Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, January 27, 2005

To have and to hold

To have an enemy, first, is to have a relationship with another person.
To have an enemy is to have someone who acts against me, either over a long-term, or on a sudden impulse. And an enemy must be someone who can be held responsible for what occurs, must be accountable for his or her actions.

But what does it mean to "have" an enemy? How is it that we come to possess such a relationship with another person? "Love your enemy," we are told. Why is the enemy "mine"? Is it a person I possess? Or a relationship?

I can have relationships with several people, in several different ways. But relationship is an ontological situation: it is a position of my being, and always one that is reciprocal. I cannot have a friend if the other person does not accept my friendship, too. I cannot have a lover if the other person does not reciprocate my love. We rightly consider people who have merely one-sided relationships as either sad and delusional, or in need of therapy. "Enemy" is an ontological relationship; not a personal one, or a physical one. But is it also a reciprocal one? Must my enemy reciprocate in the same way, in order for the relationship fo "enemy" to be established? Well, if someone declares himself my enemy, but I don't recognize the relationship, I don't reciprocate, is the relationship established? Or is that person merely deluded? Dangerous, perhaps, to be sure; but if I don't recognize the relationship on those terms, does it exist?

And what does it mean to "have" an enemy? "Your" is clearly possessive. "Love your enemy," is the commandment. Clearly I can love my friend, my family, my lover. But do I have a possessory interest in them, too? Possession is a legal and physical concept. The law establishes and protects the concept of possession. Physical presence establishes and enforces it. But persons are not possessions. We do not possess people, either at law, or in ontology. Even if the law establishes a right to possession, a right to control (as it does in the case of parents and children), it does not establish a possessory interest that is similar to title in personal, or real, property. And the distinction is not merely legal. Possession of an object is possession, ownership, control, grasp, of a thing. How could we ever have, even under the most severe slavery, possession of a person?

You may possess the body; but do you possess the soul, the mind, the essence, of the person? Do you possess who they are, their being? Do we even possess our own being? Possession of things is possible. Possession of persons, is impossible.

So how can we say that we "have" an enemy? What do we mean? What do we possess? An entity which opposes us, an entity which is against us? Why would we have such a possession? Why don't we discard it? Because we do not choose our enemies, they choose us? Because we do not have enemies, they have us? Do we truly imagine that we stand that far outside of the economy of human relationships as to be innocent, as to be blameless? Or do we imagine that we are mere pawns in a game we cannot play, chips in the flood, helpless in a world we never made? If so, then how do we love anyone? We have no power to affect anything; we have no responsibility for what is done to us.

But if we "have" an enemy, and if we must love that enemy, then the entire situation is in our hands. And while we may want to cry out "Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?", we simultaneously realize that we alone have the key to our imprisonment. We cannot "have" enemies unless we possess them. We cannot love our enemies, until we release them. Because so long as they are enemies, they are not other to us; they are objects. And we cannot love objects. We can only love entities, those who can be in relationship to us.

So, how do we love our enemy? By not having any; by refusing to be in possession of enemies, but refusing to treat entities with whom we can have relationships, as objects to whom we can only stand in possession or dis-possession. That is not the full way, but that is the start of the way. It is, of course, a way of vulnerability; not yet of complete vulnerability. To simply let go of an enemy, to simply refuse that relationship, is to make yourself vulnerable physically or psychicly, if not emotionally and spiritually. To love your enemy, is to open yourself fully, wholly, completely: it is to be absolutely vulnerable. It is another step entirely.

But the first step is to recognize that you "have" enemies only because you hold them as such, only because you engage in a practice of possesion, rather than in a relationship with other. That is the first step. That is the beginning.

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