Earnest Words

Love yourself. Love your neighbor?

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Stephen Colbert’s guest on August 12 was Mark Johnson. He’s from a group, or the organizer of the group, called Playing for Change. The basic gist of the organization is to create peace through music—showing its power to unite people regardless of difference. Religion, politics, status, color—the organization tries to show that none of this really matters. What matters is the basic dignity of humanity.

This is my understanding of this group’s music (it’s actually a globe-trotting web series). For what it’s worth, I think it’s a good goal. Understanding the basic dignity of all humanity IS a good and valuable goal. Humanity is created in God’s image; somewhere in the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan makes a statement to this effect. It’s something like, “Every man is a Son of Adam and every woman a Daughter of Eve. That is enough to cow the proudest king, and lift the head of the meanest beggar.” Or something like that.

Like I said: It’s a good goal.

What I take issue with was Mr. Johnson’s statement that the purpose of the music was to allow each individual to love themselves. In turn, after loving ourselves, we can turn that love toward others.

I am hesitant to disagree vehemently with this simply because I do not know Mr. Johnson and I am taking the words out of his mouth and I didn’t record them or anything. But, even if that’s not his exact meaning, I disagree with that premise: that by loving ourselves first, we can love others.

My reasons for disagreeing are rather simple. Like most good things that are simple, it is also quite complex. Or I’d like to think so. For me, complex equals good.

I think it’s the other way around: only by loving others can we learn to love ourselves.

My belief is Christan, of course:

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. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

For me, there’s not much argument with this. I have trouble justifying anything beyond Christ. I have trouble justifying anything beyond what Christ has said here.

Rereading the above paragraph, and the one before it, I realize I should explain more—previously, I had left off arguing here.

The above statement is one made by Jesus in response to a stumper of a question by certain unfriendly elements. (That is, they were unfriendly toward him; they were likely friendly to their friends). He’s supposed to pick the best command in the whole Bible.

So he chooses one, appropriately about loving God. That’s expected. Then he leans more radical, and quotes a rather obscure verse from Leviticus—okay, it’s not that obscure, since he knows it and so does everyone else ambushing him—which says something about how people are to treat one another.

When this verse would occur in bible study (which, for those of you unchurched, happens quite frequently), Hal Hays would just as frequently perform the hermeneutical equivalent of waggling his eyebrows: he’d inquire about the context in an arcane way. I think it was supposed to make me reach a conclusion. What that conclusion is, I am not aware. End footnote.

So, this verse… it’s apparently rather important. One could argue from it Mr. Johnson’s principle, but one who does that is fairly dumb, in my humble opinion. That is a syndrome with which I am intimately familiar called: “Missing the Forest for the Trees.”

Christ’s basic assumption in quoting Leviticus 19:18 (the verse that says “love your neighbor” etc.) is that people love themselves. It is not something that people need to learn. We feed and clothe ourselves—or attempt to do so—and do not regularly commit suicide. To argue that one must love themselves to love their neighbor is to belabor the obvious. People already love themselves.

There’s a famous teaching philosophy states that teaching something to someone else is the ultimate display of mastery. I think that applies to this case.

If there’s interest, I may continue this. But for now, I think I’ve thoroughly pulverized a dead horse.

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