The tiny corner of the internet I occupy here at IASP puts me in touch at times with people I would not normally encounter. These anonymous visitors stop by for a glance, leave a small token of their presence, and then inevitably move on.
They come bringing a variety of contradictory perspectives. Their worldviews differ radically. They offer often strongly worded critiques of the many errors they perceive in the words posted here.
One of these critics dropped in yesterday and left comments on four random posts. I do not know this person’s gender, geographical location, age, religious affiliation, or family status. But I do know that this person has strong opinions and is not shy about sharing them. I also know that this person’s opinions reveal that people who self-identify as Christian cover a wide gamut of attitudes, beliefs and opinions.
As I am interested in learning from perspectives that differ from my own, I stopped for a moment to wonder what I might learn from “JH” who writes:
Don’t take the Guardian seriously. Left wing, secularist trash written by heathens and heretics. If you think we should edit the faith or change it to ‘fit in’ with the current year, then you betray the faith and God. This time of sin and madness will pass, and much like before, the faith will outlast all these heathens. The sinners will be cast into hell where they belong and it will once again be up to the faithful to rebuild civilisation. Do not compromise the faith.
What? A return to the old ways is what is needed more than ever. The complete and utter rejection of the poison that is liberalism and the enlightenment! The faith to stand up and call out this world for its sinfulness! Men to be men and Women to be women! Anything less and we will all be doomed.
How ironic. Paris is burning. Paris gave itself over to the devil when it rebelled against God in 19th century. It has had many, many chances at redemption but has spat on them and continued down its sinful path. Now Paris truly burns, much like the rest of the sinful world. We shall not see the fires put out till we all repent and turn back to the light of God. Until then, the fire shall only get worse.
False equivalency. Try again. The Sudanese stand for true Christianity while you continue to pervert it and destroy it.
The Christians in Sudan are taking a stand against the sinful, corrupted west. They wish to uphold the actual teachings of God while we in the west continue to throw them on the bonfire in the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘being nice’. It seems you are the one who has renounced Christianity for your acceptance of a clear sin, and in the process you damn yourself to the fires of hell for all eternity. “Perhaps we should all renounce our Christianity, for fear that someone in Sudan might be attracted by our example to become a Christian” More nonsense. Is it any wonder that the Anglican church has become such a joke. The acceptance of sin everywhere and a determined effort to destroy itself in the name of tolerance will not attract anyone. If we must be the few remaining faithful to weather the storm, then so be it. Those who sin will get theirs.
Reading these comments, I wonder how often I am guilty of defining myself by the things or people I am against.
Alan Watts once wrote:
Does it really take any considerable time or effort just to understand that you depend on enemies and outsiders to define yourself, and that without some opposition you would be lost? (The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are)
When I divide the world into “good guys” (usually those who think like me), and “bad guys” (those whose ideas disagree with mine), I live in a sadly truncated world. I lose the potential wisdom that can come from encountering different ways of seeing the world and hearing voices other than those that always make me feel comfortable and safe.
Difference is not the enemy. Difference is a gift given by the God who delights in diversity.
JH also causes me to ask myself how often I dismiss those with whom I disagree by resorting to labels. A label (“left wing,” “secularist,” “heathen,” “heretic”) may make me feel superior, but does not describe anything that corresponds to reality. People and their beliefs are always vastly more complicated than a single word can describe. People are more nuanced and complex than any label can capture. When I dismiss a person with a label, I miss the opportunity to encounter the mystery of a being who is created in the image of God and who embodies the beauty and truth of God’s presence even if I find that presence hard to see.
Reading JH I wonder how often my words or actions are motivated by fear.
I fear a world that is unpredictable and often seems wildly out of control. It is difficult to get my bearings in the midst of constant, rapid, and unsettling change. It is tempting to want try to manufacture something that feels reliable and permanent. But in this time-bound material realm everything is always in flux. Speaking through the prophet Malachi, God declares that there is only one unchangeable reality,
I the Lord do not change. (Malachi 3:6)
I do not need to be afraid or feel threatened by the uncertainties and changeableness of life. There is, in the midst of all the uncertainty and chaos, a permanent strong steady stream of love that will never let me down. Paul says,
as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
Love never ends. (I Corinthians 13:8)
And so, reading JH I am reminded that the ultimate truth to which my faith summons me is the primacy of love. Jesus did not die because he was angry, or because God was angry. Jesus died because of love,
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. (John 3:16)
Christianity is not a faith of enemy formation, fear, or anger. It is a faith of love, compassion, kindness, and gentleness.
It is hard work loving those who see the world differently. It is painful at times to embrace those who understand life in such radically different ways. But love is always the challenge.
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)
I wonder what it might mean, if we were ever to meet, for me to love JH. Could I extend to JH the respect that I believe this person is due as a being created in the image of God? Could I hear the beliefs JH espouses without turning JH into my enemy or becoming fearful and angry? Could I meet JH without immediately needing to try to change this person?
JH holds up a mirror to my life and asks me to examine my heart seeking those crooked dark corners that still fester with division, fear and anger. Thank you JH.