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Our Sibling, Not Our Enemy – Thomas Merton

September 13, 2022
The historic sanctuary at Swift Presbyterian Church where I am currently the Transitional (Interim) Minister

This past Sunday I talked about the importance of not dehumanizing the “other” but seeing them as our sibling who is created in the image of God. This runs counter to what I often saw and heard in the military about “the enemy” who was demonized. Merton’s letter to Dorothy Day on December 20, 1961 speaks directly to my premise that we cannot demonize others. The letter is found in the book Cold War Letters (p. 30-31)

The basic thing in Christian ethics is to look at the person and not at their nature. That is why natural law so easily degenerates, in practice and casuistry, to jungle law which is no law at all. Because when we consider “nature” we consider the general, the theoretical, and forget the concrete, the individual, the personal reality of the one confronting us. Hence we can see him not as our other self, not as Christ, but as our demon, our evil beast, our nightmare. This, I am afraid, is what a wrong, unintelligent, and unchristian emphasis on natural law has done.

Persons are known not by the intellect alone, not by principles alone, but only by love. It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is, and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action.

In today’s divisive world, we could use this challenge and reminder. After all, Jesus said to love our neighbors and he didn’t put any qualifications on that statement.

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