“Love your neighbor as you love yourself” —Jesus Christ

I’ve never known a Christian who obeyed this commandment. How, then, do they explain their disobedience? They say:

(1) Jesus just meant that everyone should be kind to everyone else. (2) I’m saved by faith rather than by works, so I will get into heaven even if I don’t obey every last commandment. (3) Christ meant this as a goal to work toward rather than something that we had to accomplish. (4) I have a family to support, but once the kids get through college, I should be able to help other people more. (5) God only gives wealth to those whom please him, so if I were to help the needy, I would be thwarting God by helping people who don’t deserve it. (6) God only requires me to tithe; beyond that I can do whatever I want with my money. (7) By neighbor, Christ meant those with whom I come in personal contact, and since I live in a good neighborhood, I don’t run into poor people everyday like those who live in poor neighborhoods. (8) Christ was only talking to those who wanted to be perfect rather than to every single Christian. (9) I’m under no obligation to love wicked people like Snowbrush because their hatred of God has made them into demons. (10) “In the present world, I am aware that if I have to survive I should go by the dictum - A SLAP FOR A SLAP, AN EYE FOR AN EYE OR A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH. Otherwise people will crush me to death.” [a comment to my last post]

Such efforts to rationalize disobedience to a straightforward commandment that allows no exceptions reminds me of a video I saw last night in which a Moslem scholar claimed that when Allah commanded Moslems to kill nonbelievers that he didn’t mean that they should kill nonbelievers. Perhaps, but how is it that the creator of galaxies is such a failed communicator that he can’t make his wishes clear to a primitive species in the hinterlands of the Milky Way, the result being that millions of us have been neglected, ostracized, disowned, imprisoned, tortured, boiled, stoned, burned, beheaded, and otherwise abused by people who mistakenly thought they were serving God?

But back to Jesus’ words, when he said to love your neighbor as yourself, did he mean it or not? If you think he didn’t, you have an excuse for not loving complete strangers as much as you love yourself, but if you take him at his word, how is it that you are living in a spacious house, driving a late model car, buying gifts for people who don’t have room for what they already own, and watching lowlife morons make fools of themselves on a 42-inch TV, instead of using your money to buy food, clothing, and medical care for the poor? Thus have I stated my main objection to your religion, namely that it’s a sham, an attempt to feel good rather than to be good, a way to infuse your life with meaning, stability, and hope by imagining that you are under the care of a deity who created galaxies beyond number only to descend to a primitive Iron Age country on earth to die as a sacrifice to himself for your sins.

Yet, I have more sympathy for you than you might imagine because Christ was a hypocrite who laid a burden upon you that he couldn’t bear. If he had loved others as he loved himself, he wouldn’t have repeatedly and viciously denounced them as fools and snakes, or ordered working men to abandon their families and follow him around the desert, or condemned those who didn’t believe he was God to eternal misery in a place that he wouldn’t want to go. These were not the actions of a loving man, yet he expects you to be loving, and when you fail—as you must fail everyday that you live—you beat your chest, call yourself a miserable sinner, and beg a dead man to forgive you. It’s not atheists who are blind; it’s you.

But, as I am often asked, why do I care? I care because religion is surely the most divisive force on earth. If the difference between belief versus non-belief was like that of tea versus coffee, or if I could see that religion does the good it claims to do, I might never write of it again, but the fact is that I watch the news, and I read a newspaper* devoted to the coercive side of religion, so I care deeply and I hate deeply. Some readers say that I care too much, that I should simply let it go rather than to be made miserable by it, but I enjoy writing about religion. If I wanted a cause that would make me miserable, I would choose animal welfare because seeing the abuse and neglect that my species inflicts upon helpless cats and dogs might very well push me over the edge. By comparison, religion is a piece of cake. Besides, I know more about it than most and have seriously reflected upon it longer than most, so I have a lot to say. Most critical writings about religion disappoint me, and it is my sincere hope that I have a unique contribution to make.

*Freethought Today


kj said...

