Love, It’s Just About Love

I’ve been mulling over something I read on a blog all week long. I knew I wanted to write a reply of sorts, but wasn’t sure exactly what I should say.

I’m still not sure.

But today’s readings and something else I’ve been working on, all, as God perhaps intends, come together to suggest answers, or at least a profitable way of looking at it.

I will give the quote in full:

…For most of us, our religious community seems far more important than our religious community’s theology.   That is, people attend church largely to socialize with their friends and acquaintances in the congregation; somewhat less to worship their  god; much less to learn about their god; and almost never to think critically about their god.  Yet, many proselytizing atheists focus on critical thinking.  That might be like trying to use a carpenter’s pencil to lever a house off its foundation.  On the other hand, if I ever want to convert people to atheism, I’ll first hold a social.

Painful statement, yet there is truth in it. Yet, I feel no need to defend against it. Much. I’m aware of polling that suggests that atheists know more about the contents of the bible than do believers. And I have no reason to quarrel with it. Yet, I know that that should  not be very comforting, to atheists,  because what most atheists “know” about the bible is seen through the lens of  fundamentalism. The point out all the errors, the contradictions, but they really don’t understand anything about how it was gathered together into the distinctive writings that eventually found their way into a canon. Much of their error finding is irrelevant to scholars, and explainable.

I’m a good deal less troubled by the idea that going to church is mostly a social event. You hear that a lot from atheists. But that’s not something to defend against, but rather something to embrace.

We do socialize in church, and that’s a good thing. For in that action, we enlarge our circle of “neighbor” if indeed it is not limitless to begin with. For practical reasons we only have time for so many neighbors, those to whom we are beholden to offer our help even when it is awfully inconvenient. Church socializing forms those new friendships and  ties. It brings into the circle those we care for and about. It helps us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s a good thing.

The rest? About critical thinking arguments being wasted on the believer. Well that’s just plain mean, untrue and not worth further comment.

Today’s readings are:

Lev 19:1-2, 17-18
1Cor 3:16-23
Mt 5:38-48

In Leviticus, Moses listens to God who tells him to tell the people to be holy as I am holy.  You must love your neighbor as yourself.

Similarly,  Paul reminds us that we are God’s temple, and that we must respect God’s temple, both ourselves and others.

Jesus speaks in Matthew and he tells us that we must not hate, we must love our neighbor, even when our neighbor is unkind, hurtful,  or worse to us. We must give to whomever asks (something extreme right-wing religious might make note of as they argue that universe health care is wrong since it gives to some who are not worthy to receive).

Jesus reminds us that God makes the rain fall on the righteous and the wicked equally. Again,  perhaps we might remember that before we are so quick to claim that hell awaits those whom we find evil.

But the over-riding point Jesus attempts to make is one of love. Love conquers all, hate never can. It but creates more hate, distrust, fear. All negative. All cutting against the neighbor concept.

I’m reading a wonderful book about Mary Magdalene. It draws heavily on the so-called gnostic gospels of Thomas, Mary, Peter, and the Gospel of John. It requires a lot of reading between the lines, a fair amount of reordering one’s thinking. It suggests that Jesus, along “his way” diverted from the Nazarite path, the aesthetic path he began, and ended in a more Eastern approach. More Buddhist, yet not.

His was the way of self-emptying. A concept well-known to anyone who is a believer. Paul talks of this in Philippians 2:9-16. He understood Jesus, perhaps better than did the writers of Mark, Matthew or Luke.

It’s all about kenosis, self giving. Similar to the Buddhist way, of letting be, giving up, but not, the denial of all as transitory. Rather it’s  the giving all, and in that very process, receiving all, being all, being totally, wholly human.

Having never been an inerrantist, I have difficulty understanding the former fundamentalist. They accept that the bible is not inerrant, but they now have trouble seeing it as having any value. It is no longer trustworthy as conveyor of God’s “WORD.”

The bible, remains to me, (as other sacred texts do as well) as repositors of man’s highest achievement in enlightenment. We are able, as we progress, to tease out sometimes those things that point to a greater truth, one they didn’t even realize they spoke of.

Everything I read and study, helps me to see Jesus, and God more clearly. It all, to me resolves itself into love. Love was the vehicle Jesus pointed to as the means to the Kingdom. As Cynthia Bourgeault suggests, it is the vertical axis connecting ourselves to the infinite. It is what, she theorizes forever connected Mary Magdalene to Jesus in a way far superior to any of the other apostles.

She got it, and many others have followed in her footsteps and His. It’s just about love.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Paul Sunstone
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 13:43:09

    Hi Sherry! That was a fascinating post!

