I have been thinking the past few days about the Bible. In particular, about the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself.” I have heard far too many people say this who clearly have no idea of what it means.
For those unfamiliar with the exact context, it occurs in the Gospel of Luke. A young man asks Jesus what the two greatest commandments are, and Jesus answers, “Love your God with all your heart and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man then asks a very important follow-up: who is my neighbor?
Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man is set upon by thieves, left for dead, and is rescued by a Samaritan, after being ignored by a priest and a Levite. The Samaritan takes the injured man to an inn, and arranges for his care. It has found its way into popular argot as an expression for anyone who helps a stranger in trouble.
It is impossible to separate this parable from the social and historical context in which it exists, however. The Good Samaritan does more than help a stranger, he helps a stranger of a group of people who actively despise him. Samaritans were the scum of the earth in Judea, and the Samaritan would have been quite justified in ethnic terms had he chosen to walk past and spit on the unfortunate victim. That he chose not to is remarkable.
Jesus’s message was not merely that everyone is your neighbor, but that everyone even the people you despise most for whatever reason is your neighbor.
The annoying salesguy at Fry’s is my neighbor.
The telemarketer who called earlier today is my neighbor.
The guy who cut me off in traffic is my neighbor.
Tea Partiers are my neighbors.
Rand Paul and Paul Ryan are my neighbors.
Rush Limbaugh is my neighbor.
Glenn Beck is my neighbor.
Bernie Madoff is my neighbor.
Charles Manson is my neighbor.
What this means is that there is in all of us a common humanity, an indefinable quality that cannot be destroyed by anything we can do. I have trouble believing in God, but I do believe in people.
This is why I oppose capital punishment. Why I choose to support the right of people to get a living wage and access to health care. Why I am deeply troubled by assisted-suicide. Why abortion greatly saddens me, even as I staunchly defend the right of any woman to make whatever decisions are right for her.
This is why current political and social discourse, with its emphasis on demonizing those with whom we disagree, appalls me. What appalls me even more is my own tendencies to engage in such demonization, even as I believe that it is morally unacceptable.
I work on this. I just wish I had some support from society at large in doing so.