Bursting Illusions: Part 2, The Cozy Joy of Loving Your Enemies

Another line of argument that Freud sets out in The Future of an Illusion is that humanity needed religion, in our evolutionary infancy, to acquire and police our emerging moral sensibilities. We needed to have a God in heaven who was watching over us and whom we feared if we got out of line. In fact, many of the great Enlightenment thinkers who spurned religion felt that religion was necessary for the ignorant masses, a moral and social glue that helped keep our political order in line. 

And again, as I observed in my last post, this is most definitely true. No denying a kernel of truth here. People do avoid certain behaviors for fear of going to hell. 

And yet, this view of faith is also naive and simplistic. Once again, being an outsider to faith, Freud just didn't know what he was talking about. The moral vision of the Bible isn't about our neurotic worry over stealing a cookie out of the cookie jar. God's isn't Santa Claus, making a list of who has been naughty or nice so as to keep the kids in line. There's nothing particularly infantile or comforting about the moral witness of the Old and New Testaments. 

Consider the book of Jonah. 

In the book of Jonah's four short chapters Israel set before herself, as an everlasting witness, one of the most shocking and disturbing moral documents ever written in the history of the world. Recall, the Assyrians burned, raped, murdered and enslaved their way through Israel. Yet here, in the book of Jonah, God shows mercy to Israel's enemies. The book famously ends with God's question to Jonah about Nineveh, the Assyrian capital: "Shall I not have pity on this great city?"

The answer, of course, is no, no you should not. These are the people who raped, slaughtered, and enslaved our people. So no, God, you should not show pity. And that's exactly what we see in Jonah's response: he wants God to burn it all down.

Just like any of us would. 

When comes to morality, do you want to know what is cozy and comfortable? Atheism. Read any of the atheist writers who blather on about morality. You'll find nothing there as disturbing, upsetting, and difficult as what you find the book of Jonah. 

I once had a long chat with an atheist about the book of Jonah. He was a tolerant, humanistic, liberal chap. Very morally cozy. He thought Jonah was a story about a whale. A child's fable. I enjoyed sharing with him one of the most scandalous stories ever told, a moral vision so shocking he seemed shaken when the message settled over him. 

You know that feeling. That warm, fuzzy feeling. The cozy joy you feel when you've been called to love your enemies.

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