Family vs the “Other”

In philosophy, Edmund Husserl identified the “Other.” This is as opposed to the “Self” or “Us.”

Consciously or subconsciously, we all separate the “Us” vs “Them.” It is recorded in scripture, as Israel separates itself from the world. Nephites exclaim they are better than the Lamanites, the “Other.” When Ammon and his brethren seek to go on a mission to the Lamanites, the Nephites mocked and ridiculed them, for the Lamanites were savages that loved to hate, were lazy, and were forever lost.

Interestingly, God sees it differently. He sees us all as family. He doesn’t distinguish between us. He doesn’t have favorites. He doesn’t separate us. God didn’t cast Satan out, Satan’s actions divided and separated him from God. Satan sought for “Self” and in doing so, turned God and his followers into the “Other.”

In God’s view, “US” includes everyone. God established us as a family, and the only thing that can end that relationship is if we choose to separate ourselves. The Prodigal Son decided that the family was the “Other” and sought his own fortune among his own. Still, God didn’t cast him off forever. God did not make him the “Other.” The Father stood watching, until the Prodigal was ready to return to the family. When he was ready, the Father ran to him, wrapped him in royal clothes, and killed the fatted calf.

We focus and hope on the tender mercies of God that he will retain us in his love and family. In doing so, Book of Mormon prophets frequently remind us that as we gain forgiveness, to not forget the poor, needy and stranger. They are not the “Other” to God, and for us to be in the family means we must also accept them as family.

In making someone or some group “Other,” we are putting them in a category that justifies us in keeping them separate. Whether it is an issue of wealth/poverty, race, religion, political philosophy, fat/skinny, healthy/sick, LGBTQ/heterosexual, etc., we tend to place people in categories, so we can justify ourselves before the “Us” and before God.

God hates sin. Yet, he loves the sinner and always has his door open for them. No one has gone too far that the Atonement of Jesus Christ cannot reach them.

So, do we separate ourselves from God when we refuse to embrace his children, because we’ve placed them in the “Other” category? This isn’t to say that we accept all viewpoints, but instead that as we disagree on issues, we see the person as part of “Us.” We are family, unless we cast ourselves out of the Promised Land by rejecting to embrace God’s children, regardless of who or what they are or believe.

This gets to be challenging as we consider the Hitlers in the world. How do we hate their evil works, yet still see them as our brothers and sisters in need of repentance? Do we wish Trump or Biden (pick your poison) or someone else dead, because their politics are different than our own? Or do we pray sincerely for both of them, as they are children of God in need of our prayers? Do we seek to love them as God loves them? Or do we justify our distaste, because we have made them the “Other?”

How did the Nephites become one people in 4 Nephi? There were no more Nephites, Lamanites or any other “-ites” but were one people in Christ. Are we seeking that kind of unity? Will we as Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, etc., happily and lovingly work together to build Zion? Or will we keep Zion from being built because we are focused on destroying the “Other?”

Does “love your enemies” mean anything to us? Do we seek to listen, truly listen to them, even if we end up kindly and lovingly disagreeing? What things do we agree upon? How can we reach out to them and lift them up, even if they remain in sin or with a separate philosophy than us? Can the Church work with other religions and communist nations to bring about good, even while disagreeing on key concepts? Yes. Can we do the same? I hope so.

What can we do to eliminate the “Other” category of those around us, and invite them to become part of the “Us,” part of the family of God?

16 thoughts on “Family vs the “Other”

  1. I’m with your feelings on this, but does it hold up as well as you suggest?

    I agree largely to the extent that God divides his children, it’s of their own self selection.

    But it’s either in God’s very nature that creates a separation from sinner or one of his intentionally created boundaries. Consider the dividing the sheep from the goats by the Lord and how he will treat them separately based on their bevahior.

    Even Satan was commanded to “depart” from the Garden after his deeds were done. “[Satan] whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son”.

    Anyway, that’s a discussion tangent to the main point. How do we at least strive to include the “other”. I think the best way is a verse that says, “let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me”.

    A lot there. The conclusion is Godly holiness and virtue. One way outlined here to become like that is esteeming our brother as ourselves. What does that look like? Would eat while a brother goes hungry? Would you enrich yourself while a brother is in poverty?

    Difficult questions and answers when we carry it through to the conclusion. But whenever we act in the least degree in putting someone else first, or doing for them what we’d do for ourselves, we are becoming more holy.

    And we’re de-otherizing them. Because their needs become ours.

  2. How exactly does one “lovingly disagree” with a mass murderer? A pedophile? A rapist? Your abuser? The list could go on, but I think you get the point.

    I think we often abuse words like “love” and “forgiveness” in stating philosophical positions and not defining limits. I suggest that even God’s love and forgiveness has limits.

    “No one has gone too far that the Atonement of Jesus Christ cannot reach them.” No limits?

  3. Are there limits on the Atonement of Jesus Christ? Am I reading your question properly?

  4. Old Man, God commands us to love and forgive everyone. He didn’t give exceptions. The atonement is infinite. Our love and forgiveness must also become infinite. This does not excuse sin. You can love someone and hate the evil they do.
    To become Zion, we must become one in heart. This includes those who vote differently than you, and the Hitlers church leader who failed you. This includes the murderers, rapists, slave owners, abusive spouses, and the Hitlers in life. God gives no exception.

