Looking down into a wooded valley and seeing a 1500 year old monastery led to some meditations on what they must have been contemplating all these centuries. Jerusalem has that effect. What does God want from us? Moses in the Old Testament boiled it down to Ten Commandments. The first half were about our relationship with God; the second about our relationship with each other. Jesus in the New Testament simplified it down to two rules: Love God, and Love Thy Neighbor. A bit hard to match these talents. Best I could do was three rules, or maybe four:
God is God, and You are Not. Told to me by a Jesuit priest as the First Rule. He also performed exorcisms, so he lived in a medieval world, racked by metamorphoses of people and their demons. This rule is the polar opposite of the Nietzschian view that God Is Dead, or perhaps more gently put, that Man is the Measure of All Things. This is the same insight from Greek philosophy, that the greatest sin is hubris. The medieval mind twists it into a profoundly different truth, that there is but one true God. It is passing strange that the three monotheistic religions of Jerusalem all claim to worship the same god and yet have been at each other's throats for two millennia. All three claim that their way to God is the only path. This is what their politics want. But is this what God wants? In trying to live up to the commandment 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me' they violate the more fundamental rule that God is God and they are not. It is the same God after all; why couldn't He want three paths to truth, or many? Doubly ironic is that this Mein Gott Uber Alles viewpoint leads to the same sort of destruction as that of the Nietzschian view: a world without God fights the terrible wars of the Twentieth Century; a world with One True God fights interminable religious wars.
In the early Christian era, the Gnostics uncovered the implication of the First Rule - that each of us must find our own path to God - but they were suppressed by the state religion - the Roman church - and this view disappeared during the Middle Ages, only to return with a vengeance in the Reformation. Unfortunately, it seems to again be giving way to fundamentalism. The problem with fundamentalism is that it elevates Man's righteousness over God's truths, committing the very sin fundamentalists seek to eradicate in non-believers. They fail to appreciate that another implication of the First Rule is that one must be humble before God, especially in matters of faith. One must seek to know what God wants, not presume it with righteous fervor.
God is Just, but He is not Fair. The Book of Job has always troubled the faithful. The forces of good and evil, God and the Devil, wager over Job. Will his faith hold if he is severely tested? God sends the most terrible calamities on the poor man, and yet his faith holds, and God wins the bet. Then he is rewarded, although that seems a bit of an after-thought to the story. In America today, where everything you need to know is learned in Kindergarden (the title of a recent best-seller), the Kindergarten way of expressing the story of Job is: why do bad things happen to good people? Well, if God is God and you are not, why should the faithful presume on God? Why should God reward you for being good? You are being good to find the path to God, and maybe the way is more challenging than for those having more fun than you over in Vegas.
If the story of Job is hard to swallow from a God of infinite fairness, consider the New Testament. The Jesuit Priest in his severe style took me through three parables of Jesus that show that our view of fairness is not God's view. Let's look at two of them:
The Prodigal Son. We think we know this one from Sunday School, but reconsider its message. A rich man had two sons, and gave them each their share of the fortune early. One stayed at home, living the same life as his father, enjoying the wealth and lifestyle of the landed gentry. The other ran off and lavished in wine, ravished with women and avariced with wagering. Of course he lost it all, and ended up in the gutter, living in filth and eating out of pig troughs. (Today he would have to undergo the petty humiliations of waiting in line for welfare, and eating in Salvation Army soup kitchens, being told the evils of alcohol.) He got up the courage to return, and his father welcomed him with open arms, roasted the fatted calf, and said nothing of the lost fortune. At this point most listeners believe forgiveness is the point of the parable, but it goes on. The other son is outraged. He had done the prudent thing, and his father never killed the fatted calf for him! His father explains that how he deals with one son has no relationship to how he deals with the other, and furthermore the homeboy had spent many years in his father's company while the party animal was lost and alone, so why is he complaining at all? He lived the better life.
The Man and his Vineyard. An even more striking example is the second parable in this series. A man goes into town to hire day workers, paying them a day wage for 8 hours. After a few hours he finds he needs more workers, so he goes back and hires some more at the same day rate for only 6 hours work. Then he finds he has to do it again, for only 4 hours, and again, for the final 2 hours. At the end of the day he pays them all the same amount, and the first crew of workers are outraged. We worked for 8 hours, and they only 2, and we got the same pay? Where is the fairness in that? The man says to them, why do you care what deal I made with another? You were ok with the deal when I made it, what has changed? I made a separate deal with each of you.
The implication of the Second Rule is that life is unfair. You do not choose the path of good like a little puppy dog to be rewarded with a few scraps from the Master. You choose the path of good to live a better life. Its way is often harder. The Lord makes an individual deal with you, and often puts great challenges in front of some but not others. Who knows why? God is God, and you are not.
I suppose a nitpicker could argue that this Rule is a corollary of the First Rule, and boil this down to two Rules: one about our relationship with God, and the other about our relationship with each other. But in the days when we were told to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" the level of intrusion of government in daily life was a lot less than it is today. Now we swim in a sea of Political Correctness, where the search for Equality has replaced the fight for Liberty. There needs to be a Rule about our relationship with the community in the middle of the two other Rules. We have gone a long ways away from Justice in the journey towards Fairness.
God is Love, but We Must Walk in the Other Man's Shoes. Most of of the great religions came up with the same rule about the same time. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Does this mean, if you like pizza and beer, serve it to your neighbor, because that is what you would wish your neighbor would serve unto you? Of course not. They may prefer something else! De gustibus non disputandem est.
What it means is to stand in the shoes of your neighbor and see the world her way. It is really a rule about the process of loving a neighbor (how to do it), not the substance (what to do). It is very hard to do. To love thy neighbor requires one to truly understand, to grok, who they are and how they view the world. Failure to do this does not just lead to insensitivity and misunderstanding, but to the most heinous acts we do to each other. How can you torture someone? Psychologists find it requires turning them in your mind from a human being like you into something lesser. How can a Holocaust happen? Only when there is a master race and lesser peoples.
Know Thyself. There may be only Three Rules of God, but there may be a fourth rule for Man. The major religions have not taken the next step into a rule about our relationship with ourself, other than to forbid suicide or perhaps frown on personal vices. Yet we live in a world full of addictive behavior and mental illness. Having banished the demons as a way to excuse such behavior, we now must face up to this challenge. The Greek philosophers boiled it down to knowing oneself. What that means is the subject of a later post.