Love Is Not Christian – It’s Human

Editor’s Note: Here is a very clever and very heartfelt public apology offered by an atheist to all the people he misunderstood when he was an evangelical Christian leader.  This originally appeared on Clergy Project member Fernando Alcantar’s blog. It has been been lightly edited and reposted with permission. // Linda LaScola, Editor

=========================

By Fernando Alcántar

I’m sorry. I used to challenge the veracity of your love and doubted your understanding of it on a regular basis. I believed you didn’t really know love, or understand the fullness of love, because you didn’t know Christ like I did. At times, I’ll admit, I wondered if that hurt you. But to be honest, at times I also hoped it did. I figured that I would discomfort you enough to seek what I considered to be the source of true love—Jesus.

But I also did it for selfish reasons. I boasted of some proprietary rights on love because I felt it was my greatest evidence of the existence of an invisible being. That feeling inside my chest was really the one true “tangible” piece of truth I could really hold on to. Let’s face it — not much else can truly be proven between Genesis and Revelation.

1 John 4:8 reads,

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

This theme is narrated and strongly pushed forward at most Christian assemblies. They’ll preach and sing:

“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love.”

The most quoted bible verse of all time reads, “For God so loved the world…”This persistent focus on the love of god made me and other Christians believe a number of things:

  1. That we had proprietary rights on love because our god gave it to us;
  2. That we possessed a moral high ground because we truly knew love;
  3. That any love outside of Jesus’ love is inferior;
  4. That real love outside of Jesus’ was impossible;
  5. That anyone who wants to experience true love must convert to Christianity.

This produced arrogance over our ironclad hold on love. But it also provided a fragile faith on a lifeline connected to that hold. We saw non-Christians as eternally incomplete, and our emotional mechanism overworked itself as it tried to compensate for lack of evidence of our faith.

The more scientific discovery tried to convince me to listen to my mind, the more I made an intentional decision to quiet my thoughts and only listen to my heart, because that’s where God spoke to me.  It’s when life got hard, that I struggled the most to see evidence of my god’s existence. Facts were troubling and debilitating. But love had always been able to give me a second wind on faith.

So I preached love as a tool to win an argument and as a way to maintain myself in hope for a better life. When I testified of “Jesus’ love” I was holding on to a rope hoping that my public declaration of faith would lift me off my cliff of doubt. I built my support system so strongly around this love that the mere thought of losing it felt like a threat to my very existence.

And I wasn’t alone. Sermons were preached every Sunday about it. Posts on social media flooded our timeline as we thanked Jesus for giving us love and boasting of a special connection with him—through love. And I constantly assured people that they wouldn’t know “true love” unless they converted to my religion—I mean—“relationship.” At times I said that I respected all religions, or lack their of, but in reality I was preaching my faith with a pretense of respect for diversity.

But this public display of understanding of love only powerfully furthered a bias towards people who don’t ally with such belief—not just for atheists; but also for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and others. This belief further promoted stereotypes and prejudice against those who believed differently. If God is love, and Jesus loves you, then if you are not a Christian, you must not know true love or how to truly love. But I didn’t see that then.

I understand that some people use religious belief to further their value and love for humanity.  I’ll take that over the atrocities done in the name of deities every day. But there is a point to be made about being able to have such value and love for humanity — not because a deity tells us to, but because it grows naturally from our connection to each other as members of the human family.

If someone chooses to believe their love comes from a creator—that’s their choice which they have every right to make. But human history has shown us that we don’t need gods to act in love or hate.  Furthermore, breaking from the belief that love can exist just as powerfully and real outside of Christianity is threatening to Christian belief because:

  1. It supports the troubling hypothesis that a belief in Jesus is nothing more than a preference and is not evidence for a creator.
  2. If non-Christians can love just like Christians do, then Christians lose their upper hand and claim on morality.
  3. It would bring a weakening unbalance to the emotional health many Christians are tenaciously grasping.

