A UC reader recently shared the above image via our Facebook Page (you have Liked our FB page, right?). Since we’ve tackled “Christian” memes in the past, and since this one conveys sentiments that we regularly hear from our friends on the (far) right of the political and theological spectrum, I thought I’d take a moment to address its not-so-subtle points.
This world has redefined the word love
This world (as opposed to other worlds?) definitely hasn’t redefined the meaning of the word love. Love has a standard dictionary definition that, as far as I’m aware, still accurately reflects modern usage.
Acceptance of all false religions
No one should accept any false religion, let alone all false religions. Why on earth would you believe something that’s false? What we should do, however, is accept the reality that many people have religious beliefs that differ from our own, and that, from their perspective, we’re the ones who hold to a false religion. And, given that disparity, the best way to promote peace and understanding is to avoid terms like “false religion” entirely and instead seek to find common ground and shared beliefs.
Tolerance of all sinful behavior
As long as sinful behavior doesn’t break the law or directly affect our lives, we do have to tolerate it. This doesn’t have anything to do with love, it’s just life.
Tolerance of false doctrines
We also have to tolerate false doctrines. And others have to tolerate our own false doctrines. Again, nothing to do with love, just a necessary consequence of a multi-faceted religious landscape. Unless you really want a straight-up theocracy, you’re going to have to live with other people’s false doctrines, and they’re going to have to live with yours.
Refusal to rebuke & expose anyone
We’re entirely free to rebuke and expose anyone, as long their lives are either in the public square, or directly intersect with our own. If someone’s minding their own business, then there’s absolutely no reason why we should be rebuking them for anything. But pastors, politicians, business leaders, policy makers — those people are generally fair game and we should carefully critique their words and actions.
Never offend anyone with truth
We should never try to offend anyone, for any reason. That doesn’t have anything to do with love, it’s just common decency. We should always try to conduct ourselves with civility and decorum, and thinking we’ve cornered the market on truth is never grounds for throwing good behavior out the window.
What I suspect lies behind the trite missives of this meme is the idea that liberal Christians have capitulated on any number of theological issues — homosexuality, hell, abortion, evolution, biblical inerrancy, and myriad other “essential” issues — and that, in order to mask our heretical and self-serving beliefs, we hide behind a watered-down and distorted view of love.
I’ll readily concede that love has been redefined. It’s been redefined by those who are afraid of losing the power of the existing socio-religious structure. It’s been stolen by those who want to vigorously police the boundaries of orthodoxy. It’s been twisted by those who call us to “love the sinner and hate the sin” even as they conflate the two and end up hating both.
Indeed, for those whose theological livelihood has been built on fear, hate, and authoritarian control, it’s anathema that love can’t be redefined, that, regardless of their efforts, love will always mean patience, kindness, compassion, humility, honor, selflessness, and forgiveness.
Regardless of our specific stance on social or theological issues, warning the denizens of Facebook about the dangers of redefined love by means of inaccurate and inflammatory rhetoric utterly fails to exhibit the true hallmarks of the very virtue in question:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
— 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats.