A while back, a commenter here, Bridget, asked me for an opinion on something said by a commenter over at Paul Dohse’s blog, paulspassingthoughts.com. This person had taken to task the Apostle Paul for the (apparent) fusing of the two greatest commandments, as proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Jesus said to him [a Pharisee, who was asking], ‘ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ‘”
In ostensible contrast to the…er, Doctrine of the Two-Not-Just-One Commandments, I suppose we’ll call it (hey, everything else is a doctrine, why not this?), Paul, in Galatians, is quoted as saying:
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Bridget asked this:
Yes, Argo, wondering about your thoughts on the distinction between the two commandments as well as the commenters opinion that Paul actually changed what Jesus had said. I had never seen that distinction before.
The questions which are the crux of the issue with respect to the comment from the person over at paulspassingthoughts.com is: Are there two commandments, or just one? Is Paul a deceiver? I liar? A false prophet because he said that all the law is summed up by only ONE commandment, and Jesus clearly implies that all the law is not best summarized by merely one commandment, but TWO? And is that really what Jesus is saying, or is He saying something entirely different?
The conclusion upon which this person arrived was that clearly Paul deceived his flock by presumptuously asserting that there was only one great commandment instead of two, as Jesus clearly taught. Summary? Paul should be ignored because he is little more than a rank liar.
Okay…couple of problems.
First, I have a problem with the “by golly by gosh oh gee there must, must , must be TWO separate, distinct, mutually exclusive, never-the-two-shall-meet-because-that-would-be-like-crossing-proton-streams, commandments” because, well…really? Is this where our insane interpretation leading to irrational hatred of Paul has taken us? Down very narrow roads where whole philosophical concepts and epistemological categories are now organized according to the fucking Dewy decimal system? Where if the ideas aren’t numbered and dotted and labeled precisely, codified and reconciled to some exacting equation which demands a specific product according to a rigorous abstract mathematical construct then we froth at the mouth and cry heretic and take a scythe to the Pauline epistles and organize a mob to burn the books and drown his proselytes?
Come oooooooon, people. Why is this even an issue? Whatever happened to assuming that something must actually make some kind of sense in order to be morally compelling and intellectually honest?
Is this what we think theology is? Is this why there are entire institutions devoted to parsing the difference between “scroll”, and “loaves” in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew? Is this why there are a thousand different denominations all hating one another and demanding their excommunication from heaven and earth, all the while conceding the exact same philosophical premises which say that reason is the devil’s plaything and that the human mind is the cauldron for the witches brew of apostatized assholery?
Has it really gotten to the point where we are going to pit Paul against Christ because Paul makes one point and Jesus makes the exact same point but uses a different number of abstract ideas to make it; and therefore, it cannot possibly be the same point at all, because the numbers, being numbers, demand that one is infinitely separated by a chasm of absolute value from two; and the numbers, as we all know, get to make the rules about what is and what is not as far as human beings are concerned?
Why, yes. Yes it has. This is exactly what it has come to.
Instead of giving Paul the benefit of the doubt and thinking that maybe the peddlers of a false gospel, the Reformers, and their evil spawn, the Calvinists, who manage to fuck up the message and intent of every other single relevant figure in the Bible might actually have fucked up Paul’s as well? And the one’s they can’t completely fuck up they pretty much ignore all together…like Jesus.
But we live in an age of cynicism, and truly, I am not one to talk…this, I admit. Still, I think it is worth pointing out that the overestimation of our western Platonist philosophy has made us arrogant, and poor judges of our ability to truly understand perspectives that differ from our own. Instead of assuming that our initial opinions might possibly be incorrect which might possibly lead us to spend some very helpful time employing our minds in the act of thinking about whether or not we have drawn the right conclusions, we simply assume that we are right, and either accept or deny ideas based upon whether they have found favor with our understanding (which must of course be full on immaculate) and not necessarily upon TRUTH, as rooted in reason.
This is exactly the kind of thinking that poor Paul, especially in this example, has fallen victim to. “The numbers don’t lie”, goes the old adage, and yet the salesmen of numbers lie all the time, which is the only salient point. In fact, since numbers are not actual and thus are not causal, they work for MAN, and not the other way around. And the fact that they work for man, and yet are generally accepted to categorically “speak truth” (i.e. not lie), has allowed many to be deceived by them; and allowed many despotic governments to rise to power and many false philosophies to rule the crimson day.
