What Does “Love Thy Neighbor” Really Mean?

love thy neighborToday is Friday, February 21, 2013.

Love Thy Neighbor…
Thy Homeless Neighbor
Thy Muslim Neighbor
Thy Black Neighbor
Thy Gay Neighbor
Thy White Neighbor
Thy Jewish Neighbor
Thy Christian Neighbor
Thy Atheist Neighbor
Thy Racist Neighbor
Thy Addicted Neighbor

It’s too bad this has to be spelled out for some people, but the people it has to be spelled out for probably won’t listen, because they think they know better.  You could even add a few types of people to the list:  Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, Mormon, Wiccan, Unitarian, Jain, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Baha’i, ECKist (member of Eckankar.  Hi, I’m your ECKist neighbor.)   You could also add: Asian, Native American (and that list could go on and on, too: Lakota, Shoshone, Cherokee, Seminole, Navajo, etc.), Pacific Islander, Bi-racial, Multi-racial.  Then you could add:  Thy Incarcerated Neighbor, Thy, Physically Challenged Neighbor, Thy Mentally Challenged Neighbor, and Thy Obese Neighbor, on and on, to infinity.  All the people someone might have trouble giving love to.

But wait, there’s something else that needs to be spelled out. Love.  What does love mean in the expression Love Thy Neighbor?  (I know, this is a little like the lawyers debating the exact meaning of the word “the,” but bear with me.)  Obviously, we’re not expected to have a close and personal relationship with each and every one of these types of people.  What are we supposed to do?

The kind of love we’re talking about, here, is impersonal, unconditional love  It’s the kind of love that has more to do with the Greek word agape and nothing at all to do with eros.  In fact, it’s a kind of attitude that we can have toward people that we don’t normally think of as love.  It’s the capacity to treat each human being with kindness, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and respect.  It’s the attitude that empowers us to think of all Souls as children of God.  It is motivated and generated by love for God, rather than by our attraction to any particular person.   It is sometimes given other names: charity or goodwill.

Impersonal love doesn’t depend on a personal relationship.  You don’t even have to know a person’s name to extend impersonal love to him or her.  All you have to do is recognize that the person is Soul, a child of God.   The person has the right to be here, and the right to do as he chooses, even if he is making some bad choices.  (This doesn’t mean we should let him out of jail if he’s committed a crime.  It doesn’t mean we don’t have to protect our children from him if he’s a convicted child molester.  It does mean that we have to treat him fairly, with basic courtesy, and without discriminating against him.)

Impersonal love means allowing people the right to worship as they please, and that means allowing houses of worship of different faiths to be built in your own local community, whether or not you agree with the tenets of their faith.  It means allowing people to live where they wish to, as long as they can afford it, and that means allowing people of all different cultures and ethnicities, races, religions, creeds, and sexual orientations to live near you, even if you don’t necessarily feel comfortable associating with them socially.  It means allowing people to work where they wish to, as long as they have the skill set required to do the work, and that means equal pay for equal work, regardless of the person’s race, gender, sexual orientation or physical condition.  It means fairness under the law, and that means ending racial profiling, ethnic profiling, gender profiling, and profiling based on sexual orientation.  It also means allowing ethnic groups the right to pass on their own unique cultural values, heritage and language to their children without having to give these things up in favor of assimilating into mainstream culture, just because it would make you more comfortable if they weren’t so different.

And just for the record, “thy” means “your” – and that means I’m talking to you.  Yes, this means you!  🙂


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