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.