As a Political Science adjunct professor at Corban University, I teach my students about the philosophical theory of The Other. Several philosophers have addressed the concept including G.W.F. Hagel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Edmond Husserl, Jacque Lacan, and Emmanuel Levinas.
In an article dated December 7, 2020, the Ethics Centre put it this way:
“Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir thought ‘Otherness is a basic category of human thought’. As soon as we think about what something is, we think about the opposite – the Other. However, natural or not, Othering isn’t a neutral process – it tends to lead to the mistreatment of the people we decide are Other.”
From a Christian perspective we see this play out in our fallen world as sin runs rampant through our human condition. Cain killed Abel because Abel did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and was other than Cain who did not do what was right. From there you see othering express itself between people, people groups, and nations throughout scripture and in our everyday lives.
It’s a tragic piece of our human nature that has been marred by sin. Our flesh demands that we see the other so that we can feel superior, powerful, meaningful, and safe. And that evil otherness results in the harm of those we see as less than us.
This morning’s news bears this out: A white supremacist killed 10 people – mostly African Americans – in Buffalo, NY. In Laguna Woods, CA a gunmen entered a church and killed one and wounded I believe three others before being subdued. Various political debates have people demonizing each other for their views (Ukrainian funding, abortion, the economy, BLM and CRT to name a few). When we see the other, we feel the need to crush them because they are not like us.
We all know that Jesus was a radical who preached a gospel so counter-cultural they killed Him for it. Jesus was the other to the religious leaders in Jerusalem, the puppet king of Israel, and the Roman occupiers. Even in death Jesus was other stating clearly that nobody took His life from Him rather He gave it freely for His friends so they might have salvation. (John 10:18)
Paul tells us that in our faith there is no other: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Oh, if the church would embrace these words!! Yet even in our Christian world there is the other whether it be a different denomination, contemporary music versus traditional hymns, women’s role in the church, and even simple interpretation of scripture.
I have to agree with de Beauvoir that otherness is a basic human thought that we simply cannot escape but must intentionally do all we can to control and minimize in our Christian walk.
But isn’t that what Jesus taught us from the beginning?
Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 these words:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
The clear teaching here is don’t see people as other. Worry about yourself! It’s God’s job to judge not yours. Jesus teaches this again in a story that really gets overlooked after His resurrection.
In John 21 starting at verse 17 Jesus restores Peter by asking if Peter loves Him three time. Then Jesus explains to Peter what kind of death he will have by following Him. Peter – being Peter – turns and sees John walking behind them and says in verse 21, “Lord, what about him?” You can just see Jesus’ exasperation with Peter as He basically tells Peter don’t worry about John worry about what I’m telling you!
The lesson of this seems clear to me – stay in your lane! Our job as Christians is to love people not judge them. Our job is to serve people not be served by them. Our job as Christians is to humble ourselves not be prideful. Our job as Christians is to be last not first.
I have to admit that I struggle with pride. I’m A LOT better than I used to be – I was an arrogant punk in my younger days! In those days it was easy to see everyone else as other! Then Jesus led me to what has become my life verse – the verse I do everything I can to live by:
“3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”
When I live this way there can be no other in my life. There is no Jew or Gentile, slave nor free, nor male or female in my life. There is no black, white, Asian, or race identification. There is no straight, gay, transexual, or LGBTQ. There is nothing but people made in God’s image who God loves.
Right now, I can hear some of my Christian friends screaming at me: What about evil???? We aren’t to embrace and affirm sin, Tom!!!!!
Absolutely right! Let’s look at how scripture tells us to act:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I (Paul) urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
“Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
“A new command I (Jesus) give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
Absolutely we are to call sin what it is – SIN. But there is a difference between telling someone in love that God has something better for them than the sin they are choosing to embrace versus demonizing them as sinners as if you’re not one yourself! Those of us who have been saved from an eternity in Hell should be working as hard as possible to give others the chance Jesus gave us not othering them because they are evil, and you don’t feel they deserve redemption!
I have to admit that I don’t buy into all the cultural nonsense going around today ranging from identity politics to men being able to have babies. But I know scripture teaches us that there is a clear distinction between believers and non-believers that we must always keep in mind. Believers were once blind and now we see! Unbelievers are blinded by Satan, the prince of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).
We are not to judge, disparage, dislike, or hate unbelievers even when they do so to us. Unbelievers are blinded by Satan to the truth so if anything, we should have compassion for them and actually pity them as we try to share Jesus in the most truthfully loving way we can. Unbelievers are not The Other – they are the lost sheep of which Jesus says, “…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) Never forget that God wants none to perish (2 Peter 3) and it’s our job to share that gospel of salvation with them (Matthew 28:18-20).
Othering is perhaps the most dangerous sinful thing we do to each other as human being. Instead of being peaceful and having the unity God calls us to, we find ways to separate ourselves into “us versus them” camps in the most shallow ways. The result is human carnage and Satan just laughs at us.
My encouragement to you today is not to fall into the trap of otherness. Don’t judge other people; meet people where they are and love them even when you disagree with their actions. Don’t fall into the other trap of otherness as well – becoming defensive and prideful when people see you as the other! Turn the other cheek and share Jesus anyway!
No, it’s not easy – you must fight your flesh to pull this off and it’s really a moment-by-moment fight. We are told our flesh constantly fights with the Holy Spirit over these things (Galatians 5:17). But this is why Jesus told us we must die to ourselves (Luke 9:23) in order to follow Him! Let’s all recommit to die to our natural desire to othering and instead fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit and share God’s truth in love!