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The Crux

How to Love a Flat Earther (Or Anyone, For That Matter)

What it means to love one's neighbor

Last week, I asked readers of my newsletter/blog whether it is possible to love a flat earther. I received several responses on the various Web3 social media platforms where this newsletter/blog post was repurposed. The responses ranged from "live and let live" to "pray about it." Neither of those responses is very helpful.

Other responses included "love your enemy," which I chuckled at because I was clear that the flat earther in my life is a relative. He's not an enemy.

One well-meaning respondent said to focus on the relative's good traits and overlook the bad, which isn't bad advice but doesn't address the question.

The best response received on the question was an exhortation to look into my flat earth relative's claims without bias and if I can't convince him, then just agree to disagree. Again, while somewhat helpful, it doesn't really get to the heart of the question.

Then there are the other folks who simply said, "Why try to change his mind? He's got his opinion and you've got yours." It's as if a discussion on verifiable scientific facts is on par with whether peanut butter sandwiches taste better than marmalade.

In one sense, the flat earth question is a decoy. One could ask the same question about anything related to real facts vs. dissenting opinion. Substitute "flat earth" with "anti-vaxxer", or "pro-vaxxer" for that matter, Holocaust denier, or chemtrail fear monger. And to complicate the issue, there are enough true conspiracies in history that the rising number of conspiracy theories on everything under the sun makes it difficult to have an honest discussion with anyone who buys into the latest conspiracy fad.

But the question remains: How does one LOVE anyone who is different than oneself in some fundamental ways?

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My Personal Advantage

I'd like to say that my question was purely rhetorical. But it wasn't. It was partially rhetorical and partially a confession.

You see, I discuss in my book I Am Not the King how I grew up with a father with anger issues. Dad was a self-disclosed expert on every topic under the sun, and quite vocal about what he believed. From my view, he was wrong more often that right. As an avid reader, I thirsted for knowledge. Rather than spout an opinion on a topic, I'd research it until I understood every corner of it. And when I tried to explain the finer nuances of a subject to my father, all I'd get is a dismissive, "I don't care," Blah blah blah.

I learned to despise blatant ignorance.

I also turned away from my parents' religion, which I didn't find helpful. Later, after encountering Jesus Christ on a personal level, my thinking began to change. Over time, I became more accepting of my father's idiosyncratic way of thinking about things. We still have major disagreements, but I don't try to change his mind on things any more, even if he tries to change mine.

Regarding my nephew, I know him well enough to know some of what motivates him. I watched him grow up. At the heart of his misguided belief that the earth is flat is a disrespect for authority. I can actually relate to that. But I've found that a strong disrespect for authority leads an individual to some damaging spiritual outlooks and tends to pinprick relationships in ways they ought not be pricked. I've done plenty of that myself and am quite aware of how it happens. It can occur without the individual even being aware of it as it happens.

I was shocked when I heard my nephew talking about a flat earth and even more shocked when he used the Bible to bolster that belief. Initially, he was talking to my sister (his aunt). She's more likely to buy into his arguments, but not me. Unlike most people who claim to be skeptics, I question everything I hear and not just the common narrative passed down by authority and tradition. Skepticism is healthy.

But, like driving a car too fast, there is a point beyond which speed (or skepticism) is simply dangerous. And that's where the flat earthers are, in my opinion.

What is Love?

Christians who revere the Bible should be familiar with 1 Corinthians 8:1.

We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

I have observed over the years that arguments rise up when one person's body of knowledge bumps up against another's. Very often, two people get together to discuss a topic about which both of them are knowledgeable. The facts don't change, and they can be agreed upon, but the interpretation of those facts is usually what gets the argument going. And if one of the parties is dismissive of any of the facts, there is no way either of them will find common ground. Pride has set in and both parties lose.

That is the opposite of love.

In the Apostle Paul's famous Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, he begins with

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal.

and ends with

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.

Clearly, love is paramount. What the great apostle doesn't do is tell his Corinthian friends how to express that love in healthy ways. But he does come close in verses 4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is a great passage because Chapter 13 is often lumped together with chapters 12 and 14. The apostle was addressing spiritual gifts and how they can be used in the common worship experience. A Christian fellowship should be bound by mutual love. If it isn't, that fellowship isn't very healthy, which is why the Corinthians needed a lesson on love.

Very often, new Christians, or immature Christians, fail in ways that look ridiculous to others around them. I know this from experience. I struggled with all of these initially. At least, until I could wrap my head around them and put them into practice.

With that in mind, I'd like to walk through each of these attributes of love and explicate how to put them into practice any day of the week no matter what kind of crazy person one might encounter, whether a relative or a stranger, whether a Christian or an atheist, whether at church or the supermarket.

