Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Love does not seek its own"

Here is another excerpt from Section 2.2. of my forthcoming One Body book.

One way love is humble is that the actions of love are not focused on agapĂȘ itself [...]. There would be something odd about a parent explaining why he stayed up the night with a sick child by saying: “I love my son.” Surely the better justification would be the simpler: “He is my son.” The latter justification puts the parent in a less grammatically prominent spot (“my” instead of “I”), and shows that the focus is on the son. Most importantly, however, the use of “I love my son” as a justification would suggest that if one did not love him, the main reason to stay up the night would be missing. But the main reason to stay up the night is that he is one’s son. That he is one’s son is also a reason to love him as one’s son, and that one loves him may provide one with a further reason to stay up with him. However, the main reason for staying up is not that one loves him; rather, the love, expressed in the staying up, is a response to a reason that one would have independently of the love. Thus, in an important sense, the parent acts lovingly—acts in a way that is at least partly constitutive of love—without acting on account of love. Love’s actions are not focused on love but on the beloved as seen in the context of a particular relationship.

However, to explain why we made some sacrifice for someone to whom we had no blood ties, we might well say, “I love him.” Nonetheless, I suggest, this may be an imperfection—it may be a case of seeking one’s own. Why not instead act on account of the value of the other person in the context of the relationship? It is true that love may be a central part of that relationship, but I want to suggest that love is not the part of the relationship that actually does the work of justifying the sacrifice. For suppose that I stopped loving my friend. Would that in itself take away my obligation to stand by him in his time of need? Certainly not. The commitment I had implicitly or explicitly undertaken while loving him, a commitment that made it appropriate for him to expect help from me, is sufficient for the justification. If I need to advert to my own love, then something has gone wrong.

Besides, there would a circularity in appealing to one’s own present love to justify one’s basic willingness to engage in loving actions for the beloved. For if one were not willing to do loving actions for the other, then one would not be loving the other, and hence a total failure to will to do loving actions for the other would not be a violation of love, for there would be no love there to be violated. Of course, such a failure might well be a violation of one’s duty to love the person (whether arising out of personal commitment, or a general duty to love everyone or some specific duty like those we have to our relatives), but that is a different issue. It is not love, then, that justifies the general willingness to act lovingly, but the value of the other and the kind of relationship that one stands in to the other apart from the fact of love.


Kiel said...

I was listening to this song the night of the morning I read this blog post. I couldn't help but smile!


Kiel said...

...and because Blogger is unhelpful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywloS71iLLQ

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

One thing that clarified to me what love is was when I was in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Catholic Church) when one of the instructors said that "Love is not a feeling. Love is an action." Another instructor put it this way "Sin is a failure to love."

Much of the non-Christian or post-Christian world is really totally confused by what love is. There was the famous line from the 1970’s movie “Love Story”: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” However this isn’t true, because we often have to say we’re sorry to people we love when we ask their forgiveness. Love is way too often connected with feelings rather than actions, and when the feelings fade (because that’s the natural course for feelings) where is the love? Another issue is that in general people confuse love with infatuation and say that love is blind. When it comes to love the Post-Christian world often is more apt to think erros than agape. And as the years have passed, this has become more pronounced. Love is too often tied to “Does he/she meet my needs?” and not to “Do I meet his/her needs?”. A reason many people see as legitimate for leaving relationship or having an affair: “MY NEEDS were just not being met”. A person belonging to a non-Christian religion often has a hard time grasping the Christian concept of love. I was once in a Jewish bookstore looking for Stone’s Torah with the Orthodox Rabbinic commentaries (I’ve found it to be a great reference book). When the one of the guys running the store, an older gentleman who knew I was a Catholic asked “What is this love?” What was easy to explain to another Christian became totally difficult to explain to this Jewish fellow. Agape was just not something he could grasp. Then there is the popular notion that having sexual relationships isn’t wrong if two people “love each other” even if they are not married to each other because “loving someone isn’t wrong”. With this crowd, which includes many people my age and younger, the Christian concept of love is truly, truly alien. As a Christian, one might as well be an extraterrestrial that has just stepped off a UFO. I had a spiritual director tell me once “That as Christians we are the counter culture.”

Part of this confusion over what love is was because many of us were never clearly taught what love was either by our parents or by our churches. When I was growing up, I never recalled getting any kind of clear definition on love other than “Real love waits.” Or “If he really loves you, he’ll wait for marriage.” But the rationale about why that is so was seldom clearly explained perhaps because it was assumed as a given. This is unfortunately true for lots of people. A major contributor to this confusion was the 1960’s cultural revolution with its hallmark of “free love”. The only thing I recall being told back then was that this was bad, but there was no explanation about why other than it was bad, which in effect amounted to no real explanation. Then in the 1970’s we had what was called the “Me decade”. It was all about “doing your own thing”. In the 1970s, more people began living together “if they love each other”. In the 1980’s being a “yuppie” (Young Upwardly Mobile Professional) was it and things were all centered around “me and my career” especially in landing that perfect dream job with a high salary and lots of prestige and “having it all”. Being a “yuppie” was considered a positive thing by many people, especially among professionals; therefore, overlooking the potential for unhealthy narcissism was all too easy. This was when the “committed relationship” became quite accepted among my peers.