Snow, you take quite a jump of liberty with an expression of love. I love my daughter but that doesn't mean I should give her everything I have. Love is about more than possessions and scorecards

More and more your logic is unfathomable to me. Your posts remind me of the expression 'when you're a hammer everything's a nail"

I know you enjoy the discourse and I'm glad you have commenters who like that too. Me? I dunno, snow....

PhilipH said...

There are thousands upon thousands who love his/her neighbour all over the world and wreck a marriage.

I know this is not precisely the sort of 'love' your post is about but facts are facts.

What about this commandment:

Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.

The above coveting is commonplace.

All Consuming said...

Yes, it really does make a big difference how differing sides get on, communicate, and translate the whole shebang. And I think it is important to be interested in it, and debate points rather than ignore it all and think nothing can be done, so as ever, I admire your tenacity in the matter, and this is partly because you do enjoy it. I also think highly of those followers you have who are religious and yet have still stuck around, for it takes two (or more) for such communication to have any bearing, x

Stephen Hayes said...

My most fervent prayer is that people will come to understand that religion isn't worth fighting over. Any religion that fails to accept other types of thinking is simply a cult of power, nothing more.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I always find your thoughts unique and thought provoking.

lotta joy said...

Why is "Thou shalt not rape" not a commandment? It's not even a suggestion. Back when the bible was merely an outline, if a woman was raped IN TOWN and did not scream for help, both the man and woman were stoned to death. If she was raped in a FIELD, the man was stoned to death because she might have cried out, but there was no one to hear her. His own creations were easily dispensed with, and hell wasn't even mentioned until the all great and loving Jesus popped up.

The longer a person is dead, the easier it is to build him into a legend. But usually the legend continues to grow through the years, whereby Jesus' was mentioned in rather few instances when you take into account the length of the NT.

A friend of mine said she "believes" so she doesn't care to hear anything against it. She has never read the bible, but BELIEVES. When asked what she believes, she becomes defensive - yet not forthcoming with what it is she believes. NOT that I'd argue. I'm not here to point out the brick walls to those who choose to ignore the obvious.

Keep it up Snow. You do your best work when you're writing about things you truly care about than when you're trying to insert a different subject matter to create diversity for those easily bored.

Snowbrush said...

“Why is "Thou shalt not rape" not a commandment?”

In the following two verses, rape is mildly punished, but the outcome is worse for the victim than for the criminal. Deuteronomy 22: 28-29: “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.”

Then, there are other verses in which young virginal women were divided up as spoils of war. For instance, Judges 5:30 reads: “Have they not found and divided the spoil?— A womb or two for every man.”

“Snow, you take quite a jump of liberty with an expression of love. I love my daughter but that doesn't mean I should give her everything I have.”

I meant no reference to superfluous giving, especially to those whom might be expected to give in return (“He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.’” Luke 14:12), but rather to caring for others as you care for yourself. For example, if your tooth hurts, you go to the dentist, so if your neighbor’s tooth hurts, and she cannot afford to go to the dentist, would not loving her as yourself obligate you to pay for her dental work? Likewise, if you’re cold, you buy a coat; if you’re hungry, you buy food, but what if you can’t afford a coat and food, and you have a neighbor who claims to love you as he loves himself, wouldn’t he feel obligated—even desirous—of buying you a coat and food?

“What about this commandment: Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife…”

If you’re a heterosexual woman or a homosexual man, covet away. You’ll also note that coveting a man’s wife is on the same level as coveting his donkey and other pieces of property.

“I also think highly of those followers you have who are religious and yet have still stuck around”

They’ve become few, unfortunately, and I can understand this, but I’m sorry for it.

“My most fervent prayer is that people will come to understand that religion isn't worth fighting over.”

But certainly worth fighting against.

“I always find your thoughts unique and thought provoking.”

Thank you.

kylie said...

at this point i deserve a medal, according to the comments.

i live a pretty sacrificial life, snow. my cell phone was $30, my cars are always old bangers, the carpet is threadbare.....
and i would buy dental treatment and i have in the past replaced for someone a broken pair of glasses

i take my "religion" seriously and obviously i am imperfect but there are a few of us who try to live with every implication of our faith

ellen abbott said...

