The following contains Christian content. If this doesn't interest you or if it bothers you in any way, you may wish to skip over it.
One of the biggest problems that I see in Christianity is that we seem to think that when God said "everybody", He meant "a lot of people". Surely there were exceptions, and who better than us to discern what those exceptions are?
There's a problem with this way of thinking. I've talked to enough non-Christians to know that this problem is profoundly obvious to anyone from the outside looking in. I daresay the problem becomes obvious to those on the inside if we'll allow ourselves to see it. the problem is that nowhere in the Bible are these exceptions listed, or even hinted at. Strange proposition, but is it possible that when Christ said "everybody", He actually meant "everybody"?
Nowhere is this more evident than in Christ's directive to love those around us. "Render to no one evil for evil" is one example. Notice Christ didn't say "Render to only the worst offenders evil for evil", He didn't say "Render to no one evil for evil unless you're convinced it's justified", He didn't even say "Render to no one evil for evil in my name." He said "render to no one evil for evil", period, full stop, end of directive. Imagine a world in which we followed this directive? Imagine a world in which we responded to evil perpetrated on us with the love of Christ instead?
What about this "love thy neighbor as thyself" business? No, wait, uh-uh, surely he couldn't have meant my neighbors, have you met them? They've got to be the exceptions. Except again, we have no exceptions given. We're not told to love a select group of neighbors, we're not told to make sure that any neighbors we get are "worth loving", we're told to love all of our neighbors, from the jazz musician who plays his bongos too loud at three in the morning, to the kid who throws parties at awful hours, to, gasp, the family who just moved in who may have different beliefs from our own. This point was driven home to me a couple of years ago. After church, I walked into our little grocery store by our building, owned by an Islamic gentleman. When I said I'd been in church, he asked, "Do you pray for everybody in your church?" I remember thinking, that's such a profoundly good question, and the answer had darned well better be yes, or I really need to rethink things. Thankfully, the answer is yes. But it reminded me that Christ's directives on how we are to love those around us do not contain exception clauses.
And what of the Golden Rule? Surely that's a directive to be preached, but we have latitude when it comes to actually practicing it, right? Do unto others as they've done to you, perhaps, or maybe Do unto others as you fear they might do unto you? Those sound pretty good, don't they. Except ... that's not what Christ said. He said "do unto others ... not some others, not most others, not a select group of others of our own choosing, but others, the word "all" being clearly implied. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There's a lot of responsibility inherent in that last bit. It means we have to think through our responses, our reactions. It means we have to ask ourselves, would we want others to respond to us in the way we're about to respond, were the situation different? It means that so-called righteous indignation, moral outrage, even a sense of social justice is no excuse for the mistreatment of others.It means that, if I claim to follow Christ, if I respond to your actions in a certain way, I give you permission to respond in a similar way if I do those actions ... but it also means that, if that's not how you'd want to be treated, even if you have my permission you won't do it.
Imagine a world in which just a few people did everything Christ told us to do. More specifically, imagine a world in which Christians treated those around them according to Christ's instructions. Imagine if "everyone" meant "everyone", and we all showed the love we are told to have. Imagien if we didn't try to second-guess Jesus by creating exceptions lists for Him, imagine if we just took Him at His word when He told us to do something as straightforward as loving others as ourselves, as rendering to no one evil for evil, as doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
I'm no shining light in this department. I'm as guilty as the next person of the things I'm accusing other Christians of doing. But maybe an awareness of the glaring problem is a first step toward rectifying it.