Love in Christianity

I am not Christian. I read the Bible (typically the Revised Standard Edition, although I often compare with other translations) as an exercise in understanding the perspective and motivations of the most common religion in my culture, and there are some parts of it I genuinely enjoy. Whether I like reading it or not, however, it is inevitable that I will hear it quoted at me.

So sometimes I quote it back.

To build an extended case here in favor of Biblical approval of same-sex marriage, I submit the following.

1 John 4:7-21 establishes the premise that God is love, that loving is equivalent to godliness and that disdaining love is the very opposite. Point in fact, it states that anyone who claims to know God while disdaining love is a liar.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 explains the nature of love, which I quote here for emphasis: patience, kindness, never jealous or boastful, nor arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong, only right. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things — and it is everlasting, whereas everything else, even scripture, is doomed to decay. Notice some of these qualifiers: it does not insist on its own way, it endures all things, believes all things, bears all things. If God is love incarnate, then how can these not apply to God as well?

The word “rejoice” invokes Romans 12:9-21, specifically verse 15 where it says to rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. This calls back to Mark 12:31 and Matthew 22:39 which invoke the law we have collectively come to term the Golden Rule.

Jesus commands love for each other in John 13:34-35 and states that the love of his followers will make them recognizable to others, evoking Matthew 7:15-20‘s “knowing them by their fruits” and then describing that the bad fruit is indeed evil. This love is commanded to be universal as both Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 10:25-37 assure us.

All the law is summarized in Romans 13:8-10, and it is summarized as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and further clarified, “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” If you should happen to be a person who thumps the Bible and invokes Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 and say you do this out of love, and your neighbor tells you that your love is causing harm, then it cannot be love — and with that bookend, those who do not love, do not know God.

As for the nature of sin, Paul described it in Romans 14:13-23 as, to invoke Martin Luther King Jr., an inescapable network of mutuality. Those who love without reservation are closest to God regardless of their orientation, and if the sight of those lovers brings you such a crisis of faith… well, I won’t quote any of the three passages regarding what Jesus would rather you do to your eyes than stumble. We can be quiet in our love, but if you demand that our love cease or be hidden away so as to make us quieter still, then the time has come to lose the part of yourself that is so intent on violating the law.

In this case, I recommend it be the part of your faith that has demanded you invoke the final item in Proverbs 6:16-19, but ultimately, it rests with you.

Originally published in Kimberly Knight’s blog, Coming Out Christian, with slight modifications.

Eyebrow raisers from the Gospel of Thomas

Ever since the movie Stigmata came out, I’ve noticed people taking an interest in the Gospel of Thomas, which (if memory serves) is erroneously identified as the Dead Sea scrolls. The movie paraphrases contents of the Gospel of Thomas to imply that it speaks directly against the corrupt church and priesthood present throughout the movie (whether or not this accurately reflects on reality is an exercise I’ll leave to the reader), which for many an agnostic, Protestant or even atheist, sounds pretty great. I can sympathize. The Gospel of Thomas, however, is less clear-cut than that. Less admirable, too.

A link to the full translation will be provided at the end, but I feel inclined to point out some of the questionable contents of this gospel. At only a bit over a hundred verses, it’s not particularly long. Much of it is impenetrable metaphor, but a few things stand out…

(12) The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?”
Jesus said to them, “Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”

Really? All this, just for James?

(16) Jesus said, “Men think, perhaps, that it is peace which I have come to cast upon the world. They do not know that it is dissension which I have come to cast upon the earth: fire, sword, and war. For there will be five in a house: three will be against two, and two against three, the father against the son, and the son against the father. And they will stand solitary.”

Remember that: Jesus came to wage war. Makes one wonder why Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins haven’t jumped on this one!

(37) His disciples said, “When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?”
Jesus said, “When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the living one, and you will not be afraid.”

This is an altogether terrible metaphor.

