In the last week or so there have been many film montages of ‘memorable moments’ from 2012 and many a gushing commentator has spoken about the ‘Spirit of the Olympics’. It struck me at the time that many of the qualities that were being applauded (friendliness, helpfulness, cheerfulness, hospitality) are fairly fundamental Christian qualities. Not that I am claiming exclusive rights to these qualities which can clearly be demonstrated by anyone from any religious or non-religious background but when Paul exhorts Christians to clothe themselves with ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ (Colossians 3:12) he was surely recommending a distinctive dress code for Christians that would have certainly made them stand out.
It seemed odd to me that for the weeks the Games were on, we gave ‘official permission’ for people wearing a distinctive dress code to be simply ‘nice’. And what a tangible difference their presence made: they were allowed to say ‘good morning’ or ‘have a great day’ or ‘how can I help you?’ without any one thinking they were… well, weird really. Because that’s what we tend to think of ‘ordinary’ people who are spontaneously positive and cheerful.
Many column inches of analysis has poured over the question of ‘how can we keep this ‘spirit of positivity’ going? Somehow we know the obligatory MacDonald’s ‘Have a nice Day’ is just not going to cut it.
Yesterday I read the quotation below. I’ve substituted one phrase for the words ‘spirit of the Olympics’, I think it still works.
‘Human life was always intended to be lived under the (Spirit of the Olympics). Deep down it is what all of us long for, to live in a world where we love and are loved, where we treat each other and the whole created order with gentleness, humility and kindness, where we can be creative, hospitable, generous and forgiven. This is the place where we flourish best, even if we don’t always recognise it. When we see a community of people living under (the Spirit of the Olympics) in this way, it is immensely attractive.
So what words did I take out? The original quote spoke about the ‘rule of God’. But to humanists and atheists this reference to an almighty deity would be an offensive intrusion. All of which raises an interesting question, one I keep coming back to, ‘can we be good without God?’
Let’s rephrase that question by substituting the contentious word ‘God’ with a value that everyone accepts and appreciates: ‘love’. So the question becomes, ‘Can we be loving without being loved?’
And the weight of evidence says ‘No’. What makes us able to be loving, secure, compassionate, considerate individuals is the extent to which we have been loved. Yes, of course there are exceptions: people who rise above appalling backgrounds of rejection or abuse but generally the more loving we are, the more likely we are to have experienced love.
It may be that we were imperfectly loved by emotionally tongue-tied parents but the undisputed foundation for a secure adult life is at least some experience of love as a child. That experience, albeit imperfect is what gives us the personal security, the generosity of Spirit to be loving, even to unlovely people.
And the opposite experience is true. The principle that ‘hurt people hurt people’ holds true whether you are talking about mass shootings, inconsiderate neighbours or awkward relatives.
Those most damaged by some deficit of love in their own background are most likely to behave defensively, spitefully, self-protectively whether that’s shown in petty rivalries, hurtful indifference or mindless acts of violence.
So CAN we be loving without being loved? No I don’t think we can.
Can we be good whilst turning our back on the ultimate example of goodness, God himself?
To be a Christian is to live one’s life as if it were true that God did indeed make us and does indeed love us. Believing it to be true is called ‘living under God’s rule’ and generates the kind of society of which we were all, temporarily, pleased to be a part.
The quote is from Chris Tomlin’s The Provocative Church – very good, I recommend it.
The other post that raised this question is https://sheilasfeelgoodblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/from-shampoo-to-shoes-spirituality-sells
Excellent post Sheila. In my quest for faith, I find when I’m uncertain about something I just substitute the word “love” in and things get much clearer.
The answer to your question ‘can we be good without God?’ must be both yes and no. The answer is yes because all humans are made in the image of God and so capable of doing good. The answer is no because there is no need for them to recognise God as the source of that good.