Theology of evil is counter to the heart of all faiths

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reflections from the Workbench, by Michael Doty

The world is descending into a theology of evil being perpetrated by the very people who claim to know and hold to the truth of their faith.

In the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke there are two parallel passages – Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-27.  The Lukan passage reads: “…a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ The lawyer answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

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In each of these passages from Luke and Matthew the question is posed by someone sent by the Temple authorities – a lawyer (nomikos in Greek), a person devoted to the literal execution of the law (i.e. a legalist or literalist of a particular persuasion) – whose purpose is to find some kind of fault (heresy) in what Jesus was teaching.  But Jesus’ response to the man was to go to the very root of the law and remind the lawyer, and us, that the heart of all divine law is to love God, and equal to that, we are to love one another.

To emphasize his point in Luke’s narrative Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan wherein an injured and dying Jew was ignored by his own people, but was rescued and cared for by a Samaritan. The hatred between Jews and Samaritans is well recorded in the Bible and other documents of the time, and all expectations would be that those most like the dying Jew would help him, but they did not. It was the Samaritan who aided someone totally unlike himself who kept the heart of God’s law.

The Samaritan upheld a theology of love and goodness by aiding and showing compassion to someone whose faith and life were totally disparate to his own. It is sad to say, but I repeat, the world is descending into a theology of evil being perpetrated by the very people who claim to know and hold to the truth of their faith rather than following the divine law of God as taught by Jesus, who also said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” See Matthew 5:39-6:1 and Luke 6:27-31 wherein the passage ends with Jesus saying explicitly, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

So, why are we culturally and in our faith communities descending into a theology of evil? Jesus (as voicing the true heart of Judaism and Christianity), Mohammed (“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden (paradise) whose width is that of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous – Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity or in adversity, who restrain (their) anger and pardon (all) men – for God loves those who do good.” (Koran 3:133-134), as well as the general teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism, all impart as the root of their faith that love, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, and a willingness to abide the differences of “the other” is only what is true and good.

The news and social media inundate us with the proclamations of pundits, self-proclaimed prophets, arrogant preachers, and bumptious politicians of every type and stripe from all over the world declaring that their view/opinion is “right” and/or “God given.”  In America we hear a great deal about the dangers and evils of ISIS, an Islamist group which believes what its sectarian leaders teach and who think they are justified in murdering anyone (Jew, Christian, and especially Muslim) who does not believe as they do.

It is a theology of evil because it is counter to the heart of Muslim teaching.  At the same time we hear of so-called Christian leaders, such as California lawyer Matt McLaughlin who recently introduced a ballot initiative called the Sodomite Suppression Act which would mandate the execution of LGBT individuals because “…it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst…”  That is a theology of evil as heinous as anything ISIS supports.

Or, consider the actions of Scott Lively, the head of Abiding Truths Ministry in Springfield, Mass. who is known around the world for successfully advocating anti-LGBT laws in Uganda that would send LGBT people to prison for life.  That, too, is a theology of evil according to the very teaching of the Jesus he says he follows. The recent attempts of state legislatures in America to legitimize and legalize discrimination against anyone for any reason is still the same thing – using religious beliefs to justify bigotry even on a small scale is still a theology of evil.

But all this is not only about LGBT issues. Call to mind the KKK in the post-Civil War South which justified racism and lynching on the grounds of a Biblical mandate for the separation of races. Remember the Rwandan genocide in 1994 of Tutsi tribespeople by radical Hutus which was largely Christians against Christians. And then there was the Kosovo War of 1998-99 wherein Christian militias murdered entire Muslim villages. In all those cases, as in Nazi Germany, sectarian religious beliefs were used to justify a theology of evil.

In the end the question becomes “what bits of holy writ does any sect of any faith choose to follow?”  Yes, there are numerous passages in the Koran which advocate the very practices ISIS has carried to the extreme. There are also passages in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible which do the same. See Exodus 22:19; 2 Chronicles 15:12-13; Zechariah 13:3; Deuteronomy 13:13-19; Deuteronomy 13:7-12; Deuteronomy 17:2-5; Exodus 31:12-15; Isaiah 13:15-18; 1 Samuel 15:2-3; Jeremiah 48:10; and Exodus 32:26-29 if you have any doubts.

In the end the efforts of any radical sectarian group, be it religious or political, to objectify and dehumanize anyone who might think, believe, act, or simply be different in order to exert power over that person, and even to cause death, is a theology of evil. But all of this runs counter to the vast body of religious teaching from many faith traditions which impart that only love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness are truly acceptable and divine behaviors.

For Christians, however, there is only one final word that comes from the mouth of the divine incarnate presence of God among us, Jesus Christ, when he says with no equivocation, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.”

Anything else is a theology of evil.