Magi Mike's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Love

A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, John Wesley

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Hear, O Israel: Yehouah our God is one Yehouah, and thou shalt love Yehouah thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Dt 6:4-5

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…

Lev 19:18

John Wesley

John Wesley the prominent eighteenth century preacher and founder of Methodism was one who was not afraid to urge his converts to be perfect, even writing as short tract about it, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection in which he explains:

It is that habitual disposition of soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness, and which directly implies the being cleansed from sin “from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit”, and, by consequence, the being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus, the being so “renewed in the image of our mind” as to be “perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect”.

Moreover this perfection is to be achieved by love:

“Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment”. It is not only “the first and great” command, but all the commandments in one. “Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise”, they are all comprised in this one word, love. In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness. The royal law of heaven and earth is this, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”. The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end.

Thereafter Wesley enters into the self loving ego trip that Christians are fond of. They wax lyrical about their love of God and the virtues thereof, utterly missing, or at least effectively missing that Christ did not say that “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” was the first and the great commandment. He pointedly gave two commandments in answer to the scribe’s question, and the scribe agreed with his double answer, ending up being told that he was not far off the kingdom of God:

Scribe—What is the first commandment of all?

Jesus—The first of all the commandments is: Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment (Dt 6:4-5). And the second is like this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18). There is not another commandment greater than these.

Scribe—You say well, Teacher. You have spoken according to truth, that God is one, and there is no other besides Him, and to love Him from all the heart, and from all the understanding, and from all the soul, and from all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is more than all the burnt offerings and the sacrifices.

Jesus—You are not far from the kingdom of God.

Mark 12:28-34

In other words, for Christ, God incarnate, the first and great commandment was these two combined together. He obviously regarded them as inseparable, but even Wesley missed it. The point is that no one can love God without loving human beings. God incarnated as a human being in the shape of Jesus called Christ. Christians, under the baneful influence of Paul, think God did it so that he could deliberately arrange to die in atonement of human sin. That is fatuous, and this is where the real reason is given. God incarnated as a human being, his own son, because all human beings are children of God, and He is in all of them. That is why Jesus explained that any harm to anyone is a harm to God (Mt 25:42-45), and any kindness shown to anyone is shown to God (Mt 25:35-40).

How Christ saw God: "The Least Among Us"!

Christians like the idea that all they have to do is have faith, that is, they think, loving God, attending church and handing over to the pastor a few bucks when they do, for the good of their souls. In essence Wesley was the same. In this short work about Christian perfection, he mentions “God” 361 times and mentions neighbor “14” times. He urges his followers to…

…desire not to live but to praise his name, let all your thoughts, words, and works tend to his glory.

How Christians see God

Like many thoughtful Christians, he is aware that Christ called for love of one’s neighbor, indeed Wesley thought any creature:

Love the creature, as it leads to the Creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view.

All that concerns him is a vision of God, the whole moral purpose of Christ evades him, except incidentally, as is the case for Christians generally. He knows that even one’s enemy is a creature of God, and so ought to be loved, in Christ’s teaching, but, like most, he fails to accept how important it is—more important than the view at “the glorious point”, for, without it, the glorious point will not be reached! At each of the 361 instances where Wesley mentions God, the Christian should have in mind the least among us, not the glory. One has to love ones’s fellow human beings to love God. That is being perfect. And so one has to serve ordinary people to serve God, and without so doing, the Christian will not be perfect, and God will remain out of sight.

Written by mikemagee

5 October, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Old Testament or New Testament? Loving Kindness is the Criterion

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The Bible is in two parts, one is the Old Testament and is Jewish—the Jewish scriptures—the other is the New Testament and is Christian. Just what is the point of the New Testament for Christians when they incessantly cite the Jewish scriptures? If they prefer the Old Testament, why not become a Jew?

The point of the New Testament for Christians is that it refined the Old Testament. The Old Testament had become bloated with ordinances that allowed the temple priests to screw the ordinary Jew, and the original law had become mixed, confused and too complicated. Jesus was a Jew and did not reject Judaism, but he said he came to fulfil the law by advocating the law of love your neighbor. Whatever in the Jewish scriptures contradicts Christ’s law is not Christianity, for the Christian must prefer Christ’s new formulation of the law to the old Jewish one, or they might as well, indeed, become a Jew!

