Against Solipsism: Hypotheses on Love, Justice and the Other

While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye—this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself—is of the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all—its action is fundamentally reaction.

Friedrich Nietzsche
On the Genealogy of Morals (1887)

The other problem with a fundamentalist-evangelical approach to Scripture is its unwillingness to put the study of Bible and religion within a broader context of human history and culture. Failing to do this, it is entrapped in spite of itself in the same rivalries and structures of violence with which the human race has struggled from the very beginning of humanity… The more we claim to be different from others without really knowing those others, the more we will be like them.

James G. Williams
The Bible, Violence and the Sacred (1991)

The teachings of Jesus Christ are inextricably social teachings. Love of neighbor stands in a metonymic relation to love of God:

And one of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

 

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:35-39; cf. 1 John 4:20-21).

It seems that in the ecclesial discourse this distinction can become collapsed. Love of neighbor comes to stand not as metonymic (associated with) but as metaphorical (substitutive) of love of God. Jesus’ elaboration of the ethical is thus stripped of its social, relational character. Murder, adultery, forgiveness, retaliation (see Matthew 5 and Luke 6)—these acts become no longer social, but private, committed or not along the axis of self/God. The Other is erased. This erasure is an overdetermined situation wherein the only relation that matters is that of the self to God. Combined with a hyper-individuating social ethos, the Christian enterprise becomes solipsistic; the human Other becomes less and less real because all that matters is the spiritual survival of the individual, as it were.

Without consciousness of the human (i.e., the social) Other, love is impoverished, if not subsumed altogether, by the solipsism of obedience. No doubt loving God includes obeying God (it is, after all a commandment). But love is not reducible to obedience. Love must go beyond obedience, for in this way “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (Romans 3:21; cf. Galatians 5:18), and as a result, “by this we know love, that he [Christ] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives” (1 John 3:16). The paradigmatic act of obedience is negative(/regulatory): thou shalt not; the paradigmatic act of love is positive(/creative): I(/we) shall. Laying down one’s life for one’s own may or may not be an act of love; laying down one’s life for the radically Other is love, manifest in Jesus’ voluntary death on behalf of his lynchers,

for one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8).

Such an act cannot be reduced to obedience. Paul certainly understood that love is not endemic to self-sacrifice, for “if I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). They who love will doubtless be willing to obey (see, for example, John 14:15, 21-24); but as anyone in a position of power must come to know, love need not exist in the act of obedience.

In this is Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees, the righteous who obey but do not love.

Paul Tillich’s treatment of the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-47) locates the conditions for love of God in the grace of forgiveness, by which, in a reversal, Jesus takes the side of the sinner against the righteous to demonstrate that it is unconditional forgiveness that creates repentance:

We cannot love unless we have accepted forgiveness, and the deeper our experience of forgiveness is, the greater is our love. We cannot love where we feel rejected, even if the rejection is done in righteousness. We are hostile towards that to which we belong and by which we feel judged, even if the judgment is not expressed in words (The New Being, 1955).

The impulse of the righteous when faced with a sinner is repulsion, as demonstrated by Simon in the story. But this betrays (albeit understandably) a lack of love: “he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). Tillich points out that one consequence of this tension is that “for many pious people in all generations the love of God is the other side of the hatred for life.” Tillich identifies this as an existential hatred, a hatred of the conditions of necessity, of Being. I see in it the seeds of ressentiment. When love is confirmed through hatred—even the hatred of sin—what is really a deficit of love becomes reified as love. Love becomes negative instead of positive. Love is reduced to obedience. The equation, God is love, becomes God is law. The association of love and hatred presents a tension that cannot be sustained by human beings if love is to survive. Based on a misguided notion of love, it creates the conditions for a heuristic-toward-sin. But let us continue considering love for a moment more.