  5. Hi Lattertarian and Gerald,
    I think my poorly structured comment was confusing. Let me try to clarify or even confuse you further, for which I take the full blame.

    Lattertarian:
    Are there limits on the Atonement of Jesus Christ?
    Most definitely. Can mercy rob justice?

    Gerald,
    “God commands us to love…” What does that mean?
    “God commands us to forgive…” Are there limitations and conditions?

    Love: There are limitations or conditions placed on love for others. “Love your neighbor” but then the condition “as yourself.” There is a bit of equality and humility commanded in that statement. I read such verses as being both limited in scope (“neighbor”) and manner (“as yourself”).

    Different types of love: Indeed, the NT word we often translate as “love” is the Greek “agape.” It is not emotional. It is not friendship (philia). It is not familial love (storge). Agape is a willed commitment to recognize another person’s value. One chooses agape. Agape is the effort of the Good Samaritan. One can have agape and not even like the person to whom it is extended! It is the perspective that humans have value and that our own efforts are commanded by God to demonstrate that value. We can find admonitions to apply agape to our neighbors, our fellow disciples and our enemies(!). In 1 Corinthians 13, agape is translated as charity in the KJV. There it is treated as a personal attribute which can be acquired, not as a relationship.

    I think it is a bit silly for someone to say “We should love everyone.” We have no idea what they mean. It could be a commitment to what is best for others (agape) or something a little like the free-love movements of the 1960’s (eros).

    What is forgiveness? Forgiveness at its best is a two-way deal. In the fullest sense it is a reconciliation, a pardon, a dissolution of debt. Unilateral or one-sided forgiveness is more limited in scope and meaning. Can one truly unilaterally forgive a person who has harmed one greatly and be reconciled and pardon them completely? Not really, because metaphorically speaking, they can still harm you (or others!) again. Full reconciliation is not possible. We cannot pardon sins committed by another, even if the sin is against ourselves. Only God or the President of the High Priesthood can do that. So there are limits to forgiveness. Complete reconciliation comes with only complete repentance by the perpetrator.

    One may ask, is it not in D&C 64 that “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men”?

    We could respond with the next verses: “And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

    “And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation.

    “And this ye shall do that God may be glorified—not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver—

    “Verily I say, for this cause ye shall do these things.”

    Forgiveness does seem to be tied to repentance or the Lord wants us to bring the perpetrator to the attention of the Church and adhere to specific commandments and revelation on such matters.

    So… the atonement is infinite. But does that mean that there are no time limits on our repentance? Is this life not the time to prepare to meet God? Are not the the means of application of the Atonement of Christ also conditional (teachings and ordinances of the Gospel)?

    20th and 21st century thinkers are fond of making everything infinite and unconditional. “Infinite love” which “saves” people in their sins is one result. President Nelson spoke to that problem some time ago.

    Thank you for hearing me out…

  6. I don’t get this post. And I know there are some really intelligent writers and scholars on this site…I am not sure I can articulate myself well enough that I should even post a comment, but…here I go.

    God caused that Satan be cast down. Moses 4:3
    Satan created the “other” category; those who would not harken to the voice of the Lord. Moses 4:4

    The people of 4th Nephi were able to eliminate the “other” category by their shared but individual desire to be one people in Christ. They had reached a level of behavior, through Christ’s Atonement, that their actions were consistent with their hearts. And their hearts were one in Christ, by choice.

    Not all of God’s children desire to be one people in Christ. (Graciously, there is still time for them to change their hearts and minds.) “We” didn’t put those who don’t desire Christ in an “other” category, they did. Let’s not blame the people willing to be one in Christ for those who choose, by their agency, to create their own “other” category.

    The author writes, “ In making someone or some group “Other,” we are putting them in a category that justifies us in keeping them separate. Whether it is an issue of wealth/poverty, race, religion, political philosophy, fat/skinny, healthy/sick, LGBTQ/heterosexual, etc., we tend to place people in categories, so we can justify ourselves before the “Us” and before God.”

    This seems an incredible broad, and ridiculous, brush. Admittedly, perhaps I am the only one who has never worried about justifying myself before God, or anyone else, by someone’s else’s health, weight or income.

    However, there are some political philosophies and social agendas, to stick with your list, that are very determinedly by design anti-Christ. If “we” want to be one in Christ, “we” cannot be found standing with them – “we” must keep them separate. As the scriptures tell us, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, agains the rulers or the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. I don’t know how to do this without actively working to figuratively “destroy”, as you say, that which is anti-Christ. So while the “us” who desire to be one in Christ have no desire to “destroy” our family, as you have said, we are bound to “destroy” that which leads away from Christ. And unfortunately some of our family chooses to place themselves in that “other” category. We can love, wait patiently, pray fervently… but “us” didn’t put them in the “other” category. They did.