Nor is it enough to claim, as Christians do, that the Old Testament is also God’s word. Christians, as I understand it, consider Christ to be God incarnated—Christ is God—so the law of Christ is the law expressed by God Himself. Jews consider the Mosaic law to have been passed to them via Moses, a man.

The New Testament has God Himself, Christians tell us, speaking from his own lips, telling his followers how they must behave to be Christians. It follows that the New Testament takes primacy over the Old Testament, and Christians, to be Christians, ought to prefer the New Testament to the Old Testament, especially where the sentiments differ greatly. Love is meant to be the Christian criterion of moral rectitude, not ancient and primitive Iron Age sentiments like many of those in the Jewish scriptures… Killing people suspected of witchcraft is primitive, and certainly cannot be considered to be love at all. Leaving the poor to scrabble around in fields for a grain of barley is scarcely loving them either.

“Love” in our English gospels, as any Christian will know, translates the Greek word “agape“, which in turn equates with several words in Hebrew, mainly “aheb“. These words are not related to passionate love generally, but more to “liking”, “respecting”, “being content with”, “being kind towards”, and “caring for” and being willing to help them when they are in need. To repeat, it is being the Good Samaritan! It is being social, being the good neighbor, being kind.

Written by mikemagee

31 August, 2011 at 7:29 pm

So Quite How Did Universal Love Become Murderous Vengeance?

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Our morals at core are instinctive, evolved because we are social animals and so living in groups must offer advantages over living separately as solitary animals. The benefits of living socially are that we can defend each other, care for each other, feed each other, and comfort each other, some of the characteristics Jews call hesed or “lovingkindness”, and Christ called “love”.

Journalists and sentimentalists are fond of referring to “our loved ones” meaning people special to us, but proving that Christianity has not penetrated into our souls. “Our loved ones”, Christ taught are all of our neighbors wherever they might be, for any one of them could literally move in next door tomorrow—even some of our enemies!

One of the great advantages of Christianity over most Pagan religions and philosophies is that it has a clear role model for ordinary people in that it relates not only some of Christ’s teaching, but also described how he lived and thought. In the days when people were illiterate or were excluded from reading the life of Christ in the New Testament for themselves, stories of the life of Christ as a role model for them to copy in their own lives was particularly important. Believers were expected to be Christs, to behave like Christ. Only the Cathars kept it up, and the Catholic Church ordered a crusade against them, and scattered them far and wide. There was no need of any particular understanding of theology or philosophy in everyday living so long as simple folk had a model of excellence before them.

It was easier than it was for, say, the Stoic who was expected always to act sensibly—which is to say with reason—explaining why Stoicism remained the preserve of literate and wealthy people in classical times. It was easier than it was for the Platonist who had to look to God Himself. One of the failings of Christianity was that a majority of Christians wanted to raise up Christ to the Godhead, removing him as a realistic human role model for many. Paul exacerbated this deification by making Christ the object of Christian worship as a risen god on the eastern mystery model, though he was more useful as a human role model, with God left sitting aloft on his unattainable seat of power and judgement.

Stoics missed a human role model to such an extent that they inclined to idealize philosophers in that role. Epictetus, the Stoic ex-slave who was a near contemporary of Christ, urged his disciples to choose a role model and to imagine he was always beside them to instruct and guide them in the ways of excellence. Christians, in Jesus Christ, had this model of excellence ready made inasmuch as he was a man of exceptional morality.

Not only that, he was, as the propounder of love of others as the key to proper morality and sociality, the object of deep affection. Christians were to love God and to love other human beings, just as they loved Christ first as a symbol of human excellence, and then as an aspect of God Himself. To love others as if each of them were God Himself was Christ’s central tenet, though later Christian leaders decided it was something they would rather not know. It was much easier to get gentile recruits who were simply required to have faith! Most therefore came to prefer just to love God while continuing to hate other humans except for the narrow circle of “loved ones” that most of us love without any effort at all. It seemed to meet Christ’s requirement sufficiently well, they mutually agreed.

