You’ve heard of them. When asked to name their religion they respond, “None.” They don’t identify with any particular religious faith. They may claim to be “spiritual” or to believe in some form of “god,” but they won’t let us pin a label on them and say, “Aha, you’re one of them!”
And, maybe that’s a good thing.
Well, today we begin a series I’m calling: The Nones Bible.
These are brief essays that take a hard look at traditional “sacred” stories and teachings from a non-traditional, freethinking point of view.
If you’re one of the Nones, you may not know there’s a “bible” for you.
(well, there is, and it’s being written now)
If you’re an agnostic, atheist, skeptic, freethinker, you may not realize there’s a “bible” for you too.
(well, there is, and it’s the natural scripture of life minus the super-natural)
Hopefully, no matter your beliefs or non-beliefs, you’re sufficiently confused now, which means you’re ready for the first chapter of. . .
The Nones Bible
“Is There a Religion of Love?”
As a child, our Sunday School class learned to sing, “Praise Him, Praise Him, all you little children, God is Love, God is Love.” I think there were hand motions as we sang in front of the congregation causing smiles and nods of approval from our parents and the pastor. We were so cute, you know.
As a teen, I helped out during my home church’s vacation bible camp and led children in the same song. “God is Love, God is Love!”
Thinking back on this, with a slight cringe, causes me to wonder what would have happened, to me and all the other little children, if that song had told the whole story of faith, if those lyrics had been the central message of the church. In other words, what if there really was a “Religion of Love”?
The other verses in that song we were taught as children were “serve Him,” and “love Him.” “God is love” meant “loving God.” A subtle but significant twist.
My question now is: If there actually was a Religion of Love, would you or I be followers? What would that religion look like? And might that transform if not revolutionize the world of faith?
These are not simple or simplistic questions.
In my youthful days as an evangelical, we memorized verses and sometimes put them to music. One song was based on First John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is from God, and the one who loves is born of God and knows God” (I still write this from memory). Then we read, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
What if it stopped there? Not just the scripture passage—the whole religion, the entire faith? What if this encapsulated the “good news” of the Love Religion?
Surely some will hasten to say, “Wait a minute! Our religion teaches love. Our God calls us to love. Our scriptures and our religious teachers show us how to love. Our faith is truly a ‘religion of love’.”
Yes, I hear that and understand. But this is not what I’m suggesting.
Subsequent verses in First John reveal exactly what love means and how to prove a person is a true believer. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son. Since God loved us, we ought to love one another.” Next comes the remarkable line: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another God lives in us … .” Then we hear it repeated, “God is love.” (4:10-12)
These passages in early Christian writings show us that loving is about believing—love is proof of faith. Yet, that love must be generated by a belief in Jesus as God. Otherwise, no love is possible.
Or take these famous lines from the Gospel of John (13:34-35): “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So, this is not a true religion of love. It’s a religion of Jesus. You must believe in Jesus to love, and you must love Jesus to believe. You cannot “merely love” others—authentic love is found in only one faith.
And, who can be “commanded” to love?!
The faith-love unity isn’t restricted to Christianism of course. At the end of the great revelation chapter in the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna speaks to the bedazzled Arjuna: “Only by love can people see me, and know me, and come unto me. The one who works for me, who loves me [and has] love for all creation, that one in truth comes unto me.” (11:54-55)
Here again, love is faith-bound, specific to one faith, one god.
A true religion of love would be a practice of lovingkindness, not a system of beliefs. It would not require theological assent, creeds, dogmas. It would not require scriptures at all. There would be no manual or privileged class to instruct us in what love is or how to practice it. Otherwise, we would have to wonder if it was “love” at all.
A religion of love would not require membership, only commitment to do what love requires. What is that? We would need to work it out, think about it, try and fail and try more.
A religion of love would probably be no religion at all.
Has there ever been a true religion of love? If so, where? when? How did that work and what happened to it?
There are moments in time when we see evidence of this, but the question is whether it’s a “religion” or simply a “practice of love” itself?
Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. remain among the best representatives of this ideal. Gandhi wrote that religion will not survive if it doesn’t understand that “God is Light, not darkness. God is Love, not hate. God is Truth, not untruth” (“Young India,” 1924). In his 1957 speech on “The Power of Nonviolence,” King said: “I am quite aware of the fact that there are persons who believe firmly in nonviolence who do not believe in a personal God, but I think every person who believes in nonviolent resistance believes somehow that the universe in some form is on the side of justice.”
These voices offer us a “middle way” between faith and atheism—an invitation to “take a side,” to join the religion (or philosophy, or daily practice) of light, love, truth and justice.