcendent, and those ideas were still bouncing around in my head yesterday when I heard Terry Gross interview David Carr on NPR’s Fresh Air. Carr, the media columnist for The New York Times and main subject in the documentary Page One, had some good quips on the newspaper business. (“The future of journalism,” he said, is an endless series of panel discussions on the future of journalism.)

Carr is also the author of The Night of the Gun, a memoir of his years of drug and alcohol addiction. Gross asked him about the process of recovery and, specifically, what he had come to believe about “a higher power.” Carr’s response, I think, suggests again that these categories of immanent and transcendent can never be wholly separated, and that it’s impossible to separate that first commandment from the second that is like unto it:

All along the way, in [substance abuse] recovery, I’ve been helped … by all of these strangers who get in a room and do a form of group-talk therapy and live by certain rules in their life — and one of the rules is that you help everyone who needs help. And I think to myself: Well, that seems remarkable. Not only is that not a general human impulse, but it’s not an impulse of mine. And yet, I found myself doing that over and over again. So am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good? …

I’m kind of a thug. I’ve done a bunch of terrible things. And yet I’m able to, for the most part, be a decent person. How is that? Do I have some inner strength of character? I think not. I think something else is working on me.

That response is very close to what we evangelical types would call his “personal testimony” — even mirroring the classic template of “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a thug like me.”

This post from Julia Speck is also a kind of personal testimony. She’s responding to the Soularize conference at Fuller Seminary — which featured, among others, Peter Rollins. Her testimony doesn’t describe her journey from blindness to evangelical faith, but rather a journey from that American evangelical faith toward something else — something not yet wholly defined. In this testimony, the conventions, assumptions and presumptions of the evangelical subculture seem to be part of what it means to be blind and lost.

I think many people raised in that subculture can relate to what Speck describes here:

I have struggled with what it means to be “Evangelical” for a while. Not because I don’t want to be Evangelical, but because I don’t think I really know what it means. And I go to conferences like these where Evangelicalism is not something to be praised, it is something we’re striving to move away from and I get even more confused. I resonate with the conversations and the things being said, but I don’t know how to reconcile it with the only way I have been taught to be a follower of Christ. …

As I was growing up the way I was a follower of Christ was by going to church, and praying a lot, and having my daily devotions, and voting Republican, and never sneaking out of the house, and eating my vegetables, and driving the speed limit (most of the time), and leading worship at church, and overcommitting myself to everything spiritual, and being a leader and kissing dating goodbye. But those things don’t work anymore.

 

  • Anonymous

    As much as I like Rollins’ insistence on loving the other as the way in which we love God,

    This is new to me.  Because Jesus pretty clearly says “as yourself” in every Bible I’ve ever read.

    Sounds like an easy out for those who have trouble loving themselves.

    ETA: Was I actually first? I’m kind of stunned.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    I think something else is working on me.

    Yes. It’s called peer pressure. Everyone else is helping the others, so you feel pressured to do the same. It’s a deliberate part of the group therapy process.

    Of course, this is the same force that gets many (but not all) people addicted in the first place, but that may actually be why it’s so helpful in the recovery process. Peer pressure can be used for both good and bad.

  • Lori

     This is new to me.  Because Jesus pretty clearly says “as yourself” in every Bible I’ve ever read.

    Sounds like an easy out for those who have trouble loving themselves.  

     
    The same can be said of the Golden Rule in all it’s forms. I don’t know that anything associated with truly having a poor feeling of self-worth can fairly be considered an “easy out”. 

    Also, I don’t think that what Rollins is saying is actually in conflict with the “as yourself” part of the verse. He’s not saying “love others as you love God”. He’s saying “demonstrate that you love God by loving others (as you love yourself)”. 

  • http://nagamakironin.blogspot.com Michael Mock

    I resonate with the conversations and the things being said, but I
    don’t know how to reconcile it with the only way I have been taught to
    be a follower of Christ.

