We hear much today about the Second Great Commandment – “love your neighbor as yourself” – but in the insistence that this is of supreme importance and with some using this as a weapon against Christians to point out supposed hypocrisy, the First Great Commandment – loving God – seems to get little or no attention.
The Two Great Commandments
When posed with the question: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:36 -39)
Loving our neighbors is a natural outgrowth of keeping the first commandment. Keeping the second without the first can lead to questions about whether the second is actually being kept at all.
By rejecting divinely instituted moral standards in favor of changing opinions and judgement of the group, we are left with the uncertain insecurity and shame culture we experienced as adolescents.
I read an enlightening opinion piece in The New York Times by David Brooks titled “The Shame Culture” (3-15-2016) Rather than quote extensively from it, I will try to summarize a few ideas as I understand them and encourage all to read this article yourself. As often happens to me, at the time I read this I was also reading something else – a novel about High School bullying gone horribly wrong. I recognized the concept of shame culture as basically what we all endured as adolescents – only now more pervasive and disturbing.
SHAME CULTURE AND JUNIOR HIGH
Shame culture is about one’s feeling of being good or bad being connected to acceptance by a group. It is about conforming to the specific rules of the group and meeting their expectations to receive approval. Those who violate rules of conduct or simply do not fit in with expectations or conditions of the group are excluded. In the process they are judged and negatively labeled, leading to the conclusion and resulting feelings that they are bad.
Isn’t this what most of us had to endure in Junior High and High School? The desire to be popular, to have people – the right people – like us leads to sucking up to the elite, hoping for some attention and inclusion in return.
In order to do what is right, there must be standards which we can choose to follow because we believe they are right.
I read a Facebook post with this quote from Timber Hawkeye’s “Faithfully Religionless” (FB told me a friend liked this – it was not on a Page I follow):
“I’m not against religion, I just don’t believe we need it in order to be ethical, especially since morality means doing what is right regardless of what you are told, and religion is about doing what you’re told regardless of what is right.”
My first thought was “How can you possibly know you are doing what is right?” In order to do what is right – or even to know what is right, moral, or ethical – there must be standards. One important role of religion through the ages has been to provide firm, set standards of right and wrong. The source of these standards is believed to be divine and always right – the source of absolute truth.
Rather than blindly doing what a religion says to do as the non-religious claim, the religious are actually making a conscious choice to be obedient to the standards of right and wrong that they believe have come from a divine source. They are really doing what is right, regardless of what the secular world is telling them. This is morality.