The Observation of an Atheist Historian: What Makes Christianity Stand Out Among World Religions

The radical quality of the love of Jesus stands out over and above all other examples. I have written on this before (the Christian expression of the Golden Rule compared to other religions). Most other world religions express some concept of the Golden Rule, but not in the way that Jesus did.

Other world religions state the Golden Rule in a limited way, such as not doing things to others that you would not want them to do to you. It’s the idea of refraining from doing evil. Under that concept of the Golden Rule, we simply need to avoid doing evil to our neighbors. There is no compulsion to do good to them. Ignoring your neighbor would be perfectly acceptable on the this principal.

Most major world religions do not express Golden Rule positively, as Jesus did: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Doing unto others is an affirmative duty. Simply refraining from doing them evil is not the concept of the Golden Rule expressed by Jesus.

Jesus made this clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable begins with a man who was robbed and left injured on the road. A priest and Levite (the priestly cast of Judaism) walked by the man on the other side of the road, ignoring him, while a Samaritan (an outcast to Jews) crossed the road to tend to the injured man. The good Samaritan was the example of the person who demonstrated love for a “neighbor” because he didn’t just ignore the injured man lying in the road.  The idea of the Golden Rule that Jesus expressed includes an affirmative duty to do  good.

To be fair, some religions come close to an affirmative expression of the Golden Rule, which I affirm in the previous blog piece, but there is one additional expression of the Golden Rule that stands alone: that is the concept of loving even our enemies and doing good to those who intend evil toward us and do us harm.

I think of these things as I pause from listening to Douglas Murray in a discussion with Esther Riley on the Unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierley, the host. (See Douglas Murray and Esther O’Reilly – Christian Atheism and the search for identity. The video is embedded below.)

Douglas Murray, an atheist and openly gay man, makes the observation that most Christian tenets can be found in other cultures, save one: that is the principal that of loving and forgiving even our enemies. Loving and forgiving our enemies is the ultimate statement of the Golden Rule. Even when we have enemies who intend to do us harm, and even when they actually do us harm, Jesus says, “Forgive them.” The conversation got into some recent examples of that expression of love and forgiveness that I will explore.

Continue reading “The Observation of an Atheist Historian: What Makes Christianity Stand Out Among World Religions”

Love: Who is Your Enemy?

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Asking who is your enemy may seem like a strange way to begin a blog article about loving your neighbor, but bear with me. My question is inspired by a different, but related, question. My question is inspired by the question asked by an expert in the law many years ago: “Who is my neighbor?”

This question followed a theological dialogue between the expert in the law and Jesus in which the expert in the law sought to test Jesus. (See Luke 10:25-29) As Jesus often did, though, the test put to Jesus turned into a challenge to the so-called expert.

The expert in the law asked Jesus the loaded question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered with his own question, “What is written in the law?… How do you read it?” Not to be shown up, the expert in the law answered:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18)

The expert in the law was probably looking for some debate, but Jesus wasn’t interested in debate. Instead, he simply concluded, “You have answered correctly…. Do this and you will live.”

The expert in the law had the tables turned on him. He wanted to test Jesus, but Jesus put the test to him, and now he was in defensive mode. He might said, “Wait a minute!” And then the question followed that leads me to my question, “Who is my neighbor?” If we have to love our neighbors, and if loving our neighbors is the measure for inheriting eternal life, we better know who are neighbors are!

But there is a back story here that leads from the one question to the other question. Apparently, the First Century Palestine Jews had interpreted Leviticus 19:18 to mean, “Love your neighbor; hate your enemy.”

How do we know that? It isn’t found anywhere in Scripture, but Jesus quoted the statement in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy….’” Ah, and now you know where I am going, because Jesus followed with this:

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Lest there be any doubt who my neighbor, Jesus stretched it so far that love must reach all the way from my friends to my enemies and everyone in between!

And that leads me to the question, “Whos is my enemy that I must love?”

Continue reading “Love: Who is Your Enemy?”

Sinners and the Struggle Against Sin – The Resistance of Love

In our struggle against sin, we are to resist sin, not the sinners who trigger the pride that tends to well within us when we are wronged.

In Part I of Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury, I highlight a connection between enduring hostility from sinners, as Jesus did on the cross, and our own struggle to resist sin, looking at Hebrews 12:3-4:

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

We might think of our struggle against sin as a completely internal affair. Hebrews 12:3-4 suggests that there is an external component to it. The hostility we endure from sinners is part of our own struggle against sin. It isn’t hard to see why: the hostility from sinners triggers a guttural, visceral pride response in us, and pride is the root of all sin.

