“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

I. “If you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them.”
Someone said “Homophobia doesn’t mean you’re afraid of homosexual people. It just means you’re an asshole.” Opposing a belief by insulting the people who hold it doesn’t gain us any points; it alienates people. Nor does it make us seem tolerant or compassionate but it does show that we don’t care about what’s true, only about preserving our beliefs.

William Shirer, journalist and author of Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, noted that even the most sane and level-headed person can succumb to ridiculous beliefs and propaganda if they are cut off from external influences and different opinions – and, I must add, cutting themselves off from different opinions by refusing to consider them. If you like to think of yourself as rational, objective, and tolerant, answer the following question: what would convince you to change your belief? It isn’t a comfortable question, but it will show what your belief is based on.

How we react to opposition shows what kind of person we are. Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi and many others were murdered by their opponents. What about the person who called his/her opponents “assholes”: how do you think that person would treat you if you disagreed with them?

Moreover, would it really be peace on earth if everyone agreed about everything? Peaceful yes; boring, probably; populated by biological drones: almost certainly. People will always disagree over some topic: abortion or the death penalty or cloning or drugs or politics or freedom of speech. Peace on earth will arise under only one of two conditions: either everyone believes the same about one topic: that’s uniformity; or when there is tolerance of different opinion: that’s unity.

II. “To love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.”
Many people talk about love as if it were the same as validation. It isn’t. Love can be confrontational. Loving someone doesn’t mean we like everything they do, or think that it’s good for them. Love does not mean that we say that whatever someone does it okay.

People generally acknowledge Jesus as a great moral teacher, the epitome of love. If we accept this as valid, consider the selection of Jesus’ sayings below that are less than validating. If Jesus’ sacrificial death for his enemies is the ultimate expression of love, then love cannot mean affirming that everything people do is ok: otherwise his death would not have been necessary.

To people who listened to his teaching:
“But now I tell you: if you are angry with your brother you will be brought to trial, if you call your brother ‘You good-for-nothing!’ you will be brought before the Council, and if you call your brother a worthless fool you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22)

“How evil and godless are the people of this day!” Jesus exclaimed. (Matthew 12:39)

At that time some people were there who told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices to God. Jesus answered them, “Because those Galileans were killed in that way, do you think it proves that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No indeed! And I tell you that if you do not turn from your sins, you will all die as they did. What about those eighteen people in Siloam who were killed when the tower fell on them? Do you suppose this proves that they were worse than all the other people living in Jerusalem? No indeed! And I tell you that if you do not turn from your sins, you will all die as they did.” (Luke 13:1f)

About his family:
So one of the people there said to him, “Look, your mother and brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak with you.” Jesus answered, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does what my Father in heaven wants is my brother, my sister, and my mother.” (Matthew 12:47)

To a father whose son suffered from demonic possession:
Jesus answered, “How unbelieving and wrong you people are! How long must I stay with you? How long do I have to put up with you?” (Luke 9:41)

To one well intentioned, pious and influential man:
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was very rich. Jesus then said to his disciples, “I assure you: it will be very hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:21)

To a woman convicted of adultery:
Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?” “No one, sir,” she answered. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.” (John 8:9)

To the religious leaders, the people who, more than anyone, should have known and accepted him:
“You snakes – how can you say good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Matthew 12:34)

“How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You make fine tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of those who lived good lives; and you claim that if you had lived during the time of your ancestors, you would not have done what they did and killed the prophets. So you actually admit that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets! Go on, then, and finish up what your ancestors started! You snakes and children of snakes! How do you expect to escape from being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:29f)

To his closest friends and followers:
Peter spoke up, “Explain this saying to us.” Jesus said to them, “You are still no more intelligent than the others. Don’t you understand?” (Matthew 15:15)

Then Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe everything the prophets said!” (Luke 24:25)

Even knowing the historical and social context of the Gospels, a lot of these sayings of Jesus seem harsh. (On the other hand, this dissonance against the background of the rest of the Gospels indicates the genuineness of these sayings.) Yet look at what Jesus did: even if you don’t believe in Jesus, consider him in the context of the Gospels. In a parable describing how God loved people, he talked of a father who ran to his rebellious and wastrel son – unheard of in those days – washed his disciples’ feet, which only the lowest servant would do. He forgave the people who mocked, tortured, and killed him.

Disagreement doesn’t mean hatred and love doesn’t mean validation. Validation is comforting, and disagreement is unpleasant, but that’s no reason to disrespect people with different beliefs. Growth can be uncomfortable. If we refuse to consider other opinions, we might stay warm and cosy with our like-minded coterie, but we might also remain stagnant, cloistered in our own narrow, unchallenged worldview.

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