It’s been at least a week since John H. linked this James Alison essay on Twitter, so it’s high time that I passed it along with my recommendation. It’s not light reading, but it’s quite an insightful consideration of Jesus’ command to love your enemies.
In the first half of the essay Alison explores “mirror neurons” and infant imitation to bring us to an understanding from science that our minds and actions are influenced by those around us. He summarizes:
With this we are well on the way to being able to understand, for the first time rigorously, how it is that what we normally call the “self” of each one of us is constituted by the desire of another. How it is in fact that the self of each one of us, rather than being something hermetic, locked into itself until we choose to enter into relationship with what is other than us, is in the first instance a real but malleable construct which is a symptom of the way this body has been brought into being and is held in being by the relationships which preceded it.
With the remainder of the essay Alison then brings home how Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies beautifully works within this scientific understanding…
But, Jesus says, this being run by the adulatory other, or the excoriating other, which is the same thing, has nothing to do with God. What God’s love looks like is being creatively for the other without being defined over against the other in any way at all. That is what is meant by grace and freedom. It is going to involve breaking through the strong-seeming but ultimately fragile dichotomies of “in group” and “out group”, “pure” and “impure”, “good guys” and “bad guys” which are quite simply the ambivalent functions of our cultural identity, and coming to love other people without any over against at all. Living this out is going to look remarkably like a loss of identity, a certain form of death. And living it out as a human is what it is to be a child of God, and to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.
If you’ve hung in through those two quotes, I really encourage you to go read the whole thing. Alison has much good insight here about how the attitudes of the groups we’re in and the attitudes we take towards those around us affect us… well worth the read.