When, according to the Bible, Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest His reply was to remind His followers to love God with their all. When I defined myself as a person of faith and, more explicitly, as a Christian that was important to me. It meant that I had an obligation to show that love through obedience to all of the other commandments. I did a below average job of that primarily because I am human but also because some of the commandments seemed to make little sense or to be in dire need of being amended or erased.
Now that my faith has left me and I can no longer define myself as a believer it is what Jesus is reported to have said next that is of greater importance in my life; “…and the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”.
Love thy neighbour.
As thy self.
These are two incredibly difficult things to achieve…arguably, at least at times, they are impossible.
Firstly one has to wrestle with the definition of love.
Then one has to find a way to convince oneself that one is deserving of love.
Finally one has to find a way in which one can, honestly, demonstrate that love to others.
Any definition of love has to include charity, patience and forgiveness.
It is obvious that the scriptures are not talking about something biological or chemical, this is a philosophical notion of love. Something metaphysical. Something supernatural. Something outside of the way we experience this world.
How to show that charity, patience and forgiveness to oneself is a challenge that few of us master. I think the important thing is to try. To strive to treat oneself with love. To accept that we are flawed, that we are capable of cruelty, that we can fall short of the standards we have set for ourselves and for others, that we are hypocrites, that we are not perfect. This requires honesty. It also requires an acceptance too that we may never fully, or truly, love ourselves.
I have days where I love myself.
“We know” I hear certain people I know bellow.
But I mean it.
I have days where I make good choices, where I make time for me, where I am surrounded by people I care about, where I feel, whisper it, happy and content. On those days I find it easier to follow the second part of this commandment; to love my neighbours in the same way.
Often I make cutting remarks, lash out, look for the snarky response, shun people, behave selfishly, hurt those around me, spew out bile online…and those are the best parts of my behaviour on those days.
I’m exaggerating, of course but the point is that I can be the sort of person I wouldn’t want to be around and, on those days and in those moments, I am guilty of loathing others as I loathe myself.
This is the great wisdom at the core of this commandment.
One cannot love others unless one loves oneself.
Heaven in Hell.
I know, very well, that there are flaws, faults and failings in the Christian Christmas story…and even doubts over the existence of Christ at all. I know too that He wasn’t born on December 25th. There are lots of people who think these things matter and who like to use them to belittle and undermine those people for whom it really does matter. My guess would be that those people don’t love themselves. It seems to me that what matters most is where the core principles of Christianity, or indeed of any faith, leads individuals. If they lead them to a place where they love others as they love themselves…I can’t get on board with criticising that. If, as in the case of the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church say, it leads somewhere ugly…have at them.
I have been surrounded by people of faith for the entirety of my life…almost all of them have been the best people I have known, their faith lies in that great commandment; to love others and their faith provides a framework for them to do exactly that.
God bless them.
Christmas is, amongst very many other things, an opportunity to remember the story that gifted the world the festival in the first place. To consider the very best of the teachings of Christ; His admonition to cast a stone only if you are without sin, seeking out the poor and the needy, surrounding Himself with people who were flawed and in need of support, His constant encouragements to show love, the selflessness, the sacrifice for others. These seem like things we can all get behind. Christian, Muslim, Jew, Gentile and Jedi.
Faith and belief are not prerequisites for living a Christ like life.
Being a Christian isn’t necessary to celebrate Christmas.
But certain principles as taught in the Jesus story are essential for the season to be about anything other than wanton indulgence and rampant consumerism. Those principles are not exclusive to Christianity but they are embodied in the story of His life.
My Christmas wish for you, but more importantly for myself, is that we can find a way to love ourselves, that we can be charitable, that we can demonstrate kindness to strangers, that we can show a little selflessness, that we can make sacrifices and that we can find hope for ourselves and for others.
Merry Christmas all.