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Speaking of that Loving Your Neighbor Thing

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Long ago Jesus talked about neighbors (Luke 10:25–37) and what a neighbor is. The answer was: everybody. That answer worked in the industrial world, but it is insufficient for our time and place.

Take for example a few words from the University of Chicago professor of ethics Martha Nussbaum:

New issues arise constantly. The world needs an ethical revolution, a consciousness-raising movement of truly international proportions. But this revolution is impeded by the navel-gazing that is typically involved in asking, “What is it to be human?”

Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash

Let’s rekindle and extend our sense of wonder by asking instead: “What is it to be a whale?” Then let’s go observe whales as best we can, and read the thrilling research of scientists . . . *

Martha C. Nussbaum “What Does it Mean to be Human? Don’t Ask.” New York Times, August 20, 2018.

Dr. Nussbaum makes an excellent point: Perhaps we can re-see the human condition by looking at beings besides human beings. Then, maybe, just maybe, we can think of all sentient beings and the planet itself as a neighbor.

We can awaken to our humanity when we stop prioritizing the human, and we place the human animal into the web of our planetary existence.

What Dr. Nussbaum is describing is a religious experience: Religion is about entering into a mental and heart space in which we open ourselves to experience “the other” — whether that “other” be another human or a whale — as not exotic or foreign but rather as a respected fellow being in the web of existence.

“Love thy neighbor” means loving whales too.

An ethical religious or philosophical stance is taking responsibility for the vulnerable by joining with other people and other sentient beings and the planet itself as co-creators of a positive “now” and a positive future.

Our liberal religious traditions are about encouraging the flourishing of sentience itself.

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