10/10/2009                                                                                       View Comments

With Love, from the apostles Peter and John

by E Chamberlain MD, San Diego CA

I think the most important reason that I left Christianity was because it didn't deliver. It especially didn't deliver love. No matter what other complaint I have against Christianity, surely even Christians-- and, hey, even Jesus-- could agree that if I'm right about this, then, yes, I have a worthy complaint.

It's shocking when you realize it, when you see it -- Love, real love, is foreign to the letters of the foremost of the Apostles, Peter and John. It's just not there. Of all the books in the Bible, those letters, five in all, are a quick read and my complaint can be easily verified.

But don't Peter and John write about love? Yes, and a jihadist talks about love too I'm sure. Just not love for the infidel.

In registering this grievance at the customer service counter of Christianity, I'm not just blaming Christian humans for their failings. I'm blaming Christianity as a theology.

As much as I gave of myself to Christianity, it didn't make me the kind of loving person I wanted to be, the kind I felt compelled to be, anymore than I saw it make others into the kind of loving people that they probably wanted to be. And the rote reply that "Oh, Christians aren't perfect" doesn't work. I know people aren't perfect. It's the theology that I'm talking about. It's the theology I'm protesting. It's the theology that's not perfect. I would expect that, if the theology was the god-sent wonder that it claimed to be, at least some Christians-- at least one -- would be a glorious shining epiphany and epitome of the kind of loving person that I-- and you too probably-- wanted to be. But I didn't see it then and still don't.

When we look, now with opened eyes, at what the foremost Apostles Peter and John wrote about love -- what they really said and didn't say-- it helps us realize why Christianity didn't do what we'd hoped. What they said is nothing more than any other human could've said. There seems to be no god-inspired magic and wonder whatsoever in their letters in their talk about love.

We all, as ex-Christians, have, to one degree or another, come to realize that the Jesus message is really just a disappointing 'I Love You, But... If you don't believe in me I'll torture you with unimaginable pain in hell forever because you deserve it.' We've all, as ex-Christians, been turned away by that tortured message and asked, rhetorically, 'What kind of love is that?' It's certainly not a kind kind of love. It's an abusive counterfeit and far, far from the kind of love we would hope for from a god proclaimed to be Love itself. We all already know that.

But my complaint is more than that. My complaint is against the manifestation of "love" that the Christian theology wrought in its premier apostles, as seen in their discourses about love in their letters. The effect that Christian theology had on those foremost, first generation proponents should tell us the very best that we could expect from Christianity from then on.

Now, it seems to me that, of all the Apostles, the Apostle John was the biggest proponent of love. (We don't get to even hear from many of the other twelve, so we can't know what "love" was wrought in their souls.) Yet, in looking closely at what John actually had to say about love in his letters, we see that, in fact, his kind of love was a private Sunday afternoon country club kind of love reserved for believers with a membership card. Yet, when we were Christians and read John's letters, I don't think we saw it. I didn't. I think we saw what we were programmed to see -- that we were supposed to be loving and that's it. But what John actually said, without exception, is that we should love believers. There's nothing in his letters about loving non-believers.

Even if he had been treated cruelly and mercilessly by non-Christians (and I'm not sure that's the case before or at the time he wrote his letters or even afterward), still I would expect more from this first-generation Christian with a first-hand experience of a god who "is love" in human form, more from this apostle who claimed to have received extra special help from a holy spirit to help do what a god of love wanted. I'd expect the first and foremost apostles to exemplify a far higher kind of love than those without that holy spiritual help can manifest. But, contrary to our Sunday school assumptions, that's not what we see in John's letters. And yet this was one of the very, very few who, among anyone who has ever lived, had the most direct, closest, face-to-face, strongest influence from Jesus. But this most-advantaged believer still didn't become the epitome of love itself. Why not? What does that say about the power of the theology? And what hope would there be then that any other Christian would do any better?

In the Apostle John's first letter in the New Testament, he said "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for others." No, whoops, wait-- that's not what he said; that's me reading into the passage. He didn't say lay down their lives "for others." He said "for the brethren." Not for you or me, but only for the believing brethren. I see no evidence whatsoever that he meant otherwise-- there is just no hint at all that he did. But, rather, his writings on love exclude you and me. (I can understand why he excludes you, but, hey, what about me?) Did he not read or did he forget the passage where Jesus said that 'Even sinners love those who love them, so what credit is it if you love only your own?' Or wasn't that saying known, or made up, or written yet by the time John wrote any of his three letters?

By his second letter, John said, 'Whoever comes to you and doesn't bring the doctrine of Christ, don't even receive him into your house.' Similarly, he himself had been taught that if someone wouldn't receive him, 'Shake off the dust of your sandals against them,' believing that it'll better for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that household. So, the net effect is that it's quite okay that he not accept non-believers, but god forbid that we not accept him. So, ah-hah! That's where Christians get that loving attitude. This is what we get from that supposedly loving Apostle? Again, I'd expect more and much better than that.

