Matthew and Muhammad on Conditional Love
By: Robert Brinsmead
The whole book of Matthew the moralist is stuff full of conditions; of rewards and punishments and it is stuffed full of the apocalyptic doctrine of hell. I have extensively researched Muhammad and Islam. His main Gospel was a kind of early version of the Matthew called The Gospel of the Hebrews (Ebionites, Nazarenes), and although it has been lost, enough of it is quoted and used to know that it was basically the same as Matthew. Muhammad learned this moralistic religion of big stick and big carrot and his doctrine of eternal hell from Matthew – he certainly did not get it from his mentor’s translation of the OT in Arabic. But Matthew repeatedly and utterly subverts the meaning of love as taught by Jesus. What is ever done out of fear of punishment or desire for reward, is not love.. But Matthew turns Jesus’s teaching of love into something that is calculated and bargained.
For instance, it is appalling that Matthew turns around the teachings of Jesus on forgiveness to make it conditional on what we do. Jesus does not teach us to forgive and love our enemies in order that God will be loving and forgiving toward us. What a wretched distortion of the truth, and an appalling piece of Matthean moralism. This teaching that ya better do some humanitarian deeds or you will be thrown as wicked trash into the eternal bonfire (Matthew 26), shows that the bottom line of Matthew’s salvation is conditional on the way we act toward others.
Forgive them and God will forgive you. Be merciful to them so that God will be merciful to you. This is not the core teaching of Jesus, this is the core teaching that Muhammad learned all too well and filled the Koran with that from beginning to end. Be kind to the poor, the orphans, help those in need and you will be rewarded with his Bouderin Paradise.
The negative side of not being forgiving to others is not that it will turn God into an unforgiving, fire-breathing Ogre. The negative side is that when we do not forgive, we do not forgive ourselves and keep ourselves in our own miserable chains. Even God says that God forgives us and blots sins from God’s memory (it’s in an OT prophet) for “my own sake.” I find this almost amusing – God forgiving us and having kind thoughts toward us instead of thoughts that would give him high blood pressure!
If we take the core words of Jesus, there are no religious boundaries. The message of Jesus is not about Jesus. You can think what you like about who he was. Jesus preached a simple unconditionally human ethic based on a new doctrine of the Deity. Live and act like this because this is what God is and how he acts toward others in everything. Christians, if they are serious about their faith, insist one must believe certain things about Jesus – who he was and what he did – in order to be saved. There is nothing about this in the teaching of Jesus. You don’t have to have some certain creed about Jesus. You are not required to know who he was or what he did. It is all irrelevant. Religion of every stripe and hue is irrelevant.
People are driven crazy through the fear of death and it drives them to do all sorts of evil things. All of us have to come to terms with death, but what has plagued humanity to create the fear of death is all the angry spirits, spooks, hobgoblins, doctrines of gods with all their conditions, cart loads of perfectionisms, and all the religions keeping the fires stoked with the fear of death. If human beings could only lose their fear of death they would be pacified and start behaving humanly as they were made to be. It is a clear teaching to remove from people all the religious fears of death that will give to them the freedom of peace of mind and generosity of spirit toward others. We cannot be truly human and freed from the clutches of evil unless we are freed from the fear of death. Only the unconditional can do this.
There is some amazing research on cancer going on all over the world. Many believe that one day humanity will find a cure for cancer and manage it like it has managed many of the diseases that have in the past ravaged the human race. Humanity has to find this cure for cancer just as it has come up with answers for smallpox, tetanus and a lot of diseases that used to kill millions. God will not intervene to disclose an answer. Jesus, supposedly God in human flesh, was obsessed it seems with helping sick people and curing diseases. Why didn’t he disclose an insight into cancer? Of course the historical Jesus did not understand even the germ theory of disease. He did not know as much as a present day schoolboy on this matter. If God intervened in human history to reveal all kinds of truths, like talking to Abraham about important stuff, how is it that God says nothing about the secrets of cancer that would plague even the seed of Abraham…. But no, God tells him nothing startling except to cut off a bit of skin from around his penis. Is that the insight into how God proves that he/she is God?
Of course the whole world cries out for justice. That’s what the Palestinians and ISIS and the Americans are all on about, isn’t it? All know that this world is not always fair, that justice is not always done, and so some long for the day when God will at last stand up and see that Justice is done by some Universal Judgment of mankind. But in the meantime, all the really important things that have improved the human condition have not come about by any of this “special revelation” stuff that religion is on about. Of course, the revelation that Christ was God almighty was the big ticket item for Christianity – and whilst Christian civilization hung on to that great light of all lights (the divinity of Jesus which is the holy of holies of the Christian religion) that civilization descended into the Dark Ages, boring holes in the head of sick people to let the devil out. Of what practical benefit was that super Light of the Christian religion?
I suggest that we must think about the order of Unconditional Love not so much a two-sided coin, but as a three-legged stool, a kind of triune justice if you please. Recently Wendell posted a very good overview of the findings of the whole field of Quantum Physics. It ended up by pointing out that despite all the diversity of the universe, the science proves that the universe is one as we have hardly ever imagined it to be – there is an inseparable unity of everything that is and of everybody that is. What affects one affects all – not just eventually, but instantly. It is a scientific fact as much as ethical and theological fact that everything that affects others affects ourselves. The one who is unkind to another is being unkind to himself. Failure to forgive another is failure to forgive ourselves. “In as much as you have done unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto yourself.” I am not talking about the hereafter of reaping what is sown. This is present reality. So as part of this order of Unconditional love, there is not only unconditional freedom to be the lord of what you do and your own destiny, but it means that everyone punishes himself, effective immediately. It is strange indeed that playwrights and Hollywood often grasp this better than the ethicists and theologians, but psychology today is starting to get a better grasp of this reality. Lady Macbeth punished herself in the night scenes of constant washing of hands that could not be washed. Mandela understood the power of this insight when he said he realized he could never get out of prison if he was to be driven by hate and revenge against his enemies. Trying to hurt your enemy by hating him, said Mandela, is like trying to hurt him by your drinking poison. A business man who cheats others on his way to wealth is not going to enjoy his spoils even in the here and now.
Others may be deceived and admire him, but he cannot get the approval of himself for what he has done. He has diminished his humanity and enjoyment of life. Punishment is always self-inflicted. There are no exceptions. If you are looking for retributive justice, look no further. Even one of my old teachers would tell us kids, if you cheat, you cheat yourselves and you are the one who is going to be hurt the most.” Self-punishment is as inexorable as the principle of self-rule and self-responsibility. Fear of any other kind of justice/punishment is no solid foundation of ethical behaviour. It is no good for kids. It has been proved not even to work for animals (fear of whip not good training for horses or dogs either). Perhaps only Evangelicals now believe in beating their kids as an acceptable method of child training.
The big question is how God might deal with this kind of governance of the universe beyond the boundaries of this life. The classical Christian answer has been by the Justice of a blood atonement and Hell fire for the recalcitrant. I pitch my tent with Universalism. Love wins at last for everyone.