    I think that part of the problem here is the common human conceit that there’s only one way to do things, and that’s clearly the way I do them. It’s easy to see in Christianity – “Oh, they have saints and things, they aren’t real Christians,” or “Oh, they don’t have the additional revelations that were given to our prophet, their Christianity isn’t complete,” or “they don’t preach that this, that, or the other is offensive in the sight of God, they aren’t very good Christians” – but it’s a lot more common that that. (“You ride your bicycle to work? Really?” Or, “You give your kids presents on Easter morning? Seriously?” Or, “You don’t have any tattoos at all…?” Or…)

    People are different. We do things different ways. Just because someone has found something that works for them, there’s no guarantee that it will work as well – or at all – for anyone else. God – if He’s out there – may not be the author of confusion, but He clearly adores variety.

    But sometimes that’s hard to remember.

  • http://twitter.com/MarkCC MarkCC

    I’ve never commented here before, but you’ve finally pushed me over the brink.

    Have you ever read any of Martin Buber’s work? Buber was a 20th century Jewish philosopher who believed that the way to understand got was entirely in terms of relationships.

    To Buber, there are fundamentally two kinds of relationships that you can have. He called them the I-you relationship, and the I-it relationship. In an I-it relationship, you’re viewing the other party as a thing; you’re relating to it in terms of what you want it to do, what you want it to be, how you want it to act, etc. In an I-you relationship, you’re viewing the other not as a thing, but as a person. You’re not thinking of them in terms of what they do, or how you can benefit/harm from them, but you’re thinking of them in terms of *who they are*.

    Buber said that all of our relationships are a blend of the I-you and I-it. 

    Religion, in Buber’s sense, comes from the I-you relationship. By his idea, God is part of every I-you relationship – God is what makes it possible for you to relate to another person as more than just a thing.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    And by link-hopping from Fred’s links, I get to a sermon on The Father’s Womb, which discusses, among other things, the dangers of using language–the ways Jesus’ and early Christians’ talk about God was deeply subversive, but also too easily reconverted to something to support patriarchy and The Way Things Are.  I know this fits in with the problems of being Evangelical, but I’m too groggy to point out why. (Stupid migraines.)

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    “And I think to myself: Well, that seems remarkable. Not only is that not a general human impulse, but it’s not an impulse of mine. And yet, I found myself doing that over and over again.”

    I think he’s selling general human impulses short.  To help anyone who needs help is a general human impulse.  It’s not the only or always the dominant one; it can get overridden by fear, tribalism or self-righteousness; I’m not personally particularly gifted with it; but it’s one of them.  To assume it’s not there, observe it in action and conclude that something from outside must be responsible because it’s not there seems circular.

  • Anonymous

    God works in mysterious ways, I believe he has a good reason for it.

  • http://www.theburnerblog.com The Burner

    Thanks for the link to Julia’s post!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know that anything associated with truly having a poor feeling of self-worth can fairly be considered an “easy out”.

    Maybe “easy out” wasn’t the best choice of words, but as someone who has struggled with poor feelings of self-worth my whole life*, it’s much, much easier to say “I love (parents, children, spouse, God, country)” than to say “I love myself.”

    *45 years so far

  • Lori

     Maybe “easy out” wasn’t the best choice of words, but as someone who has struggled with poor feelings of self-worth my whole life*, it’s much, much easier to say “I love (parents, children, spouse, God, country)” than to say “I love myself.”  

    I totally understand that because I’m pretty much the same way. I just don’t think either of us, or the many, many people who feel even worse have anything easy because of it. 

    Even back in the day when I was trying to follow the Bible, before I went all heathen, I tended to assume that loving others as you love yourself essentially meant recognizing that other people are fully human and need to be treated as such.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    To Buber, there are fundamentally two kinds of relationships that you can have. He called them the I-you relationship, and the I-it relationship. In an I-it relationship, you’re viewing the other party as a thing; you’re relating to it in terms of what you want it to do, what you want it to be, how you want it to act, etc. In an I-you relationship, you’re viewing the other not as a thing, but as a person. You’re not thinking of them in terms of what they do, or how you can benefit/harm from them, but you’re thinking of them in terms of *who they are*.

