What is Love? A Ridiculous Idea

A response to Michael Bones from a member of FOCUS

Until my first year at University I was a sincere member of the secular club. For almost 18 years, I was a firm believer in making the most out of my life according to the secular rules. Admittedly, this club doesn’t have any membership fees and it doesn’t have a clearly defined structure. I never even realised that I was a member. But certainly I worshipped at the club’s temples. Most of the time that consisted of a whole-hearted service of myself. How can I improve myself today?

Occasionally, I felt inspired to try to better society. I was deeply worried by our destruction of the earth, our propensity to exploit one another, our wilful blindness. Yet in that first year here at ANU, I came to realise that the explanations offered by the secular club to such problems – about human worth, about the existence of suffering – were deeply unsatisfying. I got involved with FOCUS and, eventually, I found better answers in the life, death and resurrection of a man named Jesus.

Most of Michael Bones’ article in the Woroni of May 10 year about Christianity and the Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS) was quite correct. Let me pull out a few examples. We do indeed believe in the “universal sinfulness and guilt of humanity”. In those moments when we are pulled out of the comfortable décor of Degree Cafe towards the conditions in the factory that made our iPhones, or perhaps towards the genetically mutated pig that gave birth to the ham in our sandwiches, such a view is not particularly inexplicable. We do also emphasise Jesus’ love before we talk about damnation. The gospel, after all, means the good news about Jesus, which is something we unashamedly want to tell people about. And if you stopped for a chat rather than giggling and running away, we would make it clear to you that these ideas only make sense together. We do also quite proudly affirm that “Jesus is Christianity’s get out of jail free card”.  So, yes, that Christian zealot who is harassing you in Union Court might actually be interested in talking to you about highly threatening and unorthodox topics like justice, human nature, or love. Be careful, such things are surely to be avoided at university.

We also agree, as Michael said, that something about the Christian message of redemption “feels off-putting”. It has always been off-putting. Jesus wasn’t crucified because he made people feel nice. He wasn’t interrogated by the local legends because he made people feel good about humanity’s performance. In the words of the bible itself, the news about the crucified Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). The good news just seems ridiculous given the wisdom of the world.

In a crucial sense, however, Michael’s suggestion that “Jesus is Christianity’s get out of jail free card” is not quite right. Rather than a randomly chosen card, a better analogy might be this: we get out of jail because Jesus posts the most expensive bail requirement in history. Jesus actually used similar terminology in Matthew 20:28, for example, he says about himself that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. And he did give his life. And the idea of God’s own sacrifice being at the heart of history is certainly a stumbling block to a secular world which is abjectly unused to the idea of admitting its own weakness.

Jesus’ death seems ridiculous in a modern culture that places so much value on meritocratic success, or on philosophical complexity and one’s ability to remain ‘critically open’. Yet modern culture is also deeply alienating. All of us on this side of the poverty line eat more, tweet more, change our Facebook profile pictures more, and more and more of us seem to be getting buff, and yet… I, at least, felt quite malnourished in that world. Jesus’ death and resurrection was, by contrast, deeply compelling. He died, crucially, because we all laughed at him, we all thought that the idea of a man saving people was folly. Although I am still unsure about most things in this world, I do find that wondrous love compelling. He died, and that was love.

So next time you encounter a Christian who is trying to talk to you about love, consider their situation for a moment. They live in a country and go to a university where it is systematically assumed that God does not exist. The economy, the education system, their friends, the media, the law – the very engines of society – all operate in theory or in practice as if God did not exist. This is the hegemony, the modern unthought of the secular world. The Christian who is talking to you is actually in a minority, existing in spite of that dominant context, and they consider the good news about Jesus valuable enough to try to talk to you about it.

70 or more raging evangelicals – hell-bent on converting the masses into mindless pre-Copernicans who sing hymns and vote for Sophie Mirabella – meet every Thursday at 1pm in the HA Tank. If you are brave enough, you would be very welcome to join us.