As in any discussion of the distinction between love and law, we must avoid zero-sum games in their comparison such that the assertion of one means the negation of the other, for this is not the case. In his treatment of the so-called Golden Rule (“as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them”), which we may understand as one formulation of the second great commandment, Tillich provides insight into the relation of love to justice and the Other:

Only for him who knows what he should wish and who actually wishes it, is the Golden Rule ultimately valid. Only love can transform calculating justice into creative justice. Love makes justice just. Justice without love is always injustice because it does not do justice to the other one, nor to oneself, nor to the situation in which we meet. …

 

[Love] does not add something to what justice does but it shows justice what to do. It makes the Golden Rule possible. For we do not speak for a love which swallows justice. This would result in chaos and extinction. But we speak for a love in which justice is the form and structure of love. We speak for a love which respects the claim of the other one to be acknowledged as what he is, and the claim of ourselves to be acknowledged as what we are, above all as persons. Only distorted love, which is a cover for hostility or self-disgust, denies that which love unites. Love makes justice just. The divine love is justifying love accepting and fulfilling him who, according to calculating justice, must be rejected. The justification of him who is unjust is the fulfillment of God’s creative justice, and of His reuniting love (The New Being).

Justice may inform the structure of love, but love in turn must inform the function of justice. And yet love is not identical with justice, for love cannot be reduced to justice, nor justice to love. Claiming such an identity lays the ground for erasing one or the other in the name of its counterpart.

Note the assertion implicit in Tillich, that love entails recognition of the Other. In the face of the estrangement of sin (that is, estrangement of the subject from God, from the human Other and from the self), love can be said to (re)unite the subject with personhood, with life itself (i.e., God). Just as love reunites the subject with spiritual life through forgiveness and recognition by God (the source of life), love also reunites the subject with social life through recognition within the field of the ethical.

Let us carry this idea (quite figuratively) a step further. Both aspects of this reunifying love act in spite of the obstacles which in the absence of love leave the subject estranged within the structures of mere obedience. In this way, love is transgressive. As Judith Gundry-Volf has so effectively illustrated in her essay “Spirit mercy, and the other” (1995), Jesus pointedly transgresses social, ideological and gender boundaries when he goes out of the usual way to speak to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, offering her the water of the holy spirit despite her non-Jewishness, her non-maleness as well as her non-conformity or as the case may be, her ostracism (John 4:1-42). Conversely, the Syrophoenician woman insists that Jesus transgress these boundaries on her behalf, which he does (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28).

(It should be noted that these are by no means the only two instances in the Gospels that Jesus is seen transgressing such boundaries. Despite Paul’s periodic eschatological denouncement of religious, ethnic and gender hierarchies (e.g., in Galatians 3:28), even the early ecclesia evidently fell far short of the example Jesus set in this regard; in fact, most of the controversies of the ecclesia we see in the Acts and the epistles center upon resistance to the very destruction of boundaries that the love of God performed through Jesus Christ. I recommend Anthony Thiselton’s lengthy scholarly commentary on the Greek text of 1 Corinthians, particularly chapter 11, for a thorough exploration of such controversies in the context of sex and gender.)

This is the love of the shepherd who leaves behind his ninety-nine sheep to find the one which is lost, of the woman who leaves the nine silver coins to find the one which is missing; and these images are only metaphors of the inciting incident, which is when the Pharisees and scribes grumbled because “This man receives sinners and eats with them” ( Luke 15:1-10; see also vv. 11-32).

Love is a social act which requires a social relation. Love is a subversive political act which always occurs within relations of power.

The generative dynamic of hate

Let us now consider the consequences of the “distorted love” which, “as a cover for hostility or self-disgust,” denies the claim of the Other to be acknowledged. This is love that has been reduced to obedience and which becomes the flip-side, if you will, for an existential hatred, a resentment of the circumstances, indeed the necessity, of one’s Being-in-the-world. In another place, Tillich describes this situation as stemming from a feeling of hostility because of rejection:

Everybody is in this predicament, whether he calls that which rejects him “God,” “nature,” or “destiny,” or “social conditions.” Everybody carries a hostility toward the existence into which he has been thrown, toward the hidden powers which determine his life and that of the universe, toward that which makes him guilty and that which threatens him with destruction because he has become guilty.

 

We all feel rejected and hostile toward what has rejected us. We all try to appease it and in failing, we become more hostile. This happens often unnoticed by ourselves. But there are two symptoms which we hardly can avoid noticing: the hostility against ourselves and the hostility against others. One speaks so often of pride and arrogance and self-certainty and complacency in people. But this is, in most cases, the superficial level of their being. Below this, in a deeper level, there is self-rejection, disgust, and even hatred of one’s self (The New Being).