Because in the end, numbers and what they say don’t matter. It is what people believe that truly matters. And that is a fact I’ll argue for with anyone, anywhere. Show me a number that needs no human agent to be efficacious and I’ll show you that I’m actually an eight foot tall black man who plays center or the Lakers, has his daddy’s last name, “Jordan”, and is worth millions of dollars and gold bullion (my fantasy life, by the way). If the government says seven million have signed up for healthcare, then it’s seven million. A credible source is not required because the numbers, considered to be actual and causal themselves, ARE the source. And if the earth is going to heat up by a million degrees in ten years, killing us all unless we categorically surrender our right to a free market society, then the earth is going to heat up. Period. And if it turns out that it doesn’t happen, it is our senses which are flawed. It is our innate human ignorance rooted in our contradictory metaphysics…our “depravity”; our “tendency” to be lazy, stupid, worthless, evil, racist, hateful, careless, arrogant and God-hating which has misled us. Not the numbers.
The numbers don’t lie.
The numbers are never wrong, and therefore neither are their priests. If the earth’s temperature doesn’t rise or there are not really seven actual million who sign up then the priests of the abstractions do not confess to error. They merely re-categorize and re-define the message. The numbers haven’t lied, and how dare you question them based on what you think you see, as if you are able to see anything at all in your inherent existential failure. And if seventeen trillion dollars in debt seems high, trust them…the numbers don’t lie, and they are saying that it isn’t really that high at all, because what you think is high is merely what you think is high,and therefore, is of no material relevance.
The numbers don’t lie?
Hmm…perhaps. But certain men lie all the time. And these men fancy themselves as the inexorable proxies for the abstractions which they say control us. This absolves them from their mistakes because it makes us unable to see any mistakes in the first place.
Numbers, like any other conceptual abstraction, can form very strong and, frankly, exasperatingly stubborn beliefs by giving humanity a false sense of intellectual and philosophical security. And this is why it is so easy for someone, like the person on Paul Dohse’s blog, to reject the Apostle Paul and his message just because it doesn’t happen to agree with his presumed-superior apprehension of the way the universe actually works: numerically.
But Jesus got it. Oh yes, Jesus always agrees with the critics of Paul, but never Paul, himself.
So what was the problem again?
Oh, yeah. Paul said one, and Jesus said two. Ergo, Paul is a despicable heretic who should be run out of Jerusalem on a fucking rail.
Here’s the thing. First, let’s start with the obvious. Jesus did not say that all the law hangs on the two commandments. He said that there was a greatest commandment, and a second commandment which is like it. And his use of the word “like” is telling. It implies a reciprocal relationship; one of equality, not of hierarchy. But of course, Christianity, and protestantism specifically, is positively obsessed with with “proper roles” and “submission” and “authority”. Everyone and everything must know their place because all of Christianity is a message of authoritarian “organization”, where life is supposed to be all neat and tidy like; and of course if we have a bunch of individuals running around thinking that they are each just as valuable and as equal and as loved by God as the next Tom, Dick, or Harriet, well obviously the inevitable orgy of sin which follows such wicked, wicked thinking will be enough to engulf the whole world in mass spiritual suicide and send us all careening at breakneck speed straight to hell. Where YOU belong, by the way, and are almost certainly headed by hook or crook because God fucking hates you…but THEY, you see, as the elect…well, they want to go to heaven, mind you. And that will only happen if they bust asses and crack skulls and burn some bitches in the name of authority and submission, roles and places, leaders and followers, the called and those who exist to serve them. So they want things tidy, and they don’t need your assertions of moral and existential equality fucking it all up and disheveling their neat and organized little polity.
So, to them, when Jesus says “greatest” commandment, it must mean that the first commandment has supreme authority over the second command which is merely “like” it. This means that the greatest commandment subjugates the one that is like it. Because in our western thinking “second” obviously means inferior. And inferior implies an authority structure. Because Jesus used two and not one, He couldn’t possibly have meant that there is a single idea: love. And that it is LOVE which is the root of the entire law. Love for neighbors, which obviously includes God, because God is a person. And a human being (gasp!) at that, in Christ.