    Perhaps it might interest you to know what inspired the thought of mine that you quoted in your post today? It wasn’t based on an effort to criticize folks who go to church primarily to socialize. I’ve been quite curious about people who go to church primarily to socialize since first noticing that phenomena about a dozen years ago, but I’m too morally decrepit to really criticize anyone for it. No, the person I had most in mind when I came up with that thought the other day was PZ Meyers.

    If you are familiar with PZ Meyers, then you will instantly know why I had him in mind when thinking about “proselytizing atheists who focus on critical thinking”. Indeed, your term “fundamentalist atheist” fits him as well as it could fit anyone.

    To be sure, I think a lot of what he says, despite its being downright caustic, is at least technically true (and I very much appreciate that Meyers keeps pouring heat on religious fundamentalism).

    On the other hand, a good guide book to Paris can be technically true, while at the same time being a poor and inadequate substitute for having visited the city. Meyers, so far as I know, has no understanding of what is sometimes called the “religious experience” (and which, on my blog, I tend to call the “mystical experience” because, so far as I know, it is not necessarily associated with any one particular religion — or even with any religion).

    I don’t mean this unkindly, but in some respects, Meyers and many similar people remind me of a friend who is so completely intellectually oriented that he once told me he all but convinced himself he had lost his virginity at age 9 when he read the chapter about sex in his older sister’s biology textbook. I would not be in the least surprised if Meyers — and many others — thought they knew all about the mystical experience from having read about it. And I do not intend by that comment to belittle whatever someone might or might not know — but merely to put it into a certain perspective.


    • Sherry
      Feb 21, 2011 @ 12:09:35

      Paul you made an important point. And it just seemed to work so well with what I had been reading. I hope I wasn’t too overly critical in what I said.

      I don’t know Meyers, but frankly, I have had more than one fundie critic admit that they can’t argue with mainstream Christians because they don’t believe the stuff they want to rail against. I just wish they would be honest and say their beef is with fundies and not with Chrisitanity per se.

      There is no one who has a bigger problem with Fundamentalism than I…I view it is utterly dangerous in many ways, as well as totally dishonest. I do like your reference to a mystical experience, because that is just what I think it is.

      Thanks for reading it…I think we are going to have some interesting conversations.


  2. Vicki
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 18:03:05

    Great post!
    Thanks for sharing that on this sunday!


  3. Tim
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 11:26:46

    Very interesting post, Sherry!

    We forget the Church was meant to be an all-encompassing organism, not a singularly religious institution–a way of life, more than a part of life. That’s why its focus is a table, rather than an altar. (I love that, as I love that church architecture to this day hails back to Roman banquet halls, rather than layouts of ancient temples.)

    The society of church is essential because it allows for the priesthood of the people. Much learning and (if you will) theology is transacted around the coffee urn as well as over the pulpit. It comes when I confide my needs to you and you encourage me and pray for me–and vice versa. It comes through my acquaintance with your character and experience in Christ and my ability to refer to that when I’m struggling for direction. It’s the replication of Paul’s famous statement, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Not to sound too silly about it, but sometimes “What would Sherry or Paul or Vicki or Tim do?” is a lot more clear and helpful to us than “What would Jesus do?” That’s where the social side becomes spiritual/theological for me.

    But most of all, I guess, the social milieu is where Jesus changed hearts. He healed in the square; he ministered in homes and at tables. So many of his profound statements and lessons were delivered there that we needn’t go into them–although I can’t resist pointing out Nicodemus’s night visit gave us New Birth and God’s plan of redemption; from lunch with Zaccheus we learn that Christ came looking for the lost; we’re told the first shall be last and last first at a banquet; and the lesson of balance is taught through Mary and Martha during one of Jesus’s visits to their home. And the same spirit carries over into Acts–for instance, when Peter accepts the invitation to Cornelius’s home and declares God shows no preference among people. These are very intimate moments with far-reaching personal implications–they’re theologically and socially significant. And they’re living examples of what Christ meant by “fulfilling the Law” and loving our neighbors and enemies.

    Of course, intellectually, lab-oriented atheists (and Christians) don’t get this, because they want to see everything in writing, worked out in logical proofs–which is antithetical to Christianity’s modus operandi. It’s a legalist approach, which is why atheists and fundamentalists make such a great team. Ours is not a faith of dictating and listening, but of discussing and learning. It happens as frequently over lunch as it does over a lectern.

    Thanks for this. I’d never really given it much thought before now. Once again, you open a new window for me!



    • Sherry
      Feb 21, 2011 @ 12:13:12

      Tim, you have the magic to always say it better! And you sure did hear. When you think of all the examples of Jesus’ teaching, just so many were done as you say in social circumstances. It is the natural medium I suspect, when people are relaxed, open, friendly, and so forth. The message gets through a lot better I suspect.



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