I would have far less trouble with religion if it's adherents just lived their lives by their beliefs. but they don't. well, yes, some do, but by far those who have any sort of power don't. they aren't happy unless they are forcing everyone to live by the standards they want to set or condemning others for not being religious or of the right religious bent. religion is and of in itself a big bundle of hypocrisy. and I just don't get the whole end times thing. they want the world to be destroyed. btw, did you see the article about the old catholic priest that died, was dead for 48 minutes, came back and told everyone god was a woman?

Snowbrush said...

“i deserve a medal, according to the comments.”

I think this was the most blunt thing I’ve ever posted about religion, and I wondered how it would affect you and if you would comment.

“i live a pretty sacrificial life, snow.”

When I said people I knew, I meant people I knew in person and had therefore observed. I can’t observe you, so I’m left with what you tell me, and this is the most you’ve told me, and I respect you greatly for it. Aside from you, Brent is my greatest example of Christian consistency, not that I see him anymore.

Still, when I moved into my teens and really started thinking about what I heard in church and read in the Bible, it struck me that Jesus set an impossible standard. You’ve probably read about Martin Luther and his effort to “win salvation” through works, how he gave it up, and concluded that he was saved by faith. Well, my church taught faith and works, but even if it hadn’t, how can anyone who claims to be a Christian ever be at peace simply because if that person has any awareness, he or she must surely realize that every hour of every day is simply another occasion for failure due to too little faith and/or too few works?

So, you see, my attempts at religion were doomed on two counts. One was that I didn’t, and couldn’t, believe, and the other was that I felt like a complete and constant failure by the standards that Christ imposed. My wonder was that others seemed TO believe, yet they made no discernible effort to live up to Christ’s standard. So, how do YOU do it? You pay $30 for a cellphone, but even that small expenditure COULD be used to buy shoes for some kid in Tibet. I’m not putting YOU down; I’m putting the standard down.

Other big stumbling blocks for me in relation to this commandment was that it didn’t include animals, and that a lot of Christians appeared to take this to mean that they didn’t need to show compassion for animals. Also, I couldn’t look inside my heart and feel ANY love for strangers much less the kind of compelling love that I felt for myself, nor did I consider it desirable to feel such love. And then what of those who hate themselves? So it is that this one brief sentence posed the biggest problem for me out of all the sentences in an extremely problematic book. Why aren’t Christians bothered by it; why isn’t it a big topic of discussion? I don’t know. Maybe they just don’t GET its implications. Like KJ who read this post and still had no idea what I was talking about. I think you do get it, yet you carry on amidst a sea of Christians for whom religion is meaningless in terms of making a determined effort to better the world.

Snowbrush said...

Kylie, it occurs to me that you might do well to write about your faith. Extremely few of the Christians I’ve known who were bloggers blogged about their religion, and of those who did, most were unpleasant people who quickly came to hate my guts and either attacked me or ignored me. I know you struggle, so why not write about it? It would represent a different slant than what I usually see. Also, isn’t it ironic that I, an atheist, write about Christianity so much whereas most bloggers who are Christians write about it little if at all, yet if asked, they would claim that it’s the most important thing in their lives? In terms of my interest in their religion, it strikes me that I’m more religious than they are. Some of them have asked if I don’t worry that, if God exists, I’ll go to hell, and I think that, well, how can you be so sure that it won’t be you who goes to hell. They imagine that, because I attack religion, God must really have it in for me, but they ignore Revelation 3:16: “So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

“those who have any sort of power don't. they aren't happy unless they are forcing everyone to live by the standards”

Yes, I know. “Forethought Today” writes a whole newspaper about this every month, and unless you read the paper, you don’t realize how prevalent it is and not just in the South. Then, if some brave person opposes their efforts to force religion on others, they say that they’re being persecuted. What strikes me more than anything is how hardened these Christians are and in what contempt they hold the feelings of non-Christians and even of Christians who disagree with them.

“did you see the article about the old catholic priest that died, was dead for 48 minutes, came back and told everyone god was a woman?”