    What if you have an I-it relationship with yourself?  

    Not that I am directing this at you Mark, though your quote of Buber did prompt me, but it sometimes seems to me that people assume that anyone who sees anyone else as an object must necessarily see themselves as something other than another object.  The view is something like, “It’s all about me, the rest of you are just tools for me to use.”  While I agree that such an outlook is a horrible thing to have, there seems to be a false dichotomy between that and seeing each and every other person as being… well, a person.  I am not sure I understand the concept enough to articulate it, as though people were something other than very complicated objects, something special, something exempt from the same standards applied to the rest of the material world.  

    I think it has been established well enough by now that I see myself as a cog, a gear in a larger social machine.  I spin, I move the cogs around me as I am moved in turn.  I try to ensure that I and those other cogs within my sphere of awareness are well maintained, and the work gets done at a level far beyond any individual cogs like us.  If I have to sacrifice my life so that the machine continues to run, that is something I would do, and I tend to assume that others would do the same.  

    On the one hand, you could say that yes, I do see other people as objects.  On the other hand, you cannot really say that it necessarily makes me selfish.  It kind of frustrates me when people assume it is an either/or model.  

  • ako

    All along the way, in [substance abuse] recovery, I’ve been helped … by
    all of these strangers who get in a room and do a form of group-talk
    therapy and live by certain rules in their life — and one of the rules
    is that you help everyone who needs help. And I think to myself: Well,
    that seems remarkable. Not only is that not a general human impulse, but
    it’s not an impulse of mine.

    We have very different views of human nature.  I’m wondering if who one associates with is a big factor on this front?  Because based on all of the people I know and everyone I’ve heard of, I wouldn’t quite call the impulse to help universal, but it certainly seems incredibly widespread.  (As are a bunch of different impulses, such as avoiding trouble, lashing out when angry, creating a good impression, getting things, being wary of those outside the tribe, seeking novelty, getting enjoyable physical sensations, achieving security, and all sorts of other things.)   People sometimes let other stuff get in the way of the urge to help, but unless I’ve run across an incredibly unrepresentative example of humanity, the “They need help, I should give it” urges are nearly always there.

    What if you have an I-it relationship with yourself? 

    What you describe doesn’t sound selfish, but it doesn’t sound like anything I’d want to encourage.  I want to be treated as a person, not a complicated object that can be sacrificed as soon as someone decides it’s important to the machine.  (There are circumstances where I would consider it justifiable to sacrifice myself, and a smaller number of circumstances where I’d consider other people justified in sacrificing me, but they’re not really about the preservation of the larger social machine.)  Among other things, it raises unpleasant possibilities about what it’s okay to do to a person to make them a functional cog, and what to do to a person who can’t or won’t be a cog in the machine, even with help.  You seem to be a generally kind person, and I don’t think you’d rush to judging someone as non-functional and beyond repair, but it’s worrying on a philosophical level. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Gene Outka also talks quite a but about the these ways of viewing others in relation to yourself in his fantastic Agape: An Ethical Analysis, which deals with the two commandments in question.

    My reazzin-frazzin psychiatric issues leave me unable to formulate anything coherent at this time, but it’s an excellent companion to Buber.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Bowers/1267654102 Andrew Bowers

    Where is “love your neighbor as yourself” found in the Ten Commandments? That would be something I could get behind but I don’t see it expressed even implicitly anywhere in any version I’ve read. The closest one is the commandment not to be jealous of your neighbor’s stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Where is “love your neighbor as yourself” found in the Ten Commandments?

    You’re looking in the wrong place. Try the Gospels, not Exodus.


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