They Say That to Love Another Person…

So, I finally got around to watching the new Les Miserables tonight and I have to say that it is nothing short of amazing. However, my favorite line, at the death of Jean Valjean, is ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’. Not only is this a wonderful line, but I honestly think its true. I was going to write about Javert’s suicide and the loss of belief tonight, and I think that’ll make it in as well, but the love of Jean Valjean is just as important.

I’m not superman. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. I want to rescue people from themselves, to help people, to make them better, and ultimately… I can’t. I can’t make people change, and I can’t make them better, and every time I try I wind up trying to impose my will onto them. I understand both characters in this story very well. I understand both love and hate pretty well, and that is what Javert and Jean Valjean embody.

I’ve written some about my past before, and I think I’ve mentioned that I used to hate… everything. For a long time all I knew how to do was hate. I hated people, God, myself, the world… all the people I should have loved I hated. I’d never known love, never understood it, and never felt it, and it took a long time for me to come to terms with feeling anything other than hate. Feelings are frightening things.

However, as much as I used to hate, now I can’t seem to stop myself from loving. My friend that I mentioned the other day, the one with all the problems, I love her. I love my roommate that stole money from me. I thought about knifing him for a while, but the anger passed pretty quickly, and the love remains. I love my students, and my family, and my friends. I love the people at my favorite coffee shop. I just love people, even when I don’t particularly want to.

And I completely agree that to love someone is to see the face of God. Trusting God means trusting people, and loving God means loving people. There’s no getting away from that. The  apostle said as much in 1st John. If you hate your brother then you hate God, and if you love God then you love your brother. It’s taken be a long time for me to actually begin to understand that, and I really think that I am just beginning to understand it.

It’s hard to lose the thing that defines you. I’ve been through this a few times. Javert lost his conviction that people  cannot change. “Once a thief, always a thief” was the mantra that filled his heart, and when Jean Valjean proved him wrong it killed him in more ways than one. I lost my hate a long time ago. God made me let it go, and then my suspicion, my anger, now my pain. These are the things that defined me, that shaped my life. ‘Everyone lies’, ‘People are evil’, ‘She’ll hurt you’, ‘Everyone leaves’, ‘No one cares’, ‘There’s no point in trying’, ‘I’ve always been alone’… these were the mantras that filled my heart, just like Javert’s. They aren’t entirely untrue, but they also aren’t entirely true. Certainly they aren’t principles to build a life around.

Love is a much better principle to build a life around. The thing is, love doesn’t reject most of those principles. It simply doesn’t care. People are evil… love them anyway. Everyone does lie… love them anyway. She might hurt you… love her anyway. They might leave… love them anyway. Love the people who don’t care, the people who walk away, the people who fight (God knows I did). Why? Because that’s all of us. That’s me as much as any of them, so why should’t I love them?

Right now, I can’t think of a reason.

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Love, Hate, and Taoism

I’ve been reading a book about Taoism that has helped more clearly understand Taoist concepts and their relation to Christian concepts. I’ve written about the concept of Wu Wei before, and I think I’m still somewhat enamored of the idea, but perhaps not as much. Laozi puts forth the idea that being is better than doing. This idea, as Holmes Welch describes it in the book I’m reading (Taoism: The Parting of the Way), is the concept that attitude is better than action. Laozi’s argument, in its essence, is that when we act we provoke reaction, and the reaction will often be in opposition to the action that we take. Laozi’s answer to the evils of his day was to take no action to stop them, oppose them, or even address them, but to simply ‘be’ good. His argument was that in being good one’s nature would naturally stand in opposition to evil without actively opposing that evil, which would create a strong reaction from said evil. Laozi argued that no one can fight with the sage simply because the sage refuses to fight. Mahatma Ghandi’s life was an excellent example of this principle in action, as was Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement.

This same concept can be seen in portions of the scripture (i.e. if a man strikes one cheek, give him the other), but Laozi takes the concept further than scripture allows us to do. Laozi argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Doing and Not Being (i.e. true attitude is better than hypocritical action), but he also argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Being and Doing (because action causes reaction). However, scripture commands both Being and Doing. 1st John is an excellent example of this. John commands us throughout this book to an attitude of love (agape). He juxtaposes love with two possible opposites though: first he tells us that a man who hates his brother does not love God. Here Love (i.e. a deep emotive concern for the well-being of another, even at the expense of one’s own) is juxtaposed with Hate (i.e. a deep emotive concern for the harm of another, even at the expense of one’s own well-being).

It is important not to confuse this Love/Hate juxtaposition with the Love/Hate juxtaposition used in Paul’s legal terminology. Paul tells us that God ‘loved Jacob, but hated Esau’. Does this mean that God had a ‘deep emotive concern for the harm of Esau’? Of course not. This is a legal use of the terms ‘love’ and ‘hate’ that reflects a covenantal choice that holds no emotive value. God did not wish Esau harm, but he did choose Jacob through whom to continue the spiritual line of Abraham, a place for which Esau was rejected. This is important, but entirely different from the emotive love/hate juxtaposition that John creates in his letter.

