We have by now well established the fact that the religion that bears the name of Jesus does not follow the teachings of Jesus. Everything Christians are taught to believe was introduced in the process of religion-building that began two centuries after the Lord’s death. And all those dogmas are fear-based! The overall Christian message is that we are unworthy of anything good, not even because of something we did but because our first ancestor disappointed God. Add to Adam’s sin the fact that we have made a lot of our own mistakes, and our cause is hopeless! A righteous God never could forgive the utter wretches that we are, so the perfect Son of a perfect Godhead – not descended from Adam, and Himself sinless – had to be born of a sinless human as the perfect sacrifice so a judgmental God could forgive us for our human failings. We should note that two thousand years ago they were sacrificing animals to the Jewish God, and the animals they sacrificed had to be perfect. So the whole Christian dogma of substitutionary atonement made literal, absolute sense back then! But we can see now that it has nothing to do with what Jesus spent three years teaching us. More to the point, we can see that the notion that a loving God could want to see His Own Son murdered is ridiculous on its face.
Jesus told us He came to free us from fear so we could better learn how to love, and to grow past fear we were going to need to learn to relate to God directly. Since the notion that God might hold anything we do against us is purely human-made, Jesus had to remove from our minds the very notion that an act can be sinful! Once we are free from religious dogmas and free from the thought that anything we might do could be against some God-made rule, we are left with the Lord’s gentle exhortation that we leave fear behind and concentrate on love. As He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (JN 8:31-32).
In the bad old days when religions told us that God had given us holy laws that we could burn in hell for disobeying, we had an easy way to distinguish Right from Wrong! But in this new world there is no divine law at all beyond the Lord’s encouragement that we learn to feel more perfect love for the Godhead, and that we learn to feel for everyone around us the same love and care that we feel for ourselves.
How can we begin to get our minds around better understanding Right and Wrong in this brand-new and much gentler-seeming world? Morality has moved from applying laws that we are made to believe come directly from God toward trying to ever better understand and then apply the following steps in each daily instance of moral choice:
What is really going on here? The question is no longer what I see in the moment and how some divine law might apply. Now I’ve got to lovingly seek to understand the truth of every situation from the separate viewpoint of each human being.
What are the actual and potential results to come from each of the actions I might take? In particular, how are each of my actions likely to affect all the others around me, both all the people I might know and every stranger who might be affected, emotionally as well as physically and financially? And what is the most loving way to balance the needs of all these separate people, knowing that in helping someone I might need to harm someone else?
Are there outside-the-box things that I might do that could create a more peaceful and love-based outcome? Religious laws are mostly in the negative: don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t kill. But if there are no religious laws, and if our great aspiration now is to make the world and everyone in it much more loving and more deeply loved, then we are encouraged to explore a new and more love-based set of positive actions. What might we do that can help all the people involved feel better about themselves and those around them? How might we perhaps help to nudge all of society a bit closer to a more love-based future?
Let’s look now at the difference this kind of thinking can make in three core moral areas. As a practical matter, in these three areas the thou-shalt-not laws that were long ago decreed by a dogmatic human-like God never have fit very well. We can see how killing to save others might be necessary, and there are so many different ways to categorize property crimes in daily life that it is hard to know where to begin! As for the emotion-laden and highly complex area of sexual behavior, there are so many ways that what we do in private can profoundly affect the lives of others. I should point out, too, that I am one observer! In all three areas, my own life-experiences will deeply affect how I see Right and Wrong, so I hope that others who have had different experiences will weigh in below with their own points of view.
Divine Law. In the Old Testament world, enforcing gender roles seemed essential to maintaining social order. But the human-made God of the Old Testament doesn’t just say, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14). No, He then goes on to say of a girl who is not a virgin on her wedding night, “then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house” (Deut: 20-21). And “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death” (Lev 20:13). When you read the Old Testament, you get the sense that the Jews of three thousand years ago were probably not very different in their sexual behavior from the people of today, but the God they worshiped made sins often punished by death out of almost anything they did sexually that happened outside a legally sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman. Er… except for polygamy and concubinage. God still loved and blessed King Solomon, even though he had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Love-Based Morality. In the love-based world first envisioned by Jesus in the Gospels, there are no more sin-based laws, so having sex outside legal lines is never automatically wrong. But sexual decisions made from love are very different from the modern sort of sexual morality that we summed up in the nineteen-sixties as just, “if it feels good, do it.” Arguably, a strictly love-based morality requires of us a whole new attitude toward sex that is more rigorous by far than are either the Old Testament laws or our modern sexual freedom. Our core problem in approaching a love-based sexual morality is that no sex act is truly private. If you masturbate, you might be rejecting intimacy with your partner who dearly loves you. If you have sexual contact outside your marriage, you are betraying your spouse and endangering the stable home that your children have a right to expect. If you ever have intercourse, you risk harming the new being that act might be creating, and the kinds of harm that new person might suffer must all be taken into account! Are you in a stable marriage? If not, then you risk bringing a child into a single-parent home, with all the disadvantages that sort of family life entails. And a love-based morality would of course decree that abortion is almost never an option!
Divine Law. The Old Testament God says, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13), and “If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death” (Lev 24:17). Modern secular law generally agrees that the killing of another human being without cause is reason enough to put the killer to death, so in both cases just the act is a capital crime.
Love-Based Morality. But what if we feel required to kill to prevent the harming of a child? What if our own life is threatened? What if our homeland has been invaded? You and I can name a dozen conditions that make killing another human being forgivable. As with the decision to have sex, in the love-based and fear-free morality that Jesus introduced to us there is no longer any divine law against killing another human being. But the law of love requires a balancing of the needs of all the other people affected, so the love-based process of deciding whether to kill is more rigorous than a law-based decision ever could be.
Divine Law. The Old Testament God says in black-and-white terms, “You shall not steal” (Ex 20:15), and “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep” (EX 22:1). How easy a sin-based morality makes it seem!
Love-Based Morality. Appropriating another person’s property is a less damaging sin than is murdering him, and therefore it is subject to less severe religious and secular penalties. But when there truly are no rules and we are thinking only from love, these decisions become more complex. What about stealing a delivery van so you can hurry someone to the emergency room, or taking food from a vendor for a starving child? When we are judging all our actions only from the viewpoint of love, we are in an entirely different world.
How does a love-based morality coincide with the Lord’s command that we forgive? Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned” (LK 6:37). On the other hand, the Old Testament God told Moses that He was, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Ex 34:6-8). Wow. Is it any wonder that the genuine Godhead felt the need to be re-introduced to us when eventually the time was right?
Next week we will look at how love-based thinking complicates the sin-based morality that still prevails in our civic life. In fact, our religion-based tendency to think in terms of sin and not of love has created some of our worst and most intractable modern social problems….
The child’s bath photo credit: mark6mauno <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/98147195@N00/11124183974″>”The Child’s Bath” by Mary Cassatt</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Family hands photo credit: docoverachiever <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/90692748@N04/46076212842″>Grandma and Grandson</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Asian grandma photo credit: FotoGrazio <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/94075184@N00/23902215673”>Generations of Love</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Boy with mom’s belly photo credit: ClauReyesPhotography <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/130736614@N03/24602209539″>Promoted to Big Brother!</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
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