There are two concepts from Miroslaw Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996) that I found particularly interesting, inextricably linked, and worthy of nuance: (1.) the cross, the self, and the other, and (2.) distancing and belonging.
What runs beneath the two concepts is existence, or “being” –what it means to exist is about what it means to “know” existence for what it is, what it means to perceive that existence in terms of time and historicity, and what it means to translate that existence into the limitations of one’s existential situation. All these things are important when encountering the cross, the self, and the other, since the sum totality of all the facticities of our existence open the possibility, as Martin Heidegger would certainly agree, of recognizing the cross, the self, and the other as three very distinct objects of understanding that all yield very different epistemological and phenomenological value and meaning. Perhaps, I would go so far as to say that “being” sets the parameters to and the rules for how we encounter the cross, the self, and the other –we situate our situatedness in our self, or within our selfhood, and reflect that situatedness on the situatedness of the cross and the other. This is accomplished, as Volf rightly asserts, through distancing and belonging: to distance and to belong is about the situatedness of identity.
In my view, what Volf is suggesting through his explication of identity is that we are selves, while “the cross” and “the other” validate our selfhood self-referentially as much as they affirm themselves as pseudo-selves and points of objectification. To that end, the self, when we perceive it as such, allows us to, first, refer to “the other” as a projection of otherness which exists outside of our own existence. In other words, by ontologically construing “the other” as an object of our understanding that exists through exteriority, we place an identity in “the other” and, in turn, perceive that “the other” places the same sense of identity in us. This is what Volf is arguing as “otherness” –or, as I would argue a bit further, the other’s “otherness” is shaped through our field of perception, the givenness of the other’s identity and situatedness, and the ability of the other’s situatedness to add nuance to our own situatedness and identity.
In same regard, the cross offers a kind of otherness similar to that of “the other,” but, as Volf would concur, the cross represents an idea that must be apperceived. Of course, “the cross” also has its own situatedness, but is situated outside our field of perception. What I mean is that “the other” and “the self” can, indeed, be perceived through measures of reason and empirical study. However, experience is the only way to perceive “the cross,” which not so much about “perceiving,” but, more aptly, “apperceiving” –that is, bracketing an idea as ideality in order to become aware that the identity of the cross is experiential for us, where it ultimately transcends our perceivable reality.