Most of the theories and narratives we use to understand social reality assume that the material world is the main shaping influence over that reality — economics with its emphasis on goods; evolution with its emphasis on physical survival; or think even of the recent presidential campaign with its emphasis on jobs as the defining issue in determining how people will vote. I don’t deny the obvious importance of the material dimension of existence, but I find that theories such as these are often blind to the spiritual dimension of social life: by focusing wholly on humans’ desire for things, they fail to perceive the power of humans’ desire for love, community, solidarity, and connection with others, or as I will explain shortly, for “mutual recognition” of our common humanity as authentic Presence.

Where we place our emphasis in interpreting the world is critical...

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