    I think I correctly read the kumbaya flavor of this post and I get it. It sounds very noble and in theory, something “we” need to aspire to. But I think It’s dangerous to misread the individual’s responsibility to be found removing themselves from “other” categories to be welcomed in to be one in Christ.

  7. Old Man, Jesus also commanded, “as I have loved you, love one another.” Given that His is an infinite love, there is no limit.
    As to a time limit for repentance? That is between us and God, not between humans..

    NotThatMeg, nice points. However, seeking Zipn is not a kumbaya moment. It is a difficult achievement that requires all of us to give all, to sacrifice all. That is part of our baptismal and temple covenants.

    My point is, how hard are we considering those covenants? Are we seeking to welcome all to the family, letting God separate the tares from the wheat, or do we refuse to allow others into the family? Are we as the Pharisees and hypocrites that keep others out of the heavenly family, simply because we can only see someone as “Other.”
    We can and should oppose false doctrine, such as communism. Still, I note that most Americans embrace some level of socialism or fascism, while verbally condemning these.
    But that isn’t the issue here. Are we driving people there because we’ve made them “Other” and given them nowhere else to go?I

    Can we create “Other” and still build Zion? Or should we be like the father of the Prodigal Son, patiently waiting for them to come home?

  8. I didn’t say seeking Zion is a kumbaya moment.
    I said this post is.
    I believe there is a lifetime of difficult work in seeking Zion (and in keeping covenants) but this post isn’t about that hard work, in my opinion.

  9. Of course we are all one family. Isn’t it delightful!

    When I separated from my first husband, due to a combination of financial irresponsibility on his part, sexual infidelity on his part, and physical abuse on his part, he was very disappointed that I did not hate him, yet was still unwilling to resume a spousal relationship.

    For what it’s worth, my mother considered the two of us to both be supremely immature, and later stated that she was wondered if/when one of the both of us would grow up. Or at least that’s what she said to my current husband when he opined it would have been nice had we met and married at BYU before my first marriage. She was telling him I wasn’t a nice person and he was much better being my husband after I’d had reason to learn to be less immature.

    Being family and considering all mankind to be our own does not mean there will be no hurt. But it should take the vicious edge off our castigations of one another.

    It is this mankind-as-family paradigm that I see as the great engine of spreading salvation. I imagine that every soul who is willing to repent, even if after this life, will be a source to us of great rejoicing. Every soul who is unwilling to repent will be a source of sorrow, though we will understand why these unwilling to become one with God cannot therefore be righteously forced to reunion with God.

    All sorts of movements arise from the worldly view of peoples as separate and opposed camps. So we have the BLM folks versus the not BLM folks. We have those eager for all to wear masks versus the folks who don’t want to be forced to wear masks. We have those who perceive themselves to be part of the proper inhabitants of the US versus those who are not considered proper inhabitants of the US. The list of polarized camps could go on and on.

    I understood Rame to be reminding us that the world’s polarized no holds barred approach is not fully appropriate for those who believe we are all God’s children. And I agree.

    And yet, I recall the behavior of the young Helen Keller when Annie Sullivan first visited the family. Helen was like a beast, allowed to do anything that might please her, such as wandering around the dinner table taking any food item that might please her and refusing anything that displeased her. Annie Sullivan, in love, caused Helen intense distress in those early days, frustrating Helen’s desire to do whatever she might please. But in time that correction led to language and to all the great good that Helen Keller was able to do for herself and humanity.

    Life isn’t easy. And there are times when the right thing for the greater family of God is to do things that frustrate individual children of God. The great thing for believers is that we have hope that each action will be seen and judged by God, and that He will ultimately determine whether our actions were ultimately inspired by love and compassion or inspired by hate and xenophobia.

    Therefore it matters less what people and their Facebook buddies might think of what I do. What matters more is whether I am ultimately found within the arms of God with the rest of God’s family, whether through proper action or through repentance.

  10. We like to cite the parable of the prodigal son, but do we understand it? The younger son left the home and went to a faraway land — then, when he was ready to repent, he came back and the father received him. He did not live in debauchery in his father’s house. He was family, then be left home and chose to become other, then he repented and returned to family. The father lived him and received him.

    The father’s love was for a returning and repentant son, not a son still living in debauchery.

  11. Oops!
    He was family, then he left home and chose to become other, then he repented and returned to family. The father loved him and received him.

  12. ji, I prefer to interpret the Father’s love as constant. It was the Father’s constant love and the prodigal son’s knowledge of that love that drew the son back.

    If the Father’s love is constant, then that is what we should be striving towards.

  13. Pass,

    I agree that the father continued to love his son during his absence. But will you agree that Jesus told the parable as I described it?

    Somehow, I don’t think there are superfluous details in any of our Savior’s parables.

  14. My point is, how hard are we considering those covenants? Are we seeking to welcome all to the family, letting God separate the tares from the wheat, or do we refuse to allow others into the family? Are we as the Pharisees and hypocrites that keep others out of the heavenly family, simply because we can only see someone as “Other.”

    Everyone needs to remember the Savior’s specific instructions to the members and the disciples in 3 Nephi 18.

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