This feeling already appears in various forms within capitalist ideology as a way of resolving the contradictory alienation performed upon subjects by the function of capital, that is to say, as a type of social displacement or psychological sublimation akin to neurosis (see, for example, Terry Eagleton’s treatment of Freud in Ideology: an introduction, 1991). Nietzsche certainly identifies the feeling in the so-called Judeo-Christian [Capitalist] West insofar as the moral valuation scheme of the classically oppressed victim is appropriated by those in power, a movement Nietzsche observed already in his time as hegemonic or at least paradigmatic (On the Genealogy of Morals, 1887. Nietzsche would no doubt take issue with the idea that the ruling classes appropriated the moral framework of the oppressed. I own my misreading, however). This ressentiment, which can be defined as “a vengeful, petty-minded state of being that does not so much want what others have (although that is partly it) as want others to not have what they have,” located by Nietzsche in the prevailing Christian habitus, manifests as a “desire to live a pious existence and thereby position oneself to judge others, apportion blame, and determine responsibility” (“Ressentiment“; It should be stressed that while Nietzsche locates this dynamic’s origins in Christian orthodoxy, his harshest criticism is mostly aimed at the secular, post-Enlightenment world, whose values still partake of this resentful inversion. Thus ressentiment does not need a religious frame to exist as a cultural habitus.)

On the one hand, capitalism alienates the individual, producing a contradiction which ideology imaginatively attempts to resolve. On the other hand, the “natural” will to power, stifled by a moral habitus defined by the discourse of an inconsistent (even double-faced) ascetic morality, also produces a contradiction (or set of contradictions) that seeks resolution (e.g., the fifth chapter of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930) well describes the manifestations of a synthesis of the contradictory pressures of capital and of ascetic Protestantism). Both forces, contributing to existential hatred, lay the groundwork for conditions of self-loathing that seek resolution elsewhere, inevitably in some scapegoat. The reduction of love to obedience represents both an effect of and a justification for ressentiment. In reifying a collapsed deficit of love as love’s fullness, ressentiment attempts to recast that which is negative and ascetic into that which is positive and creative. Indeed, Nietzsche says, ressentiment (at least genealogically) is creative by virtue of its negation:

[F]rom the outset [it] says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye—this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself—is of the essence of ressentiment.

As I have already indicated, the tension that produces and is produced by ressentiment cannot be sustained within a schema of love. Hate will inevitably resolve that tension.

James G. Williams provides some further insight here, applying René Girard’s explanatory social model of mimetic desire and victimization to an interpretation of the biblical text to show that the kerygma of Jesus Christ is itself an immanent critique of the social structures of violence which generatively scapegoat the Other (and which pattern we see expressed, in part, in ideology and ressentiment). Williams summarizes the Girardian model thusly:

The truth of the human condition is the truth of a mimesis [i.e., imitation, representation] that both gives rise to and structures desire, the wish to acquire what the other has and is imagined to desire and of being what the other is. This leads inevitably to conflict and rivalry and will issue in violence unless averted or overcome by a differentiation process that requires that in the event of crisis, a victim be found “by chance” (even if many reasons be given) in order to regain the stable order of differences that supposedly reigned before the crisis began (The Bible, Violence and the Sacred: Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence, 1991).

The thrust of Williams’ argument is that the Bible and the kerygma are unique among founding texts in their repeated, pointed exposure and critique (rather than acceptance or justification) of these violent generative social structures. Jesus as event and Innocent Victim is a revelation of an alternative mimesis that irrupts this structure through succumbing to it and, in the process, condemning it:

[T]he witness of the Gospels is that all power structures and social classifications, which are based on mimetic rivalry, domination, and exclusion, are subverted by this Word. It is a Word revealed finally only in the expulsion and death of the Word. … The revelation, the disclosure, the unmasking of the mimetic world, occurs in his death on the cross, the sign whose signification and significance is that the prevalence of mimetic desire and rivalry, which are actuated and controlled through social structures of substitution and sacrifice, cannot tolerate the presence of the One who does not distinguish people and values according to these structures that control and validate violence.

