Tag Archives: parable

Why I refuse to love my enemies

In Matthew 5, Jesus is reported as saying, “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies.'”

I disagree with this.

After meditating on the parable of the good Samaritan, I think there’s an apparent contradiction here and I’ve fallen on one side of it. That parable was told to answer the question, “who is my neighbour?” Yet all too often, stripped of his social and historical context, we treat it as a story of loving compassion from one human being to another, with an implicit criticism of the Jewish religious authorities.

I don’t read it like that. The parable has given rise to the use of the term ‘Samaritan’ as someone who does good, even to the extent of being the name of a national charity that does everything it can to give a listening ear to those in need and to do everything that can to prevent suicide. But this use of the word misses the cultural aspects to which Jesus was appealing. To a Jewish audience in the 1st century A.D. the inhabitants of Samaria were an anathema.

The whole parable relies on a presupposition of sectarian hatred. It’s a hatred that gets turned on its head in the course of the story. To portray the parable as being about how to be nice to people is to dilute its shock value. To the people Jesus was speaking to, there was nothing good about a Samaritan. If I were to try to update it to today, I would choose one of 2 scenarios. Instead of speaking to a Jewish audience about a Samaritan, I would opt for:

  1. An audience of UKIP supporters about an unemployed Romanian migrant who wishes to claim child benefit for his 3 children.
  2. An audience of disabled activists about Iain Duncan Smith.

The point of the story, as I understand it, is that even those people about whom every fibre of your being says is no good, is your neighbour. The term enemy isn’t used here. Who is my neighbour? My neighbour is the Robert Mugabe. My neighbour is Kim Yong Un. My neighbours are Westboro Baptist Church. My neighbours are members of the EDL. My neighbour is Katie Hopkins. My neighbour is Richard Dawkins. My neighbours have joined ISIS/ISIL/IS.

To define who my enemy is, is to create an ‘us and them’ mentality. Christians are great at doing this, despite how unhelpful it is. We set up discussions as ‘Christians v Atheists’, ‘Christians v Muslims’, ‘Christians v The World’. The language of alienation is itself alien to the christian ethic that sees only neighbours and which refuses to define anyone as its enemy.

If someone else calls me their enemy, so be it; I will not reciprocate the epithet.

In short, I refuse to love my enemies because I refuse to have enemies. I have only neighbours, and I am called to love them.

The parable of the fish and the penguin

There was once a fish and a penguin swimming close to one another in the Antarctic waters. The fish said to the penguin, “Everything we move in is water. It’s all around us; it’s what we breathe and is the medium which sustains us.”

The penguin replies, “It may be all around you all the time but I only come down here from time to time. I am mostly surrounded by air.”

“Nonsense!” replied the fish. “What you call air is just a type of water. Ask any fish around here and they’ll tell you that we spend our whole lives immersed in it.”

“I am not a fish,” replies the penguin. The fish eyes the penguin suspiciously.

“Maybe you’re not, but this is fish territory,”

“Fish do live here, but so do others. The sea is a diverse and rich place,” said the penguin.

“Yes. It’s a pity all you penguins are the same,” said the fish, rather tartly.

“Oh no. To the non-penguin, there may be a strong family resemblance, but there’s a fair variety amongst us too. An emperor is quite different from a rock-hopper. I’m sure if you left the water occasionally and came to live among us, you would see,” explained the penguin.

“I couldn’t possibly leave the water. It is what we live in. Why are you so opposed to water?” asked the fish.

“I’m not against water, per se,” says the penguin. “I just couldn’t stand the idea of being in it all the time. I like to dip in occasionally, get some sustenance from it and then go and live in my own environment.”

And with that, they go they separate ways. The fish dives down into the murky depths, while the penguin hops and takes a gulp of air.

Book review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This was one of those ‘classics’ that I had just never got round to reading before. The notion of the story is one that has seeped into the public consciousness over the last 50 years, to the extent that many who haven’t read the book could give you a quick appraisal of the story. But in such instances, it is easy for Chinese whispers to miss key elements of a story. So I felt it was important to read it for myself.

The style of the book is quite straightforward which makes it very easy to read and I got through the book in a single weekend. There is nothing in the way it written that instantly makes it stand out as brilliant; the characters, though not flat, aren’t exactly full of depth. There are not many great quotes or aphorisms. The real power of the story is the idea of the narrative, which is what the author has spent the most time giving flesh to.

It is a stark warning against right wing totalitarianism, where free thought is forbidden. Yet it is not a 1984 clone. There is less of a fantastical tone about it, the curtailments of freedoms were very creeping, hence being all the more believable and frightening for it. There is one flaw in it, however. Whilst it is essentially an advertisement for books and for free thought, the only books mentioned are those that are generally considered great. It might have been rather different if the remnants of the intelligentsia had been trying to memorise Mills & Boon, Jeffrey Archer or Stephanie Meyer. That minor oversight could be applied to the book itself, as it undoubtedly a classic. The author states that the story almost wrote itself, and that is evident in the book, as it has the feel of a story that had to be told, rather than anything contrived.

A must read for all who value free thought.