I’ll Google it. Some the gnostic gospels and letters (that the powers-that-be kept out of the Bible) did present God as a woman or as representing both genders. In one account, Jehovah was her child and she looked upon him as an arrogant brat who gave himself credit where none was due. The funny thing about those who hate the Catholic Church is that it was the Catholic Church that decided which books to put into the Bible and which to leave out, and that some of the Reformers objected to some of their choices. For instance, I think it was Luther who hated the Book of Jude and also Revelation.

Snowbrush said...

Here's a link to what Ellen wrote about the priest who died and discovered that God was a woman: http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/catholic-priest-who-died-for-48-minutes-claims-that-god-is-a-woman/

kylie said...

i'll take up the challenge to post about this. keep an eye out :)

Winifred said...

Well if you enjoy writing about religion Snow then keep it up. I don't agree with you but it makes for interesting reading.

rhymeswithplague said...

I think it was the Book of James, not Jude, that Luther didn't like.

If writing about religion got a person into heaven, you would have a front-row seat! (:

FYI, my car is 15 years old and has 317,000 miles on it, and my TV is 27-inch. (:

Sometimes I think I am losing my mind.

Snowbrush said...

“FYI, my car is 15 years old and has 317,000 miles on it, and my TV is 27-inch.”

We have two cars. One is a 23-year old van, and the other is a 17-year-old Camry. Our TV is over 30”, but I don’t know exactly how much over—less than 40 though. So, let’s see, I have two cars, but they’re older than your one, and my TV is bigger, but my house is older (1955), so that make up for the cars and TV. Yes, I would say that, overall, I’m a better Christian than you—oh, wait, I don’t tithe, and I don’t give a penny to the poor, and Jesus didn’t mention the ACLU as being on his approved list of charities, so maybe you win, especially once the part about me not believing in God and Jesus is factored in.

All that said, do you not agree that this is an impossible standard? My sister combined this verse with Jesus’ words to the rich man about what he lacked in perfection (give everything he owned to the poor), and said that it only applies to those who seek perfection. Of course, in another verse, Jesus commanded all his followers to be perfect, so doesn’t this mean that he commanded them all to give away everything they owned, including their 15-year-old cars and their 27-inch TVs (can your old eyes even see a 27-inch TV?)?

Yes, it was James that Luther didn’t like, and it was 21 who were beheaded. I am ever grateful for such corrections. I think that, in both these cases, the errors were in comments, or I would otherwise go back and change them. Thank you again. I adore people who correct me, and, as you know, I adore you for other reason too. You and Kylie rank high with me. Maybe that’s hard for you to believe, but you surely know that I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.

“Sometimes I think I am losing my mind.”

Not because of my sermons, I hope, but, if I am the problem, rest assured that I will start an on-line fund to pay for your institutionalization. It did occur to me that, until I started criticizing Jesus, I probably sounded much like John the Baptist (when I was a boy, an elderly black preacher said that the hand of God was upon me, and that I would preach someday). My experience with sermons was that they rarely if ever concerned specific criticisms of things that the congregation was doing, but rather spoke of other people’s sins (actors, atheists, and such) or were in generalities. My sermons wouldn’t pass muster by these standards, yet I fully believe that they are valid. About this one, in particular, I would love to know how you view this verse. I wouldn’t even respond to what you wrote if you didn’t want me to….

Do you still see the hand of God upon me? I know that there was a time when you had hope that i would step into the light, as it were, but, you know, maybe I have. Even if you’re right about it all, who’s to say that I’m not one of those stones that the builders rejected? Not the chief cornerstone, certainly, but some lesser stone that goes low on the back of the temple where the sewage comes out. Jesus needed Judas, you know and, this being true, how can you even be sure that even Judas isn’t in heaven? Isn’t it funny that the divine plan would have fell on its face without a sinner to launch Christ onto the cross? I’m reminded of the poem by Emerson in which a squirrel and a mountain argue over which of them is the greater: http://www.mountainsquirrel.com/faq/why/

Snowbrush said...