Regardless of whether it is agreed that Girard’s model is suitable in its argument about real social origins, it is satisfactory in our case for thinking about existing social structures which give rise to and inform desire for the Other by (re)directing desire against some “different” Other (i.e., an Other which is made Other) in a process of scapegoating. The witness of the life and death of Jesus Christ in condemning those structures aligns with what we have already seen to be the transgressive, positive, reuniting function of love of neighbor as metonymic with love of God.

Love as subversion

It is useful to note that Williams uses the word “subvert” to refer to the Word’s witness against power structures and social classifications based on rivalry, domination and exclusion. To subvert is perhaps to destroy(/remove), perhaps to critique(/not remove). Subversion carries the sense of happening from within a thing (its pejorative use seems to project a causality located in an act of infiltration, and is thus insidious); it is immanent in its critique. Sub denotes that it is a thing that happens from below, underneath a structure. It is precisely the scapegoat that is understood to threaten the imagined order, who is located (that is, subjected to location) under, behind, within, all possible meanings of sub, and this ambiguity informs its pejorative use. The social function of scapegoating is to render the victim outside. Vertere in Latin is, variously, to turn, to transform, to change. Sub then becomes both the origin and the result of this turning: it is a turning upside-down from within: that which is below overturns. We should not ignore vertere’s presence in the crucial Christian concept of conversion, a turning, a change in response to the recognition of sin that produces repentance, metanoia, a thinking afterward, a productive regret. Whereas to con-vert is to turn around in the horizontal axis of geography, to sub-vert is to turn upside-down in the vertical axis of social hierarchies, as it were: the subversion of the Word is thus a multidimensional call to repentance, to change. In this sense, love begins reuniting the Other with personhood first of all by listening to that call: if “the truth of the victim,” as Williams puts it, has the potential “to uncover our structures of desire and violence,” we must listen to that truth when it is given voice and seek out that truth when it is voiceless.

This motivation seems to me to align with the impetus behind the disciplines of critical theory and philosophy which together have worked in recent decades to expose injustice by giving voice to the voiceless and thereby reveal the concealed, intersectional, economic, social and political structures that perpetuate patterns of violence toward any number of scapegoated others: the poor, the proletariat, women, people of color, LGBT folks, foreigners, etc. These are the structures of boundaries, power imbalances and violence that we face in our day, just as Jesus faced (and transgressed) the boundaries of Jew/Samaritan, man/woman, rich/poor, healthy/sick, righteous/sinner. (Of course, these boundaries also persist.)

To further consider the irruptive nature of the subversive Word and its relation to the immanent critique of critical theory, let us take up Jesus’ own reading of the love of neighbor:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

 

He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

 

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

 

And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

 

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’” (Luke 10:25-35).

Obviously, this parable is itself a subversion, a turning upside-down from within the social structures giving rise to anti-Samaritan and anti-poor (even anti-victim?) ressentiment (compare, for example, the opening verses of Luke 13). Williams discusses the subversive implications of this story in a piece of reader-response interpretation beginning with the fact that, given that none of us is in the position of the utterly Innocent Victim (who was Jesus), we must recognize our complicity with the structures of scapegoating that have formed us and which we ourselves unconsciously reproduce:

The power of the parable of the Samaritan…is precisely that the hearers are invited to see themselves in all the characters. … Doing as the Samaritan did is imitatio Christi. But the parable is more powerfully polyvalent than that. Am I or are we the robbers who in some fashion or the other have extracted all of someone’s wealth or other resources and left her half-dead? Am I or are we the priest or Levite who has some position of authority, which in the pharmacy of culture is construed as good in and of itself, but who precisely because of this good role or office, passes by on the other side of the victim? Am I or are we the victim?… Or perhaps our cultural indoctrination tells us we are not victims at all but possessors of power and wealth and prestige—thus perfect candidates for being victimizers rather than victims. But that cultural assumption is deceptive, for the victimizers can be victims of their own system of victimization. Or am I or are we the Samaritan, going out into some foreign, hostile territory and binding the wounds of the victim? …

 

We are impelled to confess that even in our best moments we have assumed the roles of all these characters. We are thieves and priests and victims even when we are truly Samaritans. If we start from that very confession and humble acknowledgement before God and one another, we can begin to actualize the full truth of the innocent victim (The Bible, Violence and the Sacred).