Think of any time you were slighted and how you responded to it. This is what the hostility of sinners triggers within us. We want to fight back. We want to return insult for insult. We want to defend our honor. We want vindication. We might even want vengeance.

In this passage, though, we are exhorted to look to Jesus who resisted sin to the point of actually shedding his own blood. We are reminded by the that we have not yet resisted to the point of shutting our own blood. It isn’t resisting sinners, but resistong sin, that is the key point here.

Continue reading “Sinners and the Struggle Against Sin – The Resistance of Love”

God Talk about Guns

I don’t see anywhere in the teaching of Jesus or of the apostles the principle of defending each other by force.

Depositphotos Image ID: 11354851 Copyright: Rajen1980

As time goes on, I have been more diligently and more earnestly aware of the assumptions we tend to make as Americans, and as American Christians, that may not supportable biblically. We tend to make certain assumptions, but we don’t question those assumptions or test them against Scripture. If anything, we work to make Scripture support our assumptions, rather than subject our assumptions to Scripture.

This is a human tendency, of course. I am not picking on Americans. I am one. I just know more about how Americans think than other people, so I can speak to it more definitely.

On the issue of gun control, I am finding a distinct disconnect between the popular Christian responses, the realities and what Scripture suggests. The popular Christian responses, at least among white evangelicals, of which I am a member, is something like this: guns don’t kill people. We don’t need more gun control; people need God (among other things).

That is a truism of course. People do need God, but that doesn’t really help to address an obvious issue that is utterly unique to our country of all the countries in the western world. We have a problem, and we should be able to acknowledge it.

As Christians, we could also say that it isn’t a gun problem; it’s a sin problem. That is right as well, but that also doesn’t help us. Does that mean we should ignore it? Condemn it but do nothing about it? (After all, people are getting what they deserve because all have sinned.)  Do these responses seem right to you?

They shouldn’t! Yes, people need God, and the root of all human problems is sin, but we can set back offering nothing but sayings and platitudes and be considered followers of Jesus who had a reputation of getting into right into the place where people lived, right in the middle of the ugliness of sin, and engaged people where they were, healing and delivering people as He went. If Jesus is our example, we can’t sit on sidelines without doing something.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”[1]

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The Evil We Must Guard Against

The truth is that we can take every possible measure to protect ourselves and protect our families and still be vulnerable.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / aaronamat
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / aaronamat

Immigration continues to be in the news with Donald Trump calling for a ban on all Muslims who want to immigrate to the United Stated. In the wake of widespread criticism, Trump is holding his ground on barring Muslims and tracking the Muslims who already live here until we can determine “where this hatred comes from and why”:

Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Mr. Trump said.

Meanwhile, Loretta Lynch, the highest prosecutor in the land, pledged she will take aggressive action against anyone who uses “anti-Muslim rhetoric” that “edges toward violence.”  She has since toned down her own rhetoric following backlash on the grounds of freedom of speech, but she stuck to her guns on the pledge to protect Muslims against violent actions that might be inspired by “hateful speech”:

We always have a concern when we see the rhetoric rising against any particular group in America, that it might inspire others to violent action — and that violent action is what we would have to deal with,” Lynch said on Monday.

These heated words on opposite ends of the spectrum follow on the heels of the mass killing in San Bernardino, which the FBI now says was planned out by a couple who had been “radicalized ‘for quite some time’”. We barely had caught our breath from the mass killing in Paris by another group of radicalized Muslims who may or may not have had direct ties to ISIS.

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Whatever We Fix Our Eyes On We Reflect

I have found myself recently caught up in the torrent, reacting and re-reacting to the various comments, news clips and videos, like waves of offensives and sieges…

Flagstaff Mountain Flowers Philippians 4 8 by Chris Fraley jpeg

The world seems to be coming unglued! Militant, radical Muslims in Iraq are killing Christians, minority religious groups and even other Muslims. Hamas bombards Israel, and Israel responds with shelling that is killing women and children. At home, police decked out in military gear in a Missouri town are confronting an angry mob looting in the street and threatening to kill policemen.

Daily posts on Facebook and other social media demonize Barack Obama and “liberal Democrats”, or greedy corporations and capitalists, or Israelis or Hamas. The air is filled with ranting on both sides and all sides decrying every conceivable evil in the world. The cacophony seems to be reaching new heights. The many forms of social media make ranting as easy as shouting out the window to a world that is right within earshot.

