Reflections by Jennifer Geach
A New Commandment
2nd July 2018
We are a funny mixed up bunch we humans, so that we can hold two entirely conflicting opinions in our heads at the same time, and not notice, unless we are very clear headed, that our ideas are even incongruent, much less in conflict. So on the one hand, someone who is pro-abortion will yammer about a woman’s right to choose: but the very same person will believe that it is essential to protect people not only from drugs which are evidently harmful, as tobacco, but even from potentially beneficial drugs. I have actually heard someone heatedly advocating the right to choose assisted suicide, who in the same breath said that ‘of course’ they are completely opposed to the recreational use of drugs.
In the same way, there will be those who clamour for better treatment for animals on the basis that they are possessed of more rationality than we thought formerly: the Great ape project wants to extend the vote, and some civic protections to apes. But often the same people who advocate for animal rights are those who would ride roughshod over human rights, such as the right of children to know who their parents are.
We all have places where our moral vision is clear, and in accordance with reality. However, most of us have blind spots, places where prejudices and biases prevent us from seeing clearly. We should be on the alert, so as to notice our bias, so as to notice the occasions where we fail in sympathy because of our prejudices. This want of sympathy may mean that the image of God in the person to whom we are speaking is obscured; we need to remind ourselves constantly that every human being is made in God’s image, and is precious for that reason.
Our primary duty to our fellow men is to love them: and this means real love of individuals, not generalised attitudes of good will. To love someone is not simply a matter of feeling: for if love were a feeling we could not be commanded to it. Love is ordering of the will towards the good of the other as though it were our own good. This ordering of the will must be done in spite of our prejudices and our feelings. Jesus, as we all know, told us to love our enemies: but in English this comes over as rather mealy mouthed, and familiarity has blunted the force of what Jesus said. In Greek, there are two words for enemy: a polemios is someone with whom your country was at war: an echthros is someone personally hateful to you. So what Jesus is commanding might be more closely translated as love the persons you hate: the oxymoron should jolt us into awareness. The people who are personally distasteful to us, the people who do things that annoy us, the people whose personalities and tastes clash with our own: these are the people whom we are to love. Thus in spite of our biases, prejudices and fears we must strive to draw them, as we ourselves wish to be drawn, towards the true, the beautiful and the good.