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.

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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?”

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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.

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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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