The other day, a friend mined the following quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility:
The only force equal to a fundamentalism of hate is a counter-fundamentalism of love. (p. 8)
Jonathan Sacks is an important thought leader in Jewish philosophy, and seems to anger people on both left and right with his condemnation of same-sex unions, as well as his theology of religion, which may be labeled as Fulfillment Theology, allowing that general truth resides in other religions, but specific in his own.
But this phrase, while having the air of nobility about it, and seeming to get the emphasis on love right, leaves out truth in a way that should alarm, if not irritate those in search of spiritual and practical solutions to man’s problems.
Profound Truths as Weighted Paradoxes
Many profound truths exist within a paradox in which both seemingly antithetical concepts are true, such as predestination and free will, Christ’s divinity and humanity, and love and truth. In fact, this latter pair are described as perhaps the sin qua non of Christ’s being:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
Please forgive me for equating grace with love in the above equation, but let me continue with that as an assumption.
The question, however, is in what ratio shall we emphasize the members of the pair – equally, or weighted? I have argued that one is primary, the other secondary:
The proper approach is to emphasize one almost to the exclusion of the other (like in a 90/10 ratio). The primary principle applies the majority of the time, but with appropriate limits set by the other principle for outlying, more extreme applications in which the secondary, paradoxical principle eclipses the main principle to keep it from being applied absurdly. 1
I think it goes without saying that the proper emphasis of the love/truth pair is probably love, but is this balance necessary, or can it be dispensed with in our “fundamentalism of love”?
The Problem with Fundamentalism of All Types
Traditional religious fundamentalism primarily emphasizes ideological truths, and perhaps in many cases, ignoring love altogether in a Pharisaical pride and arrogance, if not a murderous jihad. “Love Fundamentalism” is a nice counter-intuitive rhetorical device, but is it really complete and helpful?
It may serve to restore our emphasis on love over mere truth claims, and defenders of such a fundamentalism may object that they have no intention of abandoning truth, only that it should be left out in our emphases on truth – but of course, the truth fundamentalists could also intone that they have no intention of abandoning love.
To be fair to Sacks, in the context of his book, or even the larger quote itself, he is complaining about divorcing our love and zeal for God (truth) from our love and zeal for people (love).
The only force equal to a fundamentalism of hate is a counter-fundamentalism of love. … The message of the Hebrew Bible is that serving God and serving our fellow human beings are inseparably linked, and the split between the two impoverishes both
But the problem with such catchphrases is that the hearers are not informed of the balancing principles, but only of a one-sided imbalance that does not lead to spiritual health.
My Experience Exiting Controlling Religion
I became a Christian within a spiritually controlling, Charismatic, Arminian-holiness movement that, in addition to introducing me to Christ, also almost nearly killed me with it’s one-sided emphases on militarism, exclusivism, isolationism, and holiness-maintained sanctification.
Interestingly, those kind souls who tried to influence me out of the organization typically replied with the opposite balancing truths – about love, the free gift of salvation, etc. But I never heard them because, in leaving out the true and balancing principles, they failed to affirm these complementary truths that I knew were also true – if they had been clear about the both/and nature of such truths, and the relative emphasis of each member of the paradox, I might have come out sooner.
Truth Without Love is Hateful, but Truth is not Hate
Returning to Sacks’ quote, he mentions the ‘”fundamentalism of hate.” What is perniciously dangerous about this phrase is that it replaces truth in the typical paradoxical pair with hate, thereby reducing all truth claims to hatefulness. This may not be his intention, but it is certainly the understood meaning within today’s subjective multicultural value system.
It is all the more insidious because it is a half truth – yes, when people abandon love for only ideological ‘truth,’ they do become hateful. But that does not mean that the ascertaining and declaring of truth is not a worthwhile endeavor.
How Love Fundamentalism Presents Jesus
In a recent Huffington Post article entitled A Love Fundamentalist: Mark 2:23-3:6, a Christian pastor described this approach to faith this way: 2
- It was love fundamentalism that urged Jesus to heal the man’s withered hand on a Sabbath.
- It was love fundamentalism that kept Jesus from Satan’s temptations in the wilderness.
- It was love fundamentalism that spurred Jesus to sweep the children up into his arms.
- It was love fundamentalism that drove Jesus to choose humiliation over political power.
- It was love fundamentalism that revealed Jesus’ glorification through self-sacrifice.
But I wonder – could the same be said in these situations? Or would the word “truth” work better?
- It was love fundamentalism that urged Jesus to forcefully drive the moneychangers out of the temple.
- It was love fundamentalism that drove Jesus to call his religious opponents snakes, hypocrites, liars, and sons of hell
- It was love fundamentalism that guided Jesus to instruct his followers to move on and abandon towns that refused the gospel message.
In fact, this author strays into the same untrue territory by writing thus
The fundamentalism of love always offers one more chance, always goes one more mile, always trusts one more time…
As I explained in The Limits of Christian Non-Violence, truth exists in order to sometimes say “no more!” I understand the intent here, a kind of “forgive 70×7” ethos, but seriously, within a complete Christian framework, a fundamentalism of love can lead to allowing people to persist in evil, or to prevent the destruction of innocent and typically weaker people like women and children.
Let us all embrace a fundamentalism of ideas and principles in the truest sense of the word – and those include the importance of love and truth, in word and deed. And please, for the love of God and man, let us avoid such one-sided and ambiguous phrases as “love fundamentalism” – they may have rhetorical value, but their one-sided error will not fix the problems because strategically and practically, they do not speak to our opponents, but only to our one-sided biases.