Believing in an all-powerful god who sent his only son to die for the sins of humanity is a beautiful story that can really be inspiring when told by a powerful speaker. Christians admit that they’d rather be the creation of a loving deity than the result of a “cosmic accident.” But preference doesn’t produce causality. It may be uplifting to believe we arrived at work riding a magic carpet instead of taking the bus. Fantasy is certainly more alluring and awe-inspiring, but it doesn’t make it real — quite the opposite. Love and value for humanity exist just as much without belief in Jesus.

As humans we appreciate beautiful stories. They provide inspiration that we need for motivation. But I also feel it is beautiful to ponder that out of the billions of solar systems, and an even greater number of planets, we were the astoundingly lucky ones who got a crack at life – a diverse, colorful, and complex life.

I now value people because they comfort me when I cry, because they cheer for me when I win and because they give me a second chance when I fail. I hope my value and love for humanity is judged by my ability to do the same for others, and not because I believe in a mystical power. Love is not Christian; it is human.

(Also published on ExChristian.Net on 12/10/2017)

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Fernando Alcántar is a former leader of the Foursquare (evangelical, Pentecostal) denomination in Mexico and senior coordinator of North American Partnerships at Azusa Pacific University, where he oversaw hundreds of churches in Mexico and helped to mobilize thousands of missionaries a year from all over the United States and Canada. He is now a gay atheist activist, spreading a message of tolerance, introspection and understanding. He lives in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He is a member of The Clergy Project and author of To the Cross and Back: An Immigrant’s Journey from Faith to Reason, with a foreword by Dan Barker.

>>>Photo Credits:  by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890) – Private Collection. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_The_Consolator.jpg#/media/File:Christ_The_Consolator. ; by Greg Dart

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  • Brian Curtis

    One would think the simple and obvious fact that plenty of non-Christians are capable of love, and indeed demonstrate it every day, would have more of an impact on such attitudes. But faith immunizes you against such realizations. Even today, there are believers who claim that “Muslims know nothing of peace or love–only hate.”

    • ElizabetB.

      Here, twice recently I’ve heard the statement at a bible study that “Love” is not one of the 99 Names of God in Islam, and googling the 99 Names just now I see a post saying that. But in all the lists I see, “al-Wadud” is translated as “the Loving One.”

      • Atheisticus

        Read The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke some time. Excellent story.

    • Illithid

      Well obviously, it can’t be real love that we heathens feel. It may look, walk, and quack like a duck, but it can’t really be a duck, because only Jesus has real ducks.

  • See Noevo

    Is it human to
    “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” ?

    To “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” ?

    • alwayspuzzled

      Since a human said it, it likely falls somewhere in the broad domain of human motives and behaviors.

    • Geoff Benson

      I am not aware of a single person who actually gives any credence to this absurdity. ‘Love your enemies’ is an insane principle.

      Christians certainly don’t believe it.

      • ElizabetB.

        Actually, this is what blows me away about Dr. King. He actually lived it, after rejecting the alternative. In the collection of sermons “Strength to Love,” he says
        “To our most bitter opponents we say, We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is just as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with the good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win *you* in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” [56]

        In “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence, he wrote:
        “My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil. Between the two positions, there is a world of difference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since
        the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.” http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/Vol05Scans/13Apr1960_PilgrimagetoNonviolence.pdf
        One awesome, mountain-moving human being

      • ElizabetB.

        Actually, this is what blows me away about Dr. King. He actually lived it, after rejecting the alternative. In the collection of sermons “Strength to Love,” he says
        “To our most bitter opponents we say, We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is just as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with the good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win *you* in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” [56]

        In “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” he wrote:
        “My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil. Between the two positions, there is a world of difference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since
        the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.”

        One awesome, mountain-moving human being

        • ElizabetB.

          Just discovered the Dr. King comment I wrote this morning had been marked as spam & not printed. Hope deleting the link to “Pilgrimage” fixes that! I’ll try to find an easy way it can be googled.

        • Geoff Benson

          I don’t deny that Dr. King was a remarkable man and a great motivator. Nonetheless, no matter how genuine he may personally have felt that he was heeding what he was able to portray as scriptural imperative, the approach he took and the methods he used were tactical. Certainly with the benefit of hindsight, it was an inspired move, but I doubt many of his followers started biblically ‘loving’ their enemies.