I have found myself caught up in the torrent, reacting and re-reacting to the various comments, news clips and videos, like waves of offensives and sieges, until I began to realize something was happening to me…. Continue reading “Whatever We Fix Our Eyes On We Reflect”

Love Your Enemies Everyday

Cliques“Love your enemy” is a one of Jesus’ commands that may not seem like it has much application to us in our everyday lives. How many Taliban have you encountered today? For most of us in the United States, we don’t have real enemies like that.

At first blush, the tendency for most of us may be to gloss over the command to “love your enemy” because we don’t have “enemies”; however, I don’t think that Jesus gave us that option.

Jesus said in the same context, “If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?” Even the unbelievers do that.

The truth is that we gravitate toward people and people groups that are like us.

We see it in all facets of life. The tendency to associate with our “own kind” begins early in life. On the playground, kids form cliques. The classic “no girls allowed” sign under the tree-house is just one example. Athletes stick together; nerds stick together; fraternities and sororities stick together; Italians, Irish, Mexicans – people make up the current immigrant wave – stick together. The poor associate with the poor, and the rich associate with the rich.

Racial divides are just an extreme example. We all have our “own people”, the people with whom we identity. We gravitate toward people “like us.” 

We don’t necessarily call others our enemies, but we sometimes act as if they are. The more the mentality is “us against them” the more like enemies others become. It could be Republicans and Democrats, unions and company management, people who love science and people who love religion, Muslims and Christians, Americans and Russians, haves and have-nots and the in-crowd and the “others”.

All of these classifications result from commonalities and differences, and they become reason that people separate themselves from other people. They become reasons that people do not associate with other people. They become lines in the sand, sometimes, that define friend and foe.

The application to everyday life is found in the contrast between enemies and our “own people”.

In that sense, Jesus suggested an expanded meaning of “enemies” just as he expanded the idea of fulfilling the law: it is not enough to fulfill most of the commands of the law; your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. It is not enough to refrain from murdering people; a person who is angry with or curses a brother might as well be guilty of murder. It is not enough to refrain from committing adultery; anyone who looks with lust on a woman has committed adultery in his heart.   

Enemies, then, are not just the Taliban, terrorists, rapists. Enemies are the people with whom we do not associate because they are different. Enemies are people with whom we have had differences. Enemies include anyone with whom we maintain our distance. Enemies are persons we treat as something other than neighbors.

At different times, an enemy could be a spouse, a child, a parent, a next door neighbor, a co-worker, a fellow believer. An enemy could be anyone we intentionally ignore or fail to acknowledge.

Enemies include anyone with whom we have differences, and we are called to love them. Love breaks down the differences. Love makes enemies friends. And if enemies do not respond to love, we are to love them nevertheless.


“Love your enemies” comes from the Sermon on the Mount. I generally picture Jesus standing on a mountain addressing a multitude in this passage. Indeed, there is reference to “the crowds” in Matthew 5:1, but it says Jesus “went up on a mountainside and sat down” and “His disciples came to him.” In other words, Jesus was not speaking to the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount; he was speaking to the disciples.

The entire  presentation on loving your enemies was introduced by these statements: “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.”  Jesus was speaking to his followers, then, who are to be salt and light in the world by loving their enemies and breaking down those barriers between people.

That does not mean that we need to identify with and be like our enemies. We are to be in the World, but not of the World. Jesus showed us how to do it. He associated with tax collectors, harlots and sinners. He greeted them. He ignored the barriers. He interacted with them. He ate with them. He loved them. They were drawn to Jesus in turn.

The Good Samaritan went out of way to help the injured Jew on the road. It is not coincidence that Jesus chose a Samaritan to help the Jew in that parable. Jews saw Samaritans as inferior and did not associate with Samaritans. Jesus showed us that we should ignore those barriers, even if it means going out of our way to do it. When we do that, we make enemies our neighbors, and we become salt and light to the World.

Post Postscript

This post was not originally inspired not by the Sermon on the Mount. I have been “chewing” for days on a pretty remarkable story of a black musician who broke the race barrier by going out of his way to befriend a Ku Klux Klansmen and, in the process, inspired many to abandon their racist ways. (You can read the story here.) I don’t know if this man is a Christian, but he is certainly like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable who went out of his way to help the injured Jew on the side of the road.

Racism (hatred) is injury to the human soul. It disables the one who hates. The racist sees himself as superior, and creates a barrier, draws a line in the sand, and makes others enemies.

What this black musician did is what I could see Jesus doing. He did not let the hatred of the racist incite hatred in his own heart. He confronted the hatred and the racist with love demonstrated by reaching out, breaking down the barrier and befriending an enemy. The salt and light of this action changed the Klansmen, and it is the kind of salt and light that changes the world. That is love.