This blog project is about nuance. And as who one who appreciates the “gray areas,” “third ways” and, to some degree, finds freedom in “slippery slopes,” I tend to avoid dichotomies. Most of which I find are unfair or inconsistent.
And at the same time, I want to make a case to reclaim a value that has been culturally lost while pushing back on the one it seems to have been replaced with.
Some context first: I’m a Christian pastor who has made his life in the post-Christian Northeast. I am not interested in living in a theocracy, Christian or otherwise; I don’t preach about “taking America back for God” (too loaded of a string of words there. But to be clear I pray for the entire world to discover life with God) and having seen some of its value, I have charted a path forward in this pluralistic society.
But when one of the most profound teachings one can encounter in life gets seemingly retired by society because it seems religiously antiquated, and a newer teaching takes it place, it seems fair to critique and (hopefully) thoughtfully engage.
The new rule is “Do no harm to others.” or the longer version, “You are free to live as you like so long as it doesn’t cause harm to another.” It seems that has replaced the notion of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Whether we or society are conscience of the shift, I think we are missing something.
I tend to appreciate many of the shifts in society. For example, I liked the update to the Golden Rule with the better Platinum Rule. If you’re not familiar, The Golden Rule said, “treat others the way you want to be treated” but the Platinum Rule went a step further, “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”
I know some have balked at this claiming the Platinum Rule fuels the entitlement of the other but I take it to mean it in its most earnest ways. To treat someone the way they want to be treated means that you have got to know them, that you have listened to them, and that you respect them enough to apply that knowledge in your interactions with them versus a generic behavior code that treats everyone the same without context or relationship. This also feels more consistent with what Jesus is saying.
I mentioned in a recent post that Jesus’ teaching of loving your neighbor was so paramount that when he was asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus had to give two: Love God and love your neighbor. And he tagged it by saying, “There is no commandment greater than these” (See Mark 12:29-31). And this teaching needs to be reclaimed and applied today.
Whether it be an attack, or this news cycle with the names of Weinstein, Spacey, Moore, Trump or Clinton and sadly, too many more to mention, or the names that cause pain to your life and your loved ones, we cannot help but think, “What causes someone to do this?” We have many and different answers depending on the day.
For me, I keep going back to the idea that one reaches such a point when they have been so blinded by selfishness that they simply no longer care for the well being of another and/or they have lost their moral bearing. And their selfishness has taken over because they choose to love themselves only and not their neighbor.
It seems that what some people mean when they say, “You are free to live your life as you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else” is “Leave me alone to do what I want, I’m not bothering you.” Which may or may not be true but I cannot help but think that maxim (and the many similar) is reinterpreted to serve as an excuse to serve one’s own selfish interest.
Now of course, I don’t think someone holds up these cliches, considers them and then sets them aside before leaving the house to perform all kinds of pain. But everyone has a governing set of ideologies, a ruling rationality, a guiding narrative.
I happily concede that it would be great to live in a society where no harm was being done to another. Imagine living in a world where we didn’t have these Harvey Weinstein types abusing women and children and where names like Columbine, Las Vegas, Charleston and Sutherland Springs were not abbreviations for shootings but simply names of cities and towns where people lived, worked, and played. No physical or cyber-bullying, no heroin dealing or opiate crisis, no sex-trafficking, and all the things that do harm to another.
That would be a great world to live in. But I can imagine a better one.
One that does not begin with the deterrent of causing no harm but instead, a pro-active force of graciously seeking the best for the other. One that fulfills Jesus’ teaching of loving your neighbor. Certainly I do not mean an overbearing, obnoxious love, umm … that would be terrible. Actual love has boundaries. When it doesn’t, it perverts itself into a form of manipulation.
Instead, I mean the type of love that we see from Jesus, one that is enduring, one that is forgiving, one that is sacrificial, one that is unconditional and limitless. Life in the Kingdom of Jesus is supposed to be that.
We will have our moments of goodness, we will have our failures, and in prayer, we seek the strength of God that helps us love when we’ve been hurt, to love when we are tired and angry, to love those who are undeserving, including the opportunity to love the undeserving in ourselves.