I’ve decided not to try to blog through Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace because I’d never make it; the book is in many ways over my head, so I’m reading it through just to get it done, with the intention of revisiting it soon in hopes that I’ll better grasp it. But I’ll offer a few thoughts here and there. Obviously one of the central themes of the book is “exclusion,” which Volf describes early on as refusing to accept other human beings as human beings. We see others precisely as other and treat them more as commodities than actual persons. He names a few ways in which we do this.
Exclusion as elimination – because you are different from us/me I will not allow you to survive; as in actual cases of ethnic cleansing, or, on a smaller scale, murder.
Exclusion as assimilation – you can survive and even thrive so long as you become like us/me; you can keep your life if you give up your identity.
Exclusion as domination – you can remain, but only as long as you stay in your place, which is beneath us/me; we see this in classism.
Exclusion as abandonment – you can remain but I will act like you are not there; this is the case in much of the two-thirds world, which we rarely really see.
It may help to think about this in terms of something most of us have experienced in the past: high school. While we rarely saw forms of the first type, the other three were pervasive. The cool kids would accept a non-cool kid so long as the non-cool (or new) kid became like them (or vice versa). Or the in-crowd tolerates the out-crowd but only as inferiors. Or various groups carry on their lives as if the others weren’t actually there, as if they didn’t merit substantial attention. Perhaps its a silly example, but it may make things a bit more concrete; these are the habits into which we are formed and which we take with us beyond our early years into the rest of the world.
In such ways we refuse to allow people their full humanhood. We deny their right to live as equal beings, as people to whom we are responsible as fellow creatures. Why?