Thus we return to the ground of love, which begins with [God’s] unconditional forgiveness, and realize that the lack of love of the righteous is rooted in a transformation of the unconditionality of that forgiveness into something that the righteous earn. In this dynamic, of going from the humility of becoming party to God’s unconditional forgiveness to the hubris of righteousness, one forgets one’s complicity in the violence of this world insofar as we may, as it were, fluidly inhabit each of the roles in the parable by turns or simultaneously. To forget the facticity of our complicity is to say that we have no sin (and to sin thereby); it is to deny that, after all—or perhaps, first of all—we have been complicit in the lynching of an innocent brown man who was the Son of God. (I am conscious of the fact that I write from the subject position of a white male; my intended audience, such as it is, is likely also white and as prone as I am to forget it.) Therefore, Williams concludes, in agreement with the aim of critical theory and philosophy,

The precondition of forgiveness is the humility that recognizes and acknowledges one’s own complicity in structures of mimetic desire and violence. We are therefore not superior to our ancestors who shed the blood of the prophets (Matt 23:30), for if we are blind to our own complicity, we are probably doomed to repeat what our ancestors did.

Forgiveness opens the way for the transgressive, subversive, listening, reuniting love of neighbor which stands as metonym with love of God.

The heuristic-toward-sin as describing an ethical process

Hate cannot be allowed to stand as an effective substitute for love. I mean of course the hatred of sin. At first glance, this may be surprising. Of course one should hate sin, it is said. But this becomes a false heuristic: a rule of thumb which for efficiency’s sake enables one to bypass thought in order to arrive at a solution in a given situation (for ultimately, this is all obedience requires). All too easily does this heuristic become an idol, “a reification of the horizon into a thing” (Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 1970). I say again: when love is confirmed through hatred—even the hatred of sin—what is really a deficit of love becomes reified as love’s fullness. In this idol we are dealing with the collapse of a negative horizon, the gap between the Ground of Love (God) and love’s deficit in the obedient person. Love has already been deemed too difficult and so is subordinated to law, which at least admits to being measurable. Under such a scheme love becomes negative rather than positive. Love becomes reduced to mere obedience. The equation, God is love, becomes God is law.

The association of love and hatred presents a tension that cannot be sustained by human beings. Hate will resolve that tension one way or another, for it is easier to hate where one already has incentive to hate than to love. That resolution is the heuristic-toward-sin. The heuristic-toward-sin represents an ethical process, a movement which is also non-movement, for it does not actually think. It is a kind of prejudice, a prejudgment or set of prejudgments (a hermeneutic?) designed to reinforce the solipsism of obedience, to assure oneself of one’s justification by reifying love by way of law by way of hate.

Perhaps after all this is a needlessly complicated way of describing ressentiment, an orientation which by virtue of its negative/regulatory moral schema (a schema based in hate, however “well-intentioned”) entrenches the solipsistic-obedient subject into a process responding to contradiction. It responds through a constellation of heuristics which serve to justify the pleasure of inflicting pain, however vicariously or at a distance, on the Other.

(Punishment, as Nietzsche writes, is a natural extension of ressentiment within the social arc. It prompts me to look again at the words of 1 John 4, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment.” This fear is both fear of punishment and also fear as justification for punishment upon others.)

The idea of a heuristic can perhaps help to conceptualize the ethical process at work, an incline, a movement toward the idolatry of hate which coincides with the eclipsing of love and which begins with an erasure of the Other from the ethical consciousness of justice. It is ethical in that it produces some action (that is, a reaction) within a discourse that naturalizes it.

Some noteworthy, albeit woefully incomprehensive examples:

The heuristic-toward-sin is evident in the general desire for retribution.

Legitimated through a veneer of “submission to authority,” it aligns itself with the power of white domination in order to blame victims of police brutality for their own wrongful deaths, devaluing black suffering and reifying racial injustice by reinterpreting the pleasure of inflicting pain as “law and order.” This dynamic is also at play in the wish to categorize certain individuals as “criminals” and wish pain upon them by complaining (without knowledge) that these individuals don’t suffer enough. In a recent essay, Andrea Pitzer neatly sums up the connection between the American ideological rhetoric of “law and order” to ressentiment when she writes that in the face of perhaps winning the battle but losing the war to maintain traditional and unjust structures of power, law and order becomes a rhetorical remedy for suffering, a displacement and projection: “If suffering can’t be cured—if jobs don’t come back, or a higher social status isn’t restored—law and order implies that at least somebody will be punished” (“The Bitter History of Law and Order in America,” 2017). In this way mercy may be misconstrued as corruption and one practices one’s righteousness by indicating which people are deserving of more or less pain and which are worthy or not of forgiveness, in a radical corruption of both love and justice.