How to Love Your Neighbor

We can all thank the Apostle Paul for giving us a recipe for Godly love. Too bad he doesn't give us the instructions for baking that cake and which typically accompanies the list of ingredients. That's what I want to attempt to provide here. Let's dive in.

  • Love is patient - We all think we understand what patience is, but it's easier to understand on the intellectual level than it is to put it into practice. Patience is simply the ability to endure difficult circumstances without blowing your lid. I can be quite patient in certain circumstances, but when confronted with blatant ignorance, or with information masquerading as true knowledge, that's my weakness. Patience often requires a slow response as opposed to a quick retort. Thinking before speaking. Otherwise, as James says, the tongue can set the course of one's life on fire. Whatever it is, and it's different for each of us, that tends to move you off of your center, that's the place where you must be intentional about holding the tongue and speaking in more measured tones. It requires forethought and a readiness to breathe deeply in the face of a moment that could grow heated. A failure in this is a demonstration that one has not mastered the art of loving one's neighbor.

  • Love is kind - Americans have lost the art of kindness. Older folks can remember a day when two people could sit in a coffee shop, discuss politics and religion, be at total odds with each other, and walk away friends. Today, people are more apt to move to a neighborhood where people are more like them than to be confronted with diversity. Many people conflate kindness with being nice and I'd like to say they are not the same thing. You can fake being nice. You can't fake being kind. The reason for that is because kindness requires sincerity. It is voluntary. It is thoughtful. It involves empathy, which is the ability to understand how another person feels under a certain set of circumstances, even if one disagrees with that response. In short, kindness is the art of being selfless and compassionate in the face of circumstances that are difficult to swallow.

  • Love does not envy - Envy is a natural human emotion and simply means wanting something that someone else has. How difficult it is to admire someone without envying them. But that's what love does.

  • Love does not boast - Have you ever met someone whose favorite subject is themselves? Almost every sentence begins with "I". They are proud of their achievements, proud of their ideas, and proud of who they are ... and they're vocal about it. Love is humble. Boasting is not humble.

  • Love is not proud - There is a healthy kind of pride. If you are a good artist, or golfer, that's certainly something to be proud of. But the kind of pride the apostle is alluding to in this passage is pride in one's being. Pride motivates a person to prove they are better than others, even when it's obvious that isn't the case. The truth is, all of us have abilities that may go beyond that of others but that should not be a reason to show off as if we are gods in our own right. Personal pride is a relationship killer.

  • Love is not rude - Rudeness is the opposite of kindness. If you're kind, you won't be rude. You won't resort to name calling. You won't wage personal attacks on your adversaries. You'll be tempered and level-headed when it is called for. And it's always called for.

  • Love is not self-seeking - As a young man, I was ambitious. I had big dreams. But I was a self-seeker. I wanted to succeed for self-gain. This is not love. Love always seeks what is best for someone else. That can sometimes mean being confrontational or attempting to correct a wrong, but if the motivation to correct bad thinking comes from wanting to prove you're smarter or better than others, that isn't love. Love is gentle in a way that isn't self-promoting or aggrandizing.

  • Love is not easily angered - If you find yourself easily angered when someone else speaks or acts, the problem isn't them. I have found myself at certain times to be easily angered. I had to learn to control my emotions and my reactions to others. If you are patient and kind, you will not be easily angered.

  • Love keeps no account of wrongs - How many times have you heard couples arguing refer back to that time when ...? Or, worse, you've done (such-and-such) way more than I have! None of us are perfect and all of us make mistakes. To err is human, to forgive is divine.

  • Love takes no pleasure in evil - We've got to be careful with this one, else we'll call everything we disagree with "evil". The Greek word for "evil" in this verse is adikia, which literally means "injustice". It can also mean unrighteousness. In other words, we should not enjoy watching rioters and looters destroy buildings or attack the White House. We should not take pleasure in seeing people murdered, or children lying to their parents. Rather, we should rejoice in the truth about spiritual things. We should rejoice in the economics of God's kingdom and His eternal love for His creation.

  • Love endures all things - This final phrase of Paul's was meant, I believe, to be a catch-all phrase that moves the boundaries of love beyond what he describes in the previous three verses. Just as Christ endured the cross, we should be willing to endure great calamity, even callousness, and perhaps persecution, for no reason other than our belief in Jesus Christ. Whether in good times or bad, the Christian must continue loving his neighbor even when the neighbor are unlovely.

When it comes to putting love into practice, it begins with thought. One cannot produce loving actions without first committing oneself to loving others in thought. That begins with respecting them as a creature created in the image of God and a recipient of God's own divine life. It begins there, but it doesn't end there. Godly love is a recognition that all people deserve dignity even if they are themselves not dignified. Is this easy to do? Not by a long shot. But that is the life to which we are called.

Allen Taylor is the author of I Am Not the King.

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