One of the worst sins of our age is that of ‘the othering’. By this, I mean all those occasions when we look upon anyone else as in some way ‘other’ than us. We perceive them to be different to us and this can often lead to us looking not at them, but down upon them, seeing them as somehow inferior to us. Common examples are those we perceive to have a different skin colour, country of origin, place of residence, sexuality, religious belief, political ethos. If they are not – in our surmising – the same as us, then they are ‘the other’. And that separates us from them. It divides.
This ‘othering’ has led to so many evils. In the last century, it was the root cause of the attempted destruction of an entire people and religion, in the satanic concentration camps of the Second World War. A not entirely dissimilar outlook has been behind so very many of the wars, both greater and smaller, which have plagued humanity since then.
And looking around today, it seems that nothing has really changed and we continue to view people as being in some way ‘other’.
Social media, for instance, thrives on this sense of division and othering – anyone with a different outlook in politics, in government, in religious belief (and even differences within the same religion!), are ‘the other’. We fail to look at what unites us, seeing instead only that which divides.
Division is the key word here. When we are divided for some reason, it is far easier not to love. We all love those who agree with us, who support us, who listen and respond positively to us. But when there is division, it is almost impossible to love.
This isn’t exclusive to the present age, of course – it is not something we have invented in recent times. It has been around far, far longer than that.
Looking at the Gospels, there are various accounts of ‘othering’, often hidden behind a mask of respectability and religious orthodoxy. Jesus was criticised over and over for having anything to do with ‘the other’ – whether sinners, tax collectors, the Samaritan woman or various other people who were, for one reason or another, looked down upon. And yet the example He offered so consistently is that we not only approach, but embrace, the other, regardless of who or what they are. To put aside and see beyond the ‘otherness’ of a person and to love them – that surely, is the very heart of the Gospel. Is that not precisely what we are called to to as Christians? We read all the Parables, we listen to all the Gospel texts – and then we convince ourselves that they do not apply to us, that the Lord is directing His words at everyone except us. How foolish we are.
‘The othering’ can be contagious, fuelled by peer pressure and social acceptability. But love is more contagious. And infinitely more powerful.