In Enchiridion (ch. 31, sec. 117), Augustine avers that “he who does not love believes in vain, even though the objects of his belief be true.” For example, one can believe in the immortality of the soul, and this belief may correspond with there being such a thing as an afterlife, but unless one loves one’s neighbors–including one’s enemies–having the belief comes to naught in terms of going to heaven.
I won’t belabour the point by pointing to noted Christians in history who have treated their neighbors with less than love. The four popes of the crusades, for example, didn’t exactly love the eastern Christians in Constantinople and the Muslims in Jersualem. When the crusading army entered Jersualem, it killed virtually all of the locals (whereas when the Muslems took back the city, they did not). Unfortunately, when someone is charged with hypocrisy, he or she may lapse into rationalizations. In general terms, a Christian might argue that tough love involves looking out for the other’s best interest even when the other objects. Like the parent who takes the child for a vacination, the Christian might view himself as actng to save the other’s soul over the objections of the other. Burning witches, for example, could be said to purify their souls. Love for the witch would be evinced in the concern for her immortal soul–freeing it from the cupidity of a sordid earthly existence.
Such a rationale is problematic for a variety of reasons. First, it involves a degree of presumption that goes beyond what being human can justify. The Puritans of Salem who burnt witches can’t know for sure that burning them would purify their souls. Moreover, acting on the basis of what one thinks is in the interest of another person’s immortal soul presumes that that one knows that interest. Second, such actions as harm the person in this life cannot point to any precedents in Jesus’ example. Indeed, acting to harm another is antipodal to Jesus’ example of compassion as consistent with the person’s well-being in this life. Third, it is too tempting for human nature to throw a stone for any of us to be able to distinguish acting in the interest of another’s immortal soul from acting in anger or resentment.
So the rationale doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter if what you believe corresponds to something in reality; if you judge others on the basis of your belief and presume to override their contrary beliefs–imposing harm on them rather than having compassion and doing as they ask–your belief doesn’t matter. If you pester another person to get them to be saved, you will lose your own salvation. Having your believe in Jesus will be like confederate currency when you try to pay your way into heaven; you will be turned away. Of course, whether there is such a gate, much less an afterlife, is a matter beyond my kin, so I use the example only to make a point. Believing in Jesus can be your final obstruction to a salvific religious experience if you are not compassionate rather than judgemental.
The parent/child “I know better than you what you need” rationale is extremely dangerous. The problem here is that it can apply, though I would argue only within the realm of this world. If someone unknowingly is about to fall off a cliff because they want to drive drunk in California, another person should stop him even above his objections. The ends-justify-the-means rationale is problematic where the well-being is presumed to pertain to the other person’s after-life at the expense of one’s life here. The problem is the nature of the belief in what is necessary for salvation. But even if it were possible for a human being to know what is necessary for it, not acting in compassion in terms of this life effectively nullifies your having the belief even if your belief is true.
Presumption is puffed up, whereas humility is amenable to compassion, which is neighbor love being realized in practice. As Paul writes, love is greater than faith and hope (I Cor. 13:13). The end of God’s precepts is love because God is love (Rom. 13:10; 1 John 4:16). Consider the distance between burning someone and lying down one’s life for him or her(see John 15:13).
It is interesting how the very people who insist that Jesus’ resurrection must be taken literally are apt to view John 15:13) as somehow metaphorical or figurative…as though satisfied by or standing for any small sacrifice. Speaking directly to such people: you desire for such convenience undoes all of the importance you place in holding your belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that salvation requires a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet in your presumption you conveniently blow off this possibility.
How far the insiders are from what they claim to adore…and how close those they label as outsiders! This is a major theme in Mark, where the strangers “get it” while the disciples continually miss the point. The last are in fact first, and the first are far behind–looking down on the rest of us. I don’t view myself as in either party, but somewhere in the middle, shaking my head in utter contempt for the puffed up self-proclaimed Christians who show but little love for others. Meanwhile, I see the outsiders “getting it” but not knowing it, and I want to wink at them so they might take their rightful places and see the hubris in the front row–those whose feet are typically washed on Holy Thursday by the so-called servants of Christ (i.e., insiders washing insides, a form of incest). How can such clean feet have such bad smell? The clean are dirty, and the dirty clean. Now here is the point–have compassion on both, not just for the dirty! It is the clean, rather than the dirty, who are most naturally constituted to be the enemy. While it may be tempting to burn the clean to put them out of their misery, such behavior cannot be rationalized, at least by the teachings and example of Jesus. So it is not enough to love the dirty; one must love not only where it is not convenient–one must go on to love one’s enemies…or one’s Christian belief makes no difference even if it is true.
You are invited to join http://twitter.com/deligentia for more.