The prevailing worldview in America today is neither Christian nor secular. It is that of the Qumran Community, a separatist cult living in the Judean Desert in Jesus’ day. Their core premise was dualism – dividing the world into good and evil. Zoroaster did that first. But the Qumran community eagerly anticipated a resolution of this division through an apocalyptic bloodbath in which they, the Sons of Light, would vanquish everyone else, the Sons of Darkness. In The War Scroll, the leaders anticipate the great day when the sons of light put forth their hands to make a beginning against the lot of the sons of darkness. (1qm 1:1).
The two key obligations of membership in the Qumran Sons of Light were love and hate. Members vowed to love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in the council of God, and to hate the sons of darkness, each according to his guilt in the vengeance of God" (1qs 1:9–11). The apostate is to be cut off from the midst of the sons of light. (1qs 2:16).
Beginning with the Enlightenment, but especially since the birth of nationalism in the 1930s, we define good and evil, light and dark, more by politics than religion, but it comes to much the same thing. Qumran dualism is the prototype for how the left and right view each other today. Each side sees itself as the Sons of Light and their adversaries as the Sons of Darkness who must be forced to convert or die.
Early Christianity included diverse views; but let’s focus on the three main voices: Jesus, St. Paul, and St. John the Evangelist.[i] Jesus does not set up an apocalyptic shootout. He makes two statements that recognize a division of ways of being. In Luke 16: 8, he says the people of this world are more shrewd.. . . than the people of light. At John 12: 36, Jesus teaches his disciples to believe in the light so as to become children of light. That’s it. No hating the world, no hating the children of darkness. To the contrary, Jesus said at Matthew 5: 43-48, You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. ...
Paul, at Ephesians 5: 8 and I Thessalonians 5: 5 urged followers of the Way to live as children of light but did not call for war against anyone. In Chapter 4 of his First Epistle, John posits a spirit of Anti-Christ to be overcome, but it turns out that spirit is overcome not thorugh domination but rather love. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Now this is the point that gets confusing. What is the attitude for Christians to take toward Qumran’s Sons of Light? How are proponents of peace and justice to regard perpetrators of violence and injustice? Jesus said, (B)e children of you Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. ... Jesus prescribes a kind of equal regard, to use the term most common in contemporary Christian ethics to interpret agape.[ii] Such equal regard is not about agreeing. It’s about caring, wishing well, acknowledging each other’s human worth. That attitude is in short supply among the adversaries in today’s political arena. Even Christian leaders are sometimes all too ready to cast out those who are not following Jesus. But Jesus did not cast out those who did not follow him. How then can lovers of the light of peace also love the violent and oppressive?
Lucretius was a 1st Century CE Roman philosopher[iii] who wrote his philosophy in verse. He began his classic, The Nature of Things, in a rather perplexing way for one who did not literally believe in gods, with a love scene between Venus and Mars. He drew on the ideas of a 5th Century BCE Greek philosopher, Empedocles. In his view, the universe is governed by the interplay of two forces, Love (represented by Aphrodite/Venus) and Strife (represented by Ares/Mars). In Lucretius’ and Empedocles’ view, Strife is necessary to keep things moving, to stir the waters, to spark change necessary for life. So, like it or not, in this world, there will be trouble. Jesus knew that. He said, I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.[iv]
Strife goes with the turf of earthly life. But if Strife is not contained, held, embraced within the larger context of Love, the universe falls apart. We need the centripetal power of Love to hold us together when our centrifugal impulses would hurl us into chaos. It is precisely Mars who must be embraced by Venus. The Christian way of being in the world is agape, equal regard, caring for the just and the unjust. But that is our way only for now. The Christian Faith and Hope is in Eternity. And in Eternity, Love wins.
[i] St. John the Divine sometimes seems more in line with Qumran than his fellow Christians.
[ii] Gene Outka, Agape: An Ethical Analysis
[iii] I admit it is ironic I am citing Lucretius since he was decidedly anti-religious and was anathematized by St. Jerome in the 4th Century. But I appeal outside the Christian box quite intentionally to show there is a solid philosophical foundation for our way.
[iv] John 16: 33