Fraternising with the Enemy

“I find the Christian proposition infinitely more tempting—except for the fact that I do not believe it. But were it to be true I would certainly be a taker.”—Luc Ferry

In the age of outrage, it’s very difficult to have a conversation without controversy.

Vogue India’s well-intentioned but poorly executed viral video wanted to empower women but led to a new trolling season on Twitter.

Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli are religiously stalked by the press until the World Cup is lost and they turn into public enemy number one.

A few tasteless jokes made by Trevor Noah—Jon Stewart’s replacement on The Daily Show—were answered with equally tasteless character assassination.

Social media has made the world more aware, informed and intolerant than ever before.

While profit-driven journalism has burdened writers with the desperate need to say something unique about anything new, social media has become everyone’s personal microphone giving us all the desperate desire to say something sensational about anything trending on Twitter.

Social media’s greatest strength is simple: Everyone has a voice. But it’s obvious weakness is the same: Everyone has a voice.

Deepika Padukone’s viral video probably did little to empower women but the visceral attack on her character seems particularly harsh when you consider that it is now widely known she has been through a dark season of depression.

India were never favourites to win the World Cup and even the experts were surprised that we went to the semi-finals without losing a single match. We lost to a better team who deservedly won the World Cup. It’s that simple. But when people blame a couple for losing a cricket match, it says more about our society than it does about their relationship.

Trevor Noah’s jokes were tasteless but perhaps before he is characterised by a few bland jokes, we should remember he grew up in an inter-racial family at a time when it was illegal in apartheid-struck South Africa. Only someone who has suffered and overcome racism can truly understand the weight of its burden.

Most of us value freedom of speech, many of us value reason, some of us value listening before speaking but only few among us value gentleness, respect and sensitivity.

As a Christian and church planter, I regularly find myself facing tough questions about the Bible’s views on all things.

To be a thinking Christian today comes with the expectation of an academic-level expertise in biology, physics, chemistry, western philosophy, eastern religions, world history, global politics, anthropology, sociology, psychology and a passable knowledge in pop-culture, literature and art; not to mention a thoroughgoing knowledge of every historical and theological perspective on every passage of the Bible.

Challenge accepted.

Such strong and sceptical scrutiny was anticipated by the writers of the New Testament and a simple rule was given to the early church.

Jesus commanded them to love their enemies and Peter instructed them to show gentleness and respect to their questioners.

It’s a radically counter-intuitive way of relating to ideological adversaries that permits strong convictions but demands gentleness, respect, humility and sensitivity to others, even our enemies.

I rarely lose my temper in conversations about faith with curious people but after an unusually heated discussion with some friends, I was politely told, “Passion is one thing; anger is another. If you are going to lead a church, you can be passionate but you cannot afford to lose your temper.”

It was a reminder that anything said to be true but spoken without love—without gentleness and respect—has lost the right to be called the truth.

Today is Maundy Thursday.

A Christian thinker says on the occasion, “Most scholars agree Maundy is taken from the Latin word mandatum or mandate taken from the Latin translation of John 13:34, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The mandate or commandment is to love.

To love our adversaries is to listen to them, give them respect and safeguard their rights to speak freely without fear of retaliation, intimidation or retribution.

It gives people the respect we want from them, promising to be gentle and respectful even when people are needlessly offensive, provocative and unreasonable.

Jesus showcased a radical love for us while we were His enemies so we can be free to reveal a radical love to our adversaries.

We find a new identity in His love and are liberated from the burden of equating our ideals with our identity, so we can be forgiving when we ought to be offended and gracious when we ought to be aggrieved.

To love your enemies is a call to create a radically new kind of society.

A thinking Christian does not want to live in a Christian society. He wants to live in a just society, where the values of gentleness, respect and sensitivity can enrich all conversations in the public square about anything—a viral video, a new role for a comedian or a shocking loss in the World Cup.

One of the few atheists who embodies this gentleness and respect is Luc Ferry. In his excellent and entertaining book, A Brief History of Thought, he showcases the qualities of every good writer—expertise and excellence—and goes beyond it to reveal the qualities of every great writer—vulnerability and humility.

He’s one of those few atheists who has that rare blend of reason and respect. When I read his book, I get the very sincere feeling many of us have about some famous person or the other.

I feel that we would be really good friends.

Perhaps one day Luc Ferry and I will find ourselves sitting in a Parisian cafe indulging in an honest conversation on theology and philosophy. I would try to show him the Christianity he overlooked. He would try to show me the reasons he overlooked it.

I would flatter him by saying he was the Miles Davis of present-day atheism and deserved more recognition than the Justin Biebers were being given. He would be amused and gleefully agree.

He would flatter me by saying I was an old soul who did not look his age and that my Christian perspective was appealing but rare. I would be pleased about the first thing and reluctantly agree with him about the other thing.

I would be overwhelmed by his knowledge and impressed by his humility. He would be impressed by my questions and overwhelmed by my appetite for croissants.

We would talk for hours. Neither one of us would change our minds, but each of us would feel warmed in our hearts—if not by the conversation, at least by the wine.

He would return to his university, I would return to lead my church. It would be discouraging that I was not as convincing as I would have liked to have been but it would be encouraging to know that faith, philosophy and wine go well together.

He would be happy enough to go his own way and I would be happy enough to know that we were friends.

Image Credit: Juan Ignacio Sánchez Lara

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