However, John does not simply juxtapose love to hate. He also tells us that ‘he who does not love his brother does not know God’. Thus, love is also juxtaposed with apathy. Hence it is not enough to show love by not hating another, but we must also show love by showing a deep emotive concern for another’s well-being. This concept is necessarily active in nature. While the love/hate juxtaposition could potentially reflect a non-active attitudinal love, the love/apathy juxtaposition cannot. This is also reflected in James’ exhortation that ‘faith without works is dead’. Thus a very, very important difference between Laozi’s philosophy and Christian philosophy is the necessity of action. Scripture certainly argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Doing and Not Being. However, scripture absolutely argues against the concept that Being and Not Doing is better than Being and Doing.

The other area of major difference is that of ultimate goal or purpose. Laozi’s writing was ultimately concerned with the temporal (though not necessarily material) world. He sought an answer to the warfare that was rife in China during his lifetime (which was probably somewhere between 60 and 200 years, if he existed at all… I must confess that I cannot bring myself to argue that Adam lived 900 some years, Abraham 180 years, Moses 120, and yet completely reject the notion that Laozi may have lived for 200 years). Ultimately, Laozi’s argument is that through Being and Not Doing we can more effectively implement our will in the world than through Doing and Not Being, or through Being and Doing.

However, the ultimate goal or purpose of the Christian is not to implement our will in the world, but to glorify the Godhead (I’ve said this many times) in part by implementing his will in the world (though this is not our only means of glorifying him). Thus, Laozi’s philosophy and Christian philosophy again find themselves at odds simply because of the source of the will that they seek to enact. There are many good things in Laozi’s philosophy, and his concept of Being as primary is one that I think many American Christians need to embrace. However, ultimately, the differences, as well as the similarities, must be addressed, and it is never enough to only examine one or the other.

Hate

I’m very familiar with hate. In fact, I was a very hateful person before I converted to Christianity. Hate was pretty much the only thing I knew how to feel. The only thing I understood, and this  isn’t an exaggeration, was how to hate. I hated everyone and everything. The only thing I wanted was to see people hurt. So, I understand hate. It makes sense to me, and I understand what it can do to people.

I’ve had some comments on one of my posts from a few days ago (honestly though, the fact that this blog has generated any interest whatsoever amazes me) that are fairly hostile. Not just hostile to the ideas in the post, but hostile to me personally. The hostility doesn’t surprise me, as I said, I’m familiar with hate, but the responses rather do. However, this highlights one of the major problems in today’s civil discourse. So often it seems impossible for people to disagree respectfully.

I teach an ethics class in which we discuss the issue of Hate Speech, and in that class I get a lot of students whose response is simply ‘why can’t people just be nice to each other’. Honestly, I often laugh at these students (quietly and to myself) because of their naivety. However, they ask a good question. Why can’t we be nice to each other? Why do we seem incapable of disagreeing respectfully?

Some of this is simply that we are completely insecure as a nation and as individuals. We are utterly and completely afraid of everything, and we can’t seem to get over that. Many of us seem to think that personal insults are a valid part of reasoned argument, and that disagreement is an act of hate. This then breeds a hateful response intended not simply to refute, but to injure. Another part of it is that many of us are so arrogant that we can’t respect any opinion that varies from our own. Many people, on either side of every major argument, utter some form of the phrase, ‘If you disagree with me then you are clearly a terrible person!’ I know wonderful people who are pro-choice, and wonderful people who are pro-life. I know wonderful people who are pro-gay marriage, and wonderful people who are pro-traditional marriage, and wonderful people who don’t think the issue matters in the slightest. I know wonderful pacifists and wonderful militants. I know wonderful democrats, wonderful republicans, and wonderful independents. There are good people on both sides of all of the major arguments, and we often fail to see that completely. The thing is, there are also bad people on both sides of all of the major arguments.

Ad hominem attacks have become so much a part of our everyday discourse that they seem natural. The problem is that these attacks do nothing to actually advance our ideas, and they do everything to shut down conversation. There is not one group that is innocent of this today: Christians do it, Muslims do it, Atheists do it, Republicans, Democrats, Skeptics, Enviromentalists, you name the group and there are plenty of people that hate their opponents, and plenty of people who confuse those who disagree with those who hate. A part of this is because hate sees hate, even when it isn’t there.

There is plenty of hate in the world without adding our own. Heck, even anti-hate groups spread hate (have you read some of the the SPLC puts out?). Instead of seeing hate in those who disagree, and then responding with hate of our own, we should respond to hate with love. We should love those who hate us, hard as that is.

The thing is, it is hard to love the people who hurt us, hard to love the people who hate us, and often hard to tell the difference between the two. Regardless, our job is to love both, and to show that love at all times. So, that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m really not entirely sure how yet, but it’s what I want to do.

You see, the thing is that I’m not really sure I can respond in love, and actually respond. Not to say that it would be impossible to lovingly and carefully refute the claims without attacking the individuals, I’m just not sure that I can do it right now, and even if I could, I’m not sure that the individuals would see it that way.

So, I sit here wondering if it would be more loving to simply do nothing, or to attempt an amiable refutation. Sometimes I wonder if any refutation can be seen as amiable in modern society, certainly this doesn’t seem to be the case. Obviously I haven’t let these comments through, and I don’t plan to. Honestly, right now I’m not sure if I’m going to let any comments through. Of course you’re always welcome to submit comments, but I’m not really sure I’m going to actually post anyone’s comments.

I’ve said several times that I’m treating this blog as a personal journal, and I don’t know that I really want comments cluttering up my journal. All in all, I have some thinking to do before I decide how to handle them.