Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Measure of All Things

by Troy Chapman

(published January 06)

If I tell you my height is 5’ 11” you can know how tall I am even if you’ve never seen me. That’s because we’ve agreed beforehand how much distance a foot and an inch represent. We have a standard by which to measure and talk about the distance from the floor to the top of my head.

In the same way, when we talk about realizing our potential, becoming enlightened and conscious, and rising up to the image of God within us, we need a standard by which to measure and understand these things. I believe this standard must be love.

Indeed, in spiritual terms, love is the measure of all things. St. Paul talks about this in his first letter to the Corinthians when he says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love I am only a resounding gong and a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Paul was only expounding here on what Jesus himself taught. When asked what was the greatest commandment — the most important and central value of his teaching — he said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

The question we want to ask is whether Jesus and Paul were simply issuing a religious edict specific to Christianity or whether they were speaking a universal truth that is valid whether one is Christian or not. One clue is that this teaching is central to every major religion on earth. It’s the core of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Beyond this we all know as individuals that love is the ultimate good. It’s the thing we need and long for most. All our visions of peace and goodness have at their core a world in which people love one another.

Another point is that love feeds life. It is the one thing that causes us to flourish as surely as on absence of love causes us to languish. Love causes us to move toward our potential. It is the catalyst of the process of self-realization, of us becoming what we’re capable of becoming. This is a universal truth. Numerous scientific studies show that even plants respond to love with increased growth and health. And, of course we’ve all seen examples of abused animals responding to the same healing power of love.

And if this is true on an individual basis it’s just as true on the level of community. Whole neighborhoods have been transformed by the love of a few people. Indeed, whole nations have. Look at the work of Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in South Africa.

Love is the ultimate good, yet this is a truth we’ve barely scratched the surface of. What does it really mean?

If love is the ultimate good then there is no good outside it. If we believe this we should throw out the concept of “good and evil” completely and stop seeing the world in those terms. Instead of “good/evil” we should see the world in terms of “love/not-love.”

Throughout history people have committed all kinds of atrocities in the name of God and goodness and even in our time this is a common practice. It’s possible because the concept and definition of “goodness” can be manipulated to serve almost any end.

When terrorists recruit people to kill other people they convince them that this is a “good” thing. Racists, Nazis, and fundamentalists of every stripe use the same tactic. But imagine them trying to convince people that murdering other human beings is an act of love. It doesn’t work nearly as well. When we think in terms of love/not-love we bring a clarity to morality that isn’t there when we think in terms of good/evil.

Many Christians in America are attacking homosexuals under the banner of fighting evil and serving God. But ask this simple question about them: Are they treating homosexuals with love? Some people may try to twist the definition of love to fit their behavior but we know what love is and the way some people treat homosexuals isn’t loving.

This is just one issue within a much larger political and religious movement in America under the same banner of moral righteousness. It includes support for the death penalty, harsh sentences and no forgiveness for criminals, support for war to deal with our enemies, intolerance and violence against those don’t agree with us, and a general sense of superiority.

These are angry people who believe in fear, violence, and domination, yet they have cleverly hoodwinked a large number of Americans into believing that these positions and attitudes represent Jesus Christ and the moral good. This is strange when we consider that Jesus never punished or attempted to dominate anyone. Jesus separated the world into love/not-love and was crystal clear about what represented God.

Beyond this, if love is the ultimate good and we believe in goodness, we must consider love to be the remedy to all human problems. In other words it is not only right, but good in the sense of promoting health and well being within us, within our society, and within our world. What is the solution to crime and violence? If love is the ultimate good we must say that love is the solution. The same is true of the abortion conflict, terrorism, and the entrenched conflict in the Middle East. If we want to know how successful our response to these situations will be in the long run we need only ask whether or not they arise from love. …

Continued in the post: God's Personality and Voice