In my last Lenten column I talked about how hard it can be at times to love God.
But that's a snap compared to loving my neighbor.
“The first of all the commandments is ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength’; this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ There is none other commandment greater than these.”
In my last Lenten column I talked about how hard it can be at times to love God.
But that’s a snap compared to loving my neighbor.
Like everyone else in this polarized atmosphere we call modern America, I have some very strong negative opinions about certain politicians. If you know me, you probably know who they are. If you don’t know me, you may be surprised.
What drives me crazy is that some people who I know and respect and care about feel that way about the politicians I like. I have seen people who would give the shirt off their back, who frequently go out of their way to help others out, including me and my family, cheering politicians and political ideas that, to me, are the very antithesis of Christianity. And they say base their decisions on their Christian faith.
I know these people. I truly believe they are Christians. But I cannot understand how they can reconcile their Christian beliefs with who they voted for and who and what they support.
It’s easy to condemn those ignorant jerks I don’t know with their self-righteous tweets and Facebook postings. They are obviously simply stupid at best and at worst evil, which means they are willfully stupid. I want to call them out on their ignorance, set them straight on what the Bible really teaches and have them admit they were wrong and change.
Then I see the people I do know parroting what I call this evil nonsense and I know they are not stupid, nor evil. And I see the good they have done and the good in them and I wonder, how can they not see what they are doing?
And that’s not the worst of it. When the anger passes it is replaced by condescension and pity. They obviously have been misled. They have been fooled by outside influences working to bring down both the church and country and pandering to their biassed, mistaken ideas. I need to pray for them, to help make sure they don’t wallow in their heretical thoughts and self-willed ignorance. They need to come to the same conclusions I have, because, obviously, I am right. As the Bible says, believers have the mind of God. I am a believer, therefore I have the mind of God. Thus it stands to reason anyone who disagrees with me is disagreeing with God.
Luckily for me even I can see how self-righteous those thoughts and feelings are. But I still have them.
What really throws me for a loop, however, is that the people I am alternately angered by and pity see me in the same light as I see them.
So how do we deal with a situation like this?
First, we have to really listen to the other side, what they are saying, not what we think they are saying.
As I read somewhere, when someone talks about background checks for gun owners or banning bump stocks, what a Second Amendment NRA member hears is “We are going to take all the guns, melt them down and use them to make a statue of a kneeling NFL player.”
And when an abortion rights activist hears someone speaking of the sanctity of life for an unborn child, what they hear is “All right, you whore, you must have that baby and take care of it no matter what your situation is but don’t expect the father to do anything because he needs his money to buy Viagra.”
The more emotional we get about an idea we disagree with the more important it is to actually understand what the opposing view is really saying. Our knee-jerk reactions, our my way or the highway (to hell) attitude is what is destroying our country and our society and our morality.
Second, we need to examine why we believe what we believe. And if we really do believe what we believe.
Many of us just follow the beliefs we have been taught because “that’s just the way I was raised.” People have been raised over the years to believe very inaccurate things. And they held onto those beliefs no matter the evidence because they simply could not bring themselves to accept anything which deviated from what they “knew.”
Take the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. Many religious leaders considered that heresy because the Bible states the sun revolves around the earth. Denying that meant denying the Bible which meant denying God.
But does believing what science shows to be correct mean the Bible is wrong?
To those of us on earth now, not just when the Bible was written, it appears the sun rises and sets. We even use that language even though we know it is the earth rotating that causes night and day. By realizing the Bible uses language which seems to contradict science means that we have to also realize our interpretations of the Bible may be incorrect, not the Bible itself or its message.
In fact, examples like this should humble us to realize we are human and fallible and often have trouble reading exactly what the Bible says. The Bible definitely states we are not God, and therefore should doubt ourselves when we think we “know” what God wants and means. That does not mean we should not act on what we believe to be right. It does mean we need to remember we are not perfect. And when we say we must believe God rather than man, the word “man” includes us.
At the same time, many of us believe something because it is the opposite of how we were raised. We have been told so many times God approves something and see the harm and injustice such beliefs have caused we not only stop believing in that particular error, we stop believing in the entire package.
Take slavery. Religious leaders have pointed to the passages admonishing slaves to obey their masters and for slaves to remember their place. They take that as a sign that slavery is not only permitted but encouraged by God. When thoughtful, moral people see the damage that is done by slavery, to both the slave and the master, they stop believing in any divine sanction for slavery. But they often use that as a reason to turn their backs on every aspect of Christianity. If Christians condone something so obviously evil, how can I believe in Christianity?
People who turn their backs on Christianity because of this incorrect interpretations of the Bible fail to realize the Bible routinely relays the message of slaves being set free, both from human masters and from spiritual masters. In fact, the Bible is one of the basic documents teaching against the evils of slavery.
To deal with those neighbors who disagree with us, to really love them, we need to remember the admonition of the prayer we say every Sunday in church, forgive us as we forgive those who don’t do what we want them to do. And in the words of the Golden Rule, do to others what we want done to us.
There are two ways to do this.
If we see someone walking toward a hole which could injure them, even kill them if they fall in it, we should warn them. But the way we warn them is important. If you hear someone yelling, “Hey, moron. Are you too stupid to see that hole? Watch where you’re going,” what is your reaction? I’ll bet it’s not, “Thanks for showing me my error. I’ll watch it.” It would be more along the lines of, “Why should I listen to you, you jerk.”
And, of course, you will fall into the hole.
But what if you think you see someone walking towards a hole but it turns out to be an optical illusion? How would you want the person you warned to react. “Are you stupid? Don’t you know a hole when you see it?” or “It wasn’t a hole, but thanks for your concern anyway. I really appreciate it.”
The idea is to love your neighbor as yourself. Not to make your neighbor be like you to be loved, but to love your neighbor simply because both of you are flawed humans capable of great good and great evil heading toward the grave.
But, depending on what you believe about the upcoming Easter Sunday, that grave doesn’t have to mean the end.