Of course, this is in fact Paul’s point. Love is the sum and substance of the law. Perhaps HOW love is shown to God may differ by metaphysical necessity (God being God,the Creator, who is distinct from man), but the idea of loving God and loving people is utterly identical. You love them both in the same way: you affirm their right to exist as individuals, not judging them according to false ideas of conceptually abstract ideas and constructs, not stealing from them or lying to them or burning them alive if they disagree with you, and lauding their merits and accomplishments and successes and power when appropriate, revering them and their positions when they’ve earned it righteously, and being “patient, kind, slow to anger”…etc., etc.
And Paul is absolutely right. Love is the singular idea. But not love in a vacuum. A love which has its meaning rooted in the standard of TRUTH: the life of the individual. Which includes God. So, yes, loving your neighbor as yourself includes God. God is an individual just as is anyone else. When you love your neighbors, God is ipso facto included.
Paul said it perfectly. All the law hangs on this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But see, the Reformed and the Calvinists just absolutely fucking hate that. How dare we lump God in with the fleshly creatures who inhabit weak and sickly bodies of sin and disease. Just who in the hell do you think you are? God isn’t your neighbor! they shriek. You blasphemous whore! You are the fleshly incarnation of everything God despises, and and so is your neighbor!
So, in their minds, there is NO moral or existential equivalency between God and man, which is why their must be an implicit authority structure (a “more worthy” and a “less worthy” commandment) in Jesus’s declaration that there is a greatest and second greatest commandment. Of course, Jesus’s entire ministry, message, and the fact that He was a fleshly human being who was God utterly undercuts their false theology, which is all predicated upon the categorically evil, God-despising and God-mocking doctrine of Total Depravity.
They categorically reject man as having any good at all, implicit or explicit. Inherent or acquired. Their entire theology and philosophy can be rooted in a single thought: Man’s very existence is the crux of his sin problem.
Because you ARE is why you do evil. Period. Thus, the solution to your evil-saturated metaphysic is to be removed from yourself. And this is the core of every Reformed and neo-Calvinist doctrine: YOU never get to be you. The only way to be saved is for you to confess that YOU are not you; were never really you; and that any YOU there was or will be is totally vile, totally ignorant, and totally corrupt. God has and wants nothing to do with YOU.
That is their message, and once you understand the message it is as easy to spot in their sermons and statements of faith and catechisms and creeds as Freddy Krueger at a birthday party.
So you see, they cannot possibly concede that Paul’s take on the “two greatest commandments”, if you want to call his Galatians commentary that, was, in fact, true. They cannot possibly concede that Jesus was NOT, in fact, intending to imply the lack of any moral equivalency between the two commandments, and was making the statement from a position where moral and existential equivalency are assumed, with this equivalency being rooted in a singular metaphysical TRUTH: that both man and God ARE, and thus are equal in truth and morality, and thus are both deserving of the exact same thing: love, though perhaps in different manners of expression, one of worship and the other of idealization and unfettered affirmation, because to be alive as YOU is infinitely GOOD.
No, their entire theology ultimately understands nothing but FORCE (as John Immel always aptly explains) as a means to compel moral behavior, right thinking and actions, and to gain “followers of Christ”…for their own good, of course. And that is precisely why their interpretation of the functional distinction between Jesus’s “two greatest commandments” commentary is as follows:
Yes, we shall love our neighbors, but when push comes to shove, we reserve the categorical right and divine mandate to torture and murder those neighbors should they question our “calling”, our interpretive assumptions, or our authority as God’s proxy here on earth. Loving neighbors is a different kind of love. It is a love that is utterly conditional on you doing whatever the fuck you we tell you to do, because we are God to you. The second commandment is inexorably subjugated to the first, and so also is humanity subjugated to the “will of God” as has been divinely and specially revealed to us, and not to you or the rest of the slobbering, brainless, dickless masses at whom God is constantly offended and embarrassed.
And that’s why they assume that not only are there practical and functional distinctions between the two commandments, but philosophical/interpretive ones as well. Loving your neighbor is NOT the same thing as loving God because your neighbor is of infinitely lesser worth than God. Your neighbor, saved or not, is a finite, yet infinitely and perpetually depraved mongoloid whom God barely tolerates at best. While God, on the other hand, is He who has granted to those He has called to rule and lead and “shepherd” a complete ownership of the masses, and is infinitely beyond the scope and worth and goodness and purpose and understanding of any (other) human, who is filth by comparison.
And this kind of thinking will always see false distinctions in absolutes…like love.