In my comedy act I have a section on the House of Commons Christian Association and how its members voted for Trident nuclear submarines. When asked for a statement about their decision, the party line was ‘we’re looking forward to the return of the Prince of Peace but in the meantime we have to be strong, hard-headed and practical.’
At which point, I go, ‘What part of “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who who hate you, and pray for those who insult you, and persecute you” (Matt 5:44) did you not Ecclefechan* understand?’
It would be fair to say that it’s a little bit of a problem in Christianity that we go around worshipping the guy who said those words and happily ignore the words themselves.
To quote G. K. Chesterton (who, like all of us also had some issues…) ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.’
Difficult? I should say so! But, frankly, how can you possibly call yourself a Christian if you don’t even try? Gandhi (again he had his faults…) tried a darn sight harder than most Christians have. My atheist friends, including Richard, Roger and Michael try a darn sight harder than most Christians I know.
It’s not about Christianity (nothing should be about Christianity) it’s about doing the right thing; the thing that actually might work. Jesus never said ‘worship me,’ he did say ‘follow me.’ Following is a lot harder than worshipping so most folk take the soft option. Protestantism even came round to the idea that all you had to do was worship Christ to get to heaven. Catholicism, for all its faults, teaches that you must also do good works. Mysticism says that we are all the body of Christ, whatever our beliefs, so we are the face of the Divine in the world. It’s not up to God, it’s down to us.
So, how to do it? Let’s start off with deep appreciation that Jesus never said LIKE your enemies. That would be a lot harder. He also didn’t say we should approve of our enemies, support our enemies, cook and clean for our enemies and perhaps more importantly, he didn’t say that we shouldn’t stand up to our enemies or call them out for their actions.
The clues are in the saying itself. ‘Bless’ and ‘pray for.’ Right now, Afghanistan is under control of the Taliban and there is great fear, particularly among women, about the future. Can we do any good by cursing the Taliban? No. Can we do any good by blessing them and praying for them? Who knows? It’s worth a try.
And by ‘pray for them’ I mean pray for their higher good, for Grace and for wisdom not pray for them to do what I (or you) want them to do. That’s manipulation, not love.
It’s not easy, is it? So much easier to hate and blame.
Fr. Richard Rohr said something fascinating about hatred in one his talks – that we all contain 10% of the things we hate in others. It’s what psychology calls projection, of course, but that 10% aspect makes it easier for me to understand.
I don’t hate women; I don’t support views that we should cover up and I think it’s fine for a woman to cover up if she wants to; I don’t think women should stay at home – and I do think that it’s fine for women to stay at home if they want to.
But I did find myself channelling my 10% at a motorway service station a few weeks back when I looked at an extremely overweight woman who was showing a lot of flesh. For a moment, I was wildly judgmental, thinking she should wear clothes more suitable to her size.
It’s that easy to turn to the dark side; really it is… When I’d come to my senses, I looked inside to see where my projection sat … and, of course, I always thought I was fat when I was young (and yes, people did tell me that I was and, given half the chance might tell me that I still am 🙂 ) and I never dared wear clothes that would emphasise, let alone celebrate, those parts of my body that I was a ashamed of. In my 60s I’m much more confident about me but still no more confident about showing off my wobbly love handles.
Why do I believe that? Because I was taught to believe that by my mother who judged other women vociferously. We girls can blame men for a load of stuff right left and centre but we are just as complicit. It wasn’t her fault, she learnt to do it from her mother. And on and on and on…
That woman at the motorway service station dared. That was why I judged her. She dared do what I believed that I could not do but actually wanted to do. And that is the start of the slippery slope…all the way, all the way down to the fundamentalist Islamic misconception that women must wear burqa (the Koran simply asks women to be ‘modest’ – it’s all in the interpretation).
So, loving our enemies: How about, every time we see any news about Afghanistan, we say ‘Bless you’ to the Taliban themselves as well as to those who are afraid of them. How about we do that whenever we see something we disapprove of or which causes us fear? Not as in the Southern US ‘bless your heart!’ which usually means ‘oh dear!’ but with a genuine wish that the other is truly blessed. We don’t know how this will end but, for sure, hating our enemies hasn’t worked up until now. If we keep blessing and blessing, who knows, we might just start something better…
*Ecclefechan is the word I use when I’m trying not to swear in public