Love and Christianity
0. [Notes to self: Check attendance. And do evaluations at end.]
1. I will schedule extra office
hours between now and exam. Friday, 12/7, 4:30 pm (where?) I will email you some definitions for the exam.
2. Last time, I talked about Camus’ and Russell’s non-religious approach to the meaning
of life. I’d like to close the course by
looking at a directly religious approach to ethics, the approach of the
- The ethics of the New Testament appears to be founded
on love. Jesus affirms that if you love
God with all your self and your neighbor as yourself (note the
distinction), then “you will live”.
Paul says that “love is the fulfilling of the law.”
- One’s relationship with God and one’s love for others
are seen as tightly intertwined, especially in the first letter of
John. “[L]et us love one
another; for love is of God, and he
who loves is born of God and knows God.
He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” More generally, the first letter of John
implies that one loves God if and only if one loves neighbor.
- This creates a puzzle. Does this mean that an atheist does not
- The claim that one loves God if and only if one
loves neighbor can be read with two different emphases:
- The people we call
atheists are not really
atheists if they love neighbor.
- How could this be? Well, perhaps they love something
like the source of all goodness,
but do not know that this source is God. Thus, they love God, but do not know
that it is God that they love.
This is like someone in a Shakespeare comedy who is in love, but
because of mistaken identity, it is not clear whom he is in love with.
- The atheists do not really love neighbor.
- How could this be? Well, perhaps without God’s help, our
relationship to other people is always ultimately selfish? Or maybe to love someone, you need to
recognize what she is like—otherwise you are not really loving her. But if God exists, then the atheist
misunderstands all people, because she fails to understand the most
crucial fact about all people, namely that they are creatures of God.
- Another puzzle.
Don’t people do bad things in the name of love? Think of parents who coddle their
children not allowing them to become individuals. Or think of stalkers.
- Presumably, if the New Testament ethic of love is
correct, these are either not examples of love, or deficient examples of
love—examples where there is some love, but not enough.
- Love is tied to the reality of the person whom we
love. The more we know about the
person we love, the better we can love her. Moreover, if we misunderstand that
person, or misrepresent her to ourselves (in relevant respects), then to that extent, we are not loving
her but a fiction. Of course
because we also know many other things about her that are indeed so, we also
love really her, but our love
in such a case is not pure, because it gets wrong a (relevant) truth about
the beloved. The parent who does
not let grown children spread their wings is someone who loves adults as if they were mere children. Thus, the grown children are not loved
for being who they really are. An important
aspect of them—their autonomy—is not loved. Thus, such a parent is falling short in
- Similar things, but even to a greater extent, can
be said about the stalker. If this
is love, rather than lust, at all.
- Love, thus, requires knowledge.
3. Can a philosophical argument be given for the duty to love neighbor? Maybe.
Start by observing that love focuses one on lovable qualities in the person we love. The recognition of such lovable qualities
seems essential. Surely we love people for
their lovable qualities. Love is responsive: it rejoices in the good
things it sees in the beloved.
- Yet at the same time, we tend to recognize that the
best kind of love is unconditional. But if it is unconditional, then it
cannot be justified by qualities of the beloved that could come and
go. Thus, an unconditional love for
someone cannot be based on her sense of humor or her intelligence or even
her virtue—for all of these things can come and go.
- Our attitudes should correctly match that which they
are attitudes to. If something is
lovable, it seems the appropriate attitude is love. If something is hateful, the appropriate
attitude is hatred.
- Now, if love for any one person can be unconditional,
then the qualities that ground this love must be qualities that cannot
come and go. They cannot be qualities
like humor, or intelligence, or virtue.
What kinds of qualities are left?
Only very general qualities, like being human or being a
person or being a creature of
God. But if it is this kind of quality that is what
ultimately grounds lovability, then everyone
is lovable, and unconditionally so.
If the appropriate attitude to something or someone lovable is
love, then one should love everyone.
4. For Aquinas, love includes the following two aspects: Knowledge and good will. These result in union between the lover and the beloved. If I have love for someone, this is not some abstract benevolence like in utilitarianism. Rather, in love I see things from the point of view of the person