Even by the Apostle of love's third love letter, any mention of love to be directed toward non-believers remains conspicuously absent from his discourses. Instead, his attention is consistently on the "us" of Christianity and not at all on the "us and them" of all the world. In writing about love, how could he categorically exclude those who need it the most to be saved from the hell he believes in? Yet, that's precisely and inexcusably what he does. I say inexcusably because he does think to mention non-believers in his writing about love-- so they are on his mind-- but he doesn't mention us in order to show love toward us. Only to excoriate us, to call us names, to emphasize that we're going to hell. Yet any time he goes on about love, that would be the apropos and opportune time to remind and encourage believers to be loving toward all, no matter what. Wasn't that the message we thought we were hearing when we gravitated toward Christianity? And, again, shouldn't love be easier for the apostles than for us, seeing that they said they had god's miraculous powers? Would that be too much to ask? To hell with tongues and prophecy and miracles. Give us miraculous love. Show us what this miraculous empowerment by god's holy spirit can make a man. Heal the world with miraculous love. Then we'll believe.

John goes on to even say that 'If we love one another, God's love is perfected in us.' Again, the content and context of his phrase "one another" is exclusive. It does not include me or you. So how has he perfected God's supposed perfect love if it's restricted to believers only-- believers who believe that I'm gonna be tortured in hell forever? This is the Apostle of love? It makes you wonder what kind of man this John has been made into. I'm left thinking that god's love didn't make the apostles what Christians would have us believe.

The Apostle Peter learned the same world view. Who was closer to Jesus than Peter and John among all the other disciples? From what two people in all of history should we expect the greatest manifestation of the supposed great love that Christianity can affect in one's heart?

John goes on to even say that 'If we love one another, God's love is perfected in us.' Again, the content and context of his phrase "one another" is exclusive. It does not include me or you.Yet, here again, the closed-door exclusivity of the Christian kind of love is apparent in Peter's theology, who says in his first letter, "Have fervent charity for all." No, whoops again-- that's me reading in what I thought he would say. He said, "Have fervent charity-- among yourselves." Not towards all, but "among yourselves." Nowhere in that first or in the second of his two letters in the New Testament is it otherwise-- nowhere does he represent "charity towards all, with malice towards none." And, again, like John, this world view of Peter's developed despite his three years of intense contact with the supposed living god Jesus and despite claiming to be 'eyewitnesses to His majesty' and 'hearing God the Father give Jesus honor and glory, saying This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' Imagine if you or I had seen and heard such things-- and much, much more as illustrated in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (and if we had the ability to convince non-believers with the healing, stunning, loving miracles those Apostles supposedly could do). Wouldn't, then, our living, loving response be different and greater toward non-believers than we see in John's and Peter's discourses on love?

I am not dodging the fact that, yes, John did write in his letter that 'The love of god is perfected in whoever keeps Jesus' commands,' from which one could try to infer that if Christ taught love for all, then so did John. If I didn't acknowledge this, I'd only be inviting someone to come and nullify what I've otherwise already argued. So, John's caution to keep Jesus' commands would seem to weaken my case-- if John himself didn't otherwise express an unloving position toward non-believers and embrace the sacred segregation that permeates his theology and which I'm confronting. That pervasive attitude of John's reinforces my position that the theology John believed in did not imbue and infuse him with a higher love than can be found in other, non-Christian beliefs. And it can't be ignored-- for we all well know it-- that even Jesus' words leave us some doubt about any real love, as, among other things, he told his disciples toward the end of his earthly ministry to take up the sword, saying, 'He that has no sword, sell his garments and buy one'. If this had all transpired today, what weapon would he have advocated instead of a sword? An AK-47? An airplane full of civilians? Envelopes filled with Anthrax? Surely, then, there seemed to be a changing of the guard with that new command to take up the sword. Is this one of those commands that, if kept, perfected god's love in believers? It's a serious question and deserves a serious answer, not a disdainful dismissal. Saying that it was only a temporary command won't do. When was it rescinded? Why? How would one know? Especially given the supposed imminent battle of Armageddon, I see no revocation of the king's orders. Why would one need a sword if not for non-peaceful, non-loving purposes? For hunting? Why would he advise career fishermen to now suddenly change to hunting? And, moreover, what is it that we find them doing between the day of the crucifixion and the post-resurrection reappearance? Hunting? No-- fishing. Were they fishing with swords? And, if they are still to turn the other cheek, does it seem like a good idea-- let alone a loving idea-- to turn one's head while swinging the sword? Yikes.

Contempt, prejudice, and exclusivity are endemic in Christianity's teachings. Christians justify these teachings because they believe Jesus is god and can do, say, and think whatever he wants. Even if that's fine for them, it doesn't win me over. Perhaps the sword will, with love from the Apostles Peter and John.

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