Having the loving Christ notionally at ones shoulder, like the eminent person of the Stoics, is still the belief of many a Christian. Christ is their buddy, but few of them know him at all well. The image of him they carry with them is not the Christ of the gospels. The role model of the modern US Christian is a Rambo Christ or a type of Dirty Harry. Yet no reading of the New Testament gospels can yield anything like any such image. Christ as a brutal avenger is an atavistic decline from an advanced to a primitive morality, from mutual concern and universal service to reactive tribal vengeance for some dishonor, imagined or otherwise. It has been seen with pelucid clarity in the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, a wicked man, certainly, but no more so than many of our own tribal heroes, no more so than Bush, Blair, Clinton or even Obama. We have lost the ability, essential for compassion, of being able to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Christians, to follow the lead and tenets of the gospel Christ, ought not to gloat over human death, or to glorify it, yet that is what they do, even the most pious—they claim—of them. Society, which is the origin of the concept of God, has the right to protect itself from those who work to destroy it, but it should do it reluctantly and with sorrow not joy. Joy is for the lost sheep found, for the returning wanderer, not for finding and killing the wayward sheep or wanderer for causing those at home too much worry.

Society justly protects itself by due process of law, not by taking arbitrary revenge, and, when all that is left for society to do is to take a life in defense of itself, any human being and especially anyone who professes to be guided by Christ must make every effort to demonstrate the value and efficacy of human morality, which, when universally practised, would abolish the need for punishment.

Christians have been ready to castigate Islam as lacking tenderness, despite its pure monotheism and high general morality, because it lacked a suitable role model. For all the Moslem talk about their brotherhood, that was not their central principle—that was their universal submission to God. Curiously, modern Christianity has grown in the same direction. What was meant to be universal, and once was so regarded, is now so narrow that it applies only to “our loved ones”, with no love extended to enemies, nowadays innocent people thousands of miles away being bombed, shelled and machine gunned by our heroes, professional terminators armed to the teeth, and drone killing machines remotely piloted from some distant aircraft carrier.

Arabs were not averse to spreading their new imperial religion, Islam, by conquest, by coercion and by taxation (exempting Moslems and converts from it), rather than by love and example. Even so, the Christian world had been in turmoil for centuries, and Persia was decadent, so by keeping order in their conquered territories the Caliphs were preferred by their subjects to their predecessors.

Today’s nominally Christian western powers, led by the USA, have no compunction in murdering foreigners on an industrial scale by indiscriminate use of WMD, scarcely even for revenge, but often simply as a warning and an example to the survivors and onlookers. They now know just what to expect when they fail to submit to the will of the all powerful financial and military class of the US. There is no justice in it.

The attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan were nominally in revenge for the deaths of 3000 innocent office workers in the Twin Towers, yet the US and its ally, Israel, had conspired to rob a whole nation of its homeland of several thousand years, the very people of whom Christ was a member 2000 years ago, the Palestinians. The UK and US had spent much of the Clinton administration bombing Iraq under the pretence of a “no fy zone” and a stiff regime of sanctions, even before Bush engineered the invasion of 2003. An unknown number, but at least a million, innocents died in the two operations combined. These mega murders were to avenge nothing. They were directed at one man, a man protected for decades by the not at all worthy Christian leaders of a supposedly Christian nation.

The mass murder was to demonstrate western, primarily US, power, the US allies in these “coalitions” being simply to dilute the responsibility for unspeakable crimes against humanity by the USA alone. And already in earlier times the US had killed an estimated 2 million Vietnamese by the most horrifying carpet bombing and the use of chemical weapons that are killing and deforming Vietnamese babies still. Just what is Christian in this, only partial, litany of mass murder of innocent human beings? Millions have been killed to show that the US was not to be meddled with, or to avenge much lesser crimes albeit serious ones themselves.

Isn’t the point of Christ’s passion and death the lesson that taking human life must always be wrong? Christians consider that Christ was God, and pious Jews approved of his murder. If Christ were to return, he would have a good chance of being klilled at the instigation of some US Christian leader. God is everyman, according to the one Christians recognize as having the authority of His Son, one of the Trinity. When a slight to anyone is a slight to God Himself, as Christ taught, the leaders of the USA are carrying a burden of sin that far exceeds that of its well publicised enemies, those so wicked that they constitute an “evil empire”.

If the wickedness of a nation is to be measured by the number of innocent people it has killed then the USA is up with Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Polpot’s Cambodia—millions! The failure of successive Christian leaders of the USA to recognize the enormity of their own crimes, and their responsibility for them, and the grotesqueness of their boasted claims to moral propriety is an insult to the intelligence of anyone normal, but not, it seems many Christians. The fact that they nearly all remain mute in the face of these horrors shows that Christianity is dead in the modern world.