          I’ve actually started re-thinking the point, and I am now even more of the opinion that the bible ‘love your enemy’ wording makes no sense whatever.

          • carolyntclark

            Agree. The “love your enemies” approach may be an effective strategy, but taking it literally leads to the perennial rabbit- hole of defining “love”.

          • ctcss

            Carolyn, as has been mentioned already, what Jesus is referring to is loving as God loves, that is, universally, infinitely, eternally. This is not about loving others from a human perspective. He referred specifically to the goal of being perfect, just as God is perfect.

            Is this easy to do? No, of course it isn’t. From a strictly human standpoint, it may seem impossible. But the point of making the consistent and persistent effort to do so (i.e. to make the effort of aligning one’s thoughts and actions with God) is what begins to change one’s way of thinking and acting from the human to the divine. It goes past the simple notion of human affection for others, to one where one begins to see others as God sees them, as the eternally and infinitely beloved and cherished children of God.

            Learning to love as God loves is what brings healing to troubling human situations because its effect is to remove all that is inharmonious (that which is unlike God) to reveal that which is harmonious (at one with God).

            My 2 cents.

          • ElizabetB.

            I think Carolyn’s point about how one defines “love” is well taken. In the sermon “Loving Your Enemies,” King says:

            “Now we can see what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Love your enemies.’ We should be happy that he did not say, ‘Like your enemies.’ It is almost impossible to like some people. ‘Like’ is a sentimental and affectionate word. How can we be affectionate toward a person whose avowed aim is to crush our very being and place innumerable stumbling blocks in our path? How can we like a person who is threatening our children and bombing our homes? That is impossible. But Jesus recognized that *love* is greater than *like*. When Jesus bids us to love our enemies, he is speaking of neither *eros* nor *philio*, he is speaking of *agape*, understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill for all men.” [Strength to Love 52]

            He then lists reasons why this should be our attitude — 1)”Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.” 2)”Hate scars the soul and distorts the personality…. Modern psychology recognizes what Jesus taught centuries ago: hate divides the personality and love in an amazing and inexorable way unites it.” 3)”Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” And 4) “An even more basic reason why we are commanded to love is expressed explicitly in Jesus’ words, ‘Love your enemies… *that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven*’…. We must love our enemies because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of his holiness.” [pp.53-54]

            I take #4 to symbolize the feelings associated with the commitment to one’s ideals, here that ” creative, redemptive goodwill for all” — which is so devilishly hard to do : )

          • Ray Harvey

            It is a call to martyrdom, so that the faithful can see that they must be special…why else would others…”outsiders”, want to harm them?
            The best strategy with an enemy is to destroy them…by making them a friend. The person is seldom the danger to you…it is the enmity, the anger that raises a person’s fist against you.
            Resolve that discord and you defuse the enemy. Unfortunately, not every one will respond positively.

  • I have seen love and nastiness expressed by people of all different faiths or lack thereof.

    Even when I was a Christian, I had trouble believing that Christian god was a god of love. He was always smiting people, ordering his people to commit genocide, he drowned thousands upon thousands (including innocent animals) in a flood, he hardened Pharoah’ s heart, etc. I didn’t see those acts as loving, I saw them as angry and vengeful. Jesus seemed like a good guy, so I coukd buy into the love of Jesus, but not god.

    • Jim Jones

      That god is the god of his creators.

      Definition:

      “God is the ego projection of the self styled believer in the supposed being — with added super powers”.

      It’s impossible to attribute any effect from such a ‘god’ outside of its effect on the self described follower so it is irrelevant to everyone else.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Love Is Not Christian – It’s Human

    I cannot accept this conclusion. Some non-human animals are capable of love. Has the writer ever owned a dog?

    • ElizabetB.

      Thane, how far “down” do you think love goes? as far down as there is consciousness? (whatever that is — as the philosophers are asking, “Does it ‘feel like something’ to be a bee?”)?
      : )

  • We can argue about particulars but this is a beautiful, honest and sincere apology.

  • Jim Jones

    If there is any hope for Christianity, is resides only in emulating the example of Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister who preached nothing but love, not the bible. But looking at his fellow Christians, there’s little chance of that.

    Matthew 25:35-40

    ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’