Radical Christianity is defined by the two great commandments of Jesus: to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. These commandments are given without qualification, without any ifs or buts or maybes. In modern language we might say to love goodness and love all creation.
Is there any room here for holding back? I would say yes, but only insofar as there is an alternative to God which is evil. People we must love no matter who or what they are: that is an unequivocal direction. We must love even the greatest sinners, the greatest murderers and the greatest tyrants, for they are not excluded. We are not, however, bound to love their actions or their intentions, for these are plainly not “of God.”
Radical Christianity thus defined is positive to the core. Why then are people so disinclined to follow this path? The reason is this: that godliness gets in the way of self. It stands as a counter to ego and greed (the basest of human impulses) and fear and apathy and laziness. It stops us from getting more than our fair share of things, whether they be wealth or power or gratification of some other appetites. Godliness – radical Christianity – also stands up against the self-serving refusal to engage with people or creatures who are different from ourselves.
Refusal to engage with other people – refusing to love them as ourselves - can take many forms. This is the beginning of discrimination and harassment based on prejudice or intolerance. Denial of people due to their race or gender or sexuality or beliefs – the list goes on – this is as ungodly as killing or stealing or rape.
Why do people oppress minorities? It gives them power or an illusion of power. It is as if they need to shut out minorities just to preserve their own sense of self, for power is nothing but a shortcut to self-aggrandisement. This is the beginnings of the cancer of identity politics. We might also say that trying to embrace everyone and everything in an undifferentiated way is like looking into the face of the sun. It is or seems too hard.
All sorts of reasons are advanced to justify exclusion of people from the status of our “neighbour.” Typically they are accused of ungodly conduct themselves and therefore of being undeserving. Homosexual people are a prime example. Homosexuality is seen as a fundamental denial of goodness, like abortion or drug taking, and the “perpetrators” of such behaviour are therefore to be stamped out or at the very least denied rights. This is wrong inasmuch as the second great commandment makes no such distinction; it is wrong too inasmuch as it assumes things about God or goodness which may not be correct.
Here we have to ask what is “of God” and what is not. Is God confined to ideas of virtue, like truth and love and adherence to concepts assumed to be right, such as the supposed order of nature? Alternatively, does God lie in something larger, that is, the totality of everything, in which even evil and suffering have a place? To use old-fashioned language, these things too have a place in the divine order, for they act as spurs to greater goodness.
Christianity has a habit of having its cake and eating it in situations like this. It both condemns evil and suffering and justifies it as part of God’s supposed plan, albeit sometimes a mysterious and apparently illogical plan. Thus there are struggles to explain the murder of children or loss of life in natural disasters, yet somehow a greater good is always found.
Acceptance of reality may be the only way we can deal even-handedly with the two great commandments. Just as we, as radical Christians, embrace all people no matter how diverse, so we may have to accept all things as part of God. This, I suggest, is the truth underlying this reading of Christianity. It is up to us then to supply the love.