The heuristic-toward-sin is evident in the reification of individualism.

I grant that (neo)liberal ideology’s origins, overdetermined as they are by the socioeconomic dynamics of capital, cannot be reduced to a corruption of Christian ethical consciousness. But I daresay that liberalism may both precede and follow it. (It is, after all, an individuating schema which confronts Job as victim and which Jesus likewise refutes in Luke 13, both instances of pre-capitalist paradigms.) The solipsism of obedience reinforces the ideological strategy of individualism as a means of resolving the contradictions of capital and serves as a way to justify wishing others pain. It is this heuristic which is repulsed by socialism and social welfare and communitarianism because, besides representing subversions of existing power relations, these systems threaten to overlook offenses and deny the unloving righteous (who are aligned with power) the ability to decide who deserves good and who deserves evil. Again, this represents a radical corruption of both love and justice.

The heuristic-toward-sin is evident in the reproduction of pathological distinctions.

It is this heuristic which denies LGBT folks their humanity, pushing them beyond even the status of objects by desperately inscribing marriage into the very definition of righteousness. It is this heuristic which reinforces the neuroses and insecurities of patriarchy along the contours of all its many tropes, stopping short of justifying marital abuse by insisting on the “soft” misogyny that ends the utterance “make me a sandwich” with a “please and thank you” (a phrase from Carol Howard Merritt which I found apt). This heuristic refuses to recognize the eschatological Other (e.g., Galatians 3:28; cf. Matthew 22:29-30) and by demonizing sexuality succeeds in reducing the Other from a fully human person to a sexual threat or, at worst, an abomination unworthy of thought (which of course actually results in psychological fixation, obsession and projection).

The heuristic-toward-sin is evident in the reification of borders.

Casting virulent (idolatrous) nationalism as noble patriotism, this heuristic tends toward all forms of xenophobia on the one hand, scapegoating the undocumented immigrant and the Muslim (i.e., the religious Other); it tends on the other hand toward positive sectarianism. This heuristic does not transgress boundaries through reuniting love, but rather (re)builds walls on which to strut and by which to mark offenses.

None of these indicators quite captures the breadth of ressentiment’s entrenchment within the ethical field. By nature, these indicators and symptoms change according to time, place and other material factors. By nature, these heuristics intersect with each other and may both precede and follow the moment of the erasure of the Other, for they serve both as catalyst of and justification for it; likewise, ressentiment and ideology both generate and resolve contradiction in a dialectical, ever-spiraling movement.

What is necessary is an intervention into the process such that its movement is arrested. That which insists on the “need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself,” which insists on denying recognition and acknowledgement of “one’s own complicity in structures of mimetic desire and violence,” must be interrupted, redirected. This is the call of the subverting kerygma of the Christ. For a Christian, I believe this is also the kerygma offered by critical theory, whose efforts (when successful) to examine power, receive the voice of the oppressed, and reject with rigor forms of domination, exploitation and injustice come closer more often to the love of neighbor than many a Bible-thumping pastor’s polemics.

The patterns, motivations and justifications of solipsism must be definitively unsettled through critique from outside, received from the Other. Love must become anti-racist, anti-misogynist, anti-xenophobic, anti-individualist. If the Christian cannot be humbled, if they cannot acknowledge their complicity in violence, oppression and domination, then they almost certainly will not listen to the voice of the Other, and so will circumvent love.

In a crossed out line from a draft of Strength to Love (1963), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes that the Samaritan “saw first a human being who became a Jew by accident.” In the published version, King aligns this point of view against the forces of the “tribal-centered, national-centered, or racial-centered” ethic. “The priest and the Levite saw only a bleeding body,” King writes, “not a human being like themselves.” We make it easy for ourselves, to “see people as entities or merely as things,” he says. “Too seldom do we see people in their true humanness.”

In order to see (and so to act toward) the Other as human, we must first be willing to hear them when they speak, when they weep. They are speaking now.

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