(41) Jesus said, “Whoever has something in his hand will receive more, and whoever has nothing will be deprived of even the little he has.”

The rich get richer…

(55) Jesus said, “Whoever does not hate his father and his mother cannot become a disciple to me. And whoever does not hate his brothers and sisters and take up his cross in my way will not be worthy of me.”

Sir, I reject this premise entirely.

(56) Jesus said, “Whoever has come to understand the world has found (only) a corpse, and whoever has found a corpse is superior to the world.”

I, for one, enjoy this world quite a bit for all its shortcomings. Heaven, for me, in order to be a paradise, would need to be like this world.

(62) Jesus said, “It is to those who are worthy of my mysteries that I tell my mysteries. Do not let your left (hand) know what your right (hand) is doing.”

Because keeping people in ignorance of the one thing that can save them is the godly thing to do! Again, why has Tim LaHaye not jumped all over this?

(79) A woman from the crowd said to him, “Blessed are the womb which bore you and the breasts which nourished you.”
He said to her, “Blessed are those who have heard the word of the father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when you will say, ‘Blessed are the womb which has not conceived and the breasts which have not given milk.'”

Ah, emphasis on the importance of virginity, how could that ever go wrong?

(85) Jesus said, “Adam came into being from a great power and a great wealth, but he did not become worthy of you. For had he been worthy, he would not have experienced death.”

So everyone prior to Jesus is in Hell. Great. Nice to know.

(93) “Do not give what is holy to dogs, lest they throw them on the dung-heap. Do not throw the pearls to swine, lest they […] it […].”

This sounds like it goes hand in hand with “only those who are worthy of my mysteries.” This is a whole new dimension on tribalism: not only do only certain people go to Heaven, but only certain people are even allowed to know how or why!

(97) Jesus said, “The kingdom of the father is like a certain woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking on the road, still some distance from home, the handle of the jar broke and the meal emptied out behind her on the road. She did not realize it; she had noticed no accident. When she reached her house, she set the jar down and found it empty.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is empty and there’s a trail of drunken ants all along the road behind it? God needs better infrastructure.

(98) Jesus said, “The kingdom of the father is like a certain man who wanted to kill a powerful man. In his own house he drew his sword and stuck it into the wall in order to find out whether his hand could carry through. Then he slew the powerful man.”

I have no words.

(99) The disciples said to him, “Your brothers and your mother are standing outside.”
He said to them, “Those here who do the will of my father are my brothers and my mother. It is they who will enter the kingdom of my father.”

The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Jesus King…

(101) “Whoever does not hate his father and his mother as I do cannot become a disciple to me. And whoever does not love his father and his mother as I do cannot become a disciple to me. For my mother […], but my true mother gave me life.”

Hopefully she wasn’t in the room when he announced this.

(102) Jesus said, “Woe to the Pharisees, for they are like a dog sleeping in the manger of oxen, for neither does he eat nor does he let the oxen eat.”

Tribalism, fun! Trivia: The saying about a dog in the manger is actually attributed to Aesop.

(104) They said to Jesus, “Come, let us pray today and let us fast.”
Jesus said, “What is the sin that I have committed, or wherein have I been defeated? But when the bridegroom leaves the bridal chamber, then let them fast and pray.”

I guess we all know what went on in there.

(107) Jesus said, “The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine sheep and looked for that one until he found it. When he had gone to such trouble, he said to the sheep, ‘I care for you more than the ninety-nine.'”

I can’t possibly think of a way valuing one above 99 others could be analogous to our world in any way.

(112) Jesus said, “Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul; woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.”

What is your unending hatred for the body? I’ll have you know I think you’re quite attractive, Jesus.

(114) Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.”
Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

A candidate for one of the worst lines ever written in Abrahamic scripture. It’s a fair bet that anyone thinking the Gospel of Thomas was a better reflection of godliness than the Bible wasn’t thinking of this.

Translation of the full gospel available here: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html
Commentary and some alternative translations here: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/