A few days after returning from a trip to Chicago and seeing an amazing performance of Hamilton, and on a day that began with my reading about the dignitary harm waged against the LGBTQ community and Why Jeff Sessions thinks Christians are under siege in America and then learning about the deranged conspiracy group ‘We are Q’ and then watching news coverage of angry Trump supporters curse and raise their middle fingers at members of the media covering Trump’s Tampa Rally, I hoped for a better America. And thought of Martin Buber.
In Martin Buber’s 1923 publication of I and Thou (Ich and Du) life is experienced as a series of encounters. I encounter this or that object (a person, a tree, an animal, etc.) and without a relationship these types of encounters Buber calls I-it. When the I-it encounter deepens and a relationship is created the encounter becomes I-You. Relationships between humans that move from I-it to I-You Buber describes as love.
I-you relationships, of course, can oscillate between I-it and I-you and thus we experience woe and wish for something “more;” an encounter that is more lasting and more fulfilling. The yearning for more is the yearning for God – for an encounter that is “absolute.” Buber says that we cannot seek an encounter with God as an object because the absolute encounter isn’t an object it’s a relationship. We can, however, prepare ourselves for such an encounter by concentrating the two parts of our selves – the I of experience and the I of encounter – in our souls. When we do this we are preparing for the encounter with the absolute. Having prepared ourselves, the encounter (an experience of God) will occur and the proof will be in the pudding, as they say: The absolute encounter or relationship will lead us to a transformation and we know the transformation will have occurred when we are in relationship with the world and everything in it; when the entirety of creation becomes a you not an it. When the world becomes a You we are no longer alienated from any part of it; life is no longer meaningless and our relationship is not fleeting but absolute. When our relationship with the world is absolute we are compelled to responsibility and relationship (love) with all of the created order (plants, animals, people). A just and loving society is only possible when everyone sees the world as You.
Buber calls the transformation of our relationship with the world as I–you rather than I-it as divine revelation or salvation. We are saved. When we are saved we are compelled to save the world. Or we might say that when we are compelled to save the world we experience salvation. Sounds like heaven, huh?
Christian theology describes the ultimate salvation of the world as the eschaton – the culmination or climax of history. Judaism describes the same as Shalom – when the world is finally just, whole and at peace; the Peaceable Kingdom envisioned by the prophet Isaiah. Philosophically speaking each of the above is a far cry from what has given my religious tradition – Christianity – a bad name. That a relationship with God is personal and results in my salvation as opposed to yours, or the world’s. The goal of salvation in history is that nobody is an it; no one is left behind or left out of the absolute encounter. An understanding of salvation that involves I and not You (or them) isn’t a description of heaven it’s a recipe for hell. Imagine a religion or a philosophy that was concerned with its own salvation and nor yours. Lots of people (and religions) do. Imagine yourself as an it and not a you. Pretty scary.
At the la-vav of my beliefs as a Christian is the understanding of God as a Trinity; as an absolute relationship of love where nothing is encountered as an object. There is no I-it there is only I-you. Or we could even say that there is only You, you, you.
I suppose that I could go on and on here. But it is not about me. It’s about You. May God bless America now.