P.S. I sort of know why I think so highly of the Christians who persist in reading my blog. I suppose you think that, just maybe, God is using you as a gateway into my heart, but, my explanation comes from my days in RC (re-evaluation co-counseling). One of the principals they go by is that when you have two groups, one of which feels deeply hurt by the other, the best way to heal the wounds of the oppressed group is for people from the oppressor group to pay respectful attention to their thoughts and feelings. You, in particular, are of interest to me because, as a Jewish Christian, you almost certainly understand me better than other Christians, at least in this country where it’s bad enough that I’m not a Christian, but that I’m the worst thing of all, an atheist. Growing up as you did in a home with a mother who was especially sensitive to and scarred by her treatment as a Jew, you’ve been where I live. Even here in Oregon where it’s many times easier to be an atheist than in the Bible-Belt, atheists still aren’t well-accepted. Ironically, not all of the atheists who come here seem to understand why I am so welcoming of you. Perhaps, I am more like your mother than they are in that where they are more in touch with anger, I am more in touch with hurt. I think that anger covers hurt somewhat like armor. When I wrote for American Atheists, I was very angry, so anger is what I wrote and anger was what they wanted. Once I got past the worst of the anger, I left the group. I will never, ever get past the hurt, but I am at a point where I can think rationally about it, and this allows me to critique Christianity more effectively—in my opinion—than when I was so embroiled by emotion. Even so, I agree with the bumper sticker that says, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” Those who can’t understand why I write as I do aren’t paying attention. I’ve no doubt but what you too would be angered by much of what I read because the actions of so many Christians isn’t just filled with contempt for the rights of people like me, but also of people who are Jewish (or practice some other non-Christian religion), and I can’t imagine but what you still identify with those people.


possum said...

When I saw this line: "you have an excuse for not loving complete strangers as much as you love yourself," it reminded me of numerous times I have read how many of us actually hate ourselves. They seldom admit it, of course... for some it takes months of therapy until they see their disappointment with themselves... So, if we consider that angle, most people do love others as they love themselves! Perhaps it is only those who are truly comfortable with themselves who are capable of that "true" love (vs possessive 'love' or sexual 'love.')

Helen said...

I realize my comment has nothing to do with your post, wanted to say I thought of you when I read this quote following the "American Sniper" verdict .....

In tears, Littlefield's mother, Judy, told the media that that they'd "waited two years for God to get justice for us on behalf of our son. We're so thankful we have the verdict that we have tonight."

Snowbrush said...

"In tears, Littlefield's mother, Judy, told the media that that they'd 'waited two years for God to get justice for us on behalf of our son.'"

Chris Kyle was a Christian according to his book, which I read when it first came out, just as I read every book by a Navy SEAL when it first comes out. Unfortunately, most people never get so much as judicial justice, and the only true justice would be for injustice to never occur, a fact that points to a major problem with the concept of a just God. I think it likely that most SEALS are religious, seeing themselves as white knights of Christ. Father Brent—an ex-Marine—said there’s a lot of that kind of thing in the Marines too, a combination of Christianity and war-love. I see it as trying to meld together two things that are exceedingly incompatible, but then Christianity in America has less to do with Jesus than with nationalism: “America is God’s country,” “love your enemy, but kill him,” and so on.

“When I saw this line: ‘you have an excuse for not loving complete strangers as much as you love yourself,’ it reminded me of numerous times I have read how many of us actually hate ourselves…So, if we consider that angle, most people do love others as they love themselves! “

Even those who profess to hate themselves still sleep under warm covers and go to the dentist when they have a toothache, so even if all they have to offer to others are such physical necessities as they provide for themselves, it’s the most that Christians in general can offer. For example, when I started sharing my atheism with the people at that church last autumn, they ignored me, but if the temperature should fall into in the twenties, and I have no other place to go, I can sleep in their basement alongside other destitute people, and they will cook a meal for me. They might hate me, but they’ll still provide me with limited physical assistance.

Sparkling Red said...

I propose that it's not religion per se that's the most divisive force on earth; it's extremism. Extreme religion is a problem. So is extreme Marxism, extreme fascism, extreme anti-vaccinationism, etc.