Ktismatics

14 July 2007

The End of the Cannibalistic Economy

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 11:23 am

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15)

Backing up a little in Galatians we encounter this curious passage. I’m particularly struck by the last sentence: if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. I always thought Paul was warning the Galatians against attacking one another out of spite, envy, mean-spiritedness. But now I’m reconsidering in light of the context.

If you regard the other as an object of your desire, then your desire seeks above all to possess that object of desire. You want to consume the other, incorporating the desired object into yourself. Bite by bite you devour the other, trying to fill yourself up with your desire. But when you’re done eating you realize you’re just as hungry as you were before. Meanwhile you’ve eaten up your desire for the other: your desire is unsatisfied, but the other no longer has that elusive thing you desire. Maybe it has moved on to another other? You look around; you think you see it; you begin sniffing, licking, nibbling…

But you aren’t the only predator: while you’re on the prowl the other is leering at you and licking its chops. You are an object of desire for the other. This is the economy of the flesh, a cannibalistic economy where everybody eats each other.

Paul warned the Galatians that the Law doesn’t just repress desire; it also creates the desire it represses. Desire to satisfy the Law; desire for what the Law prohibits; desire to be punished by the Law — desiring the desire of the Other. The Law eats you up and spits you out as a flesh-eating zombie. But the Law is never satisfied; it’s always hungry for fresh flesh. In pop-psych parlance, the Law and the flesh are codependent.

In place of the cannibalistic economy of the flesh Paul substitutes the freedom of love. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, says Paul. “Fulfilled” means “filled up”: the Law eats the one word, the one logos, and it’s not hungry any more. Freed from the hunger of the Law, the flesh too loses its appetite for flesh. You shall love your neighbor as yourself is the one logos. What do you want? Want that for the other as well. The freedom of love puts an end to the cannibalistic consumer economy of the Law and the flesh.

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11 Comments »

  1. In Jesus’ teaching, the two laws sum up entirely ‘the law and the prophets’. Have we not just rephrased the negative laws with positive ones, have only the sound bites changed?

    Jesus himself has two ‘levels’ of love in his teaching. The first level, hard enough, is this ‘golden rule’ of do unto others… The second is to love others more than one loves oneself, culminating in ‘take up your cross and follow me’. In between these two stands the stern but sensible injunction to ‘count the cost’.

    Comment by samlcarr — 14 July 2007 @ 12:46 pm

  2. The message version of the passage in question…which I think is interesting:

    13-15 “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?”

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 14 July 2007 @ 11:45 pm

  3. That’s the danger of a pop translation — it combines the text with opinions about how the text should be interpreted.

    Comment by ktismatics — 15 July 2007 @ 6:14 am

  4. “the whole Law is fulfilled in one word”

    Why isn’t it one “Word”? Isn’t that what he means?

    Meilleurs voeux!!

    Comment by blueVicar — 15 July 2007 @ 7:30 am

  5. You mean with a capital W, as in Jesus? Maybe, but if so then maybe Paul is saying that you can translate Jesus into “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus personifies this principle.

    Comment by ktismatics — 15 July 2007 @ 7:46 am

  6. Another thought an in fact something that I have wondered about a lot with Paul and it is specifically an ‘economic’ question is: Is Paul assuming that Jesus gospel ethic an economics is the standard? I woner this because the very nature of the epistolary form precludes (pretty much) our finding out what the primary gospel teaching was that Paul engaged in.

    If the standard for followers of Jesus is similar to what Jesus laid down, then the early chuch must have been economically a very frightening phenomenon. Imagine giving always better than a good measure, refusing to charge interest, automatically forgiving bad debts, never taking advantage of market scarcity in order to make a quick buck …

    Comment by samlcarr — 16 July 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  7. I used “economy” in the title of this post because of the relationship between desire and consuming that Paul sketches here. To desire what the other wants or has in order to equal or exceed them, to consume that desired thing as a way of incorporating it into yourself and thereby making yourself desirable to the other — these are ways of devouring one another rather than serving one another in love.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 July 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  8. Yes, an also if one takes the older meaning of household/family management! I also wonder whether ‘neighbor’ has the same inclusive sense as that in which Jesus used it – or has the us vs. them distiction alreay started to creep back in?

    Comment by samlcarr — 16 July 2007 @ 8:00 pm

  9. Everyone wants to eat others? Is Paul referring to roman laws? slavery and gladiators when he says this? It just seems not to bear on religious law. Maybe he was trying to criticize Roman behaviour at that time.

    Comment by Odile — 19 July 2007 @ 6:11 pm

  10. Perhaps we want to take whatever is best about the other person for ourselves, to imitate them, to dominate them, to make them nothing while we become everything. Metaphorically it’s like eating them.

    Comment by ktismatics — 19 July 2007 @ 10:23 pm

  11. you’ve got a point. It would be wiser if we would enjoy others around us when they bloom unstead of trying to grow over each other.

    Comment by Odile — 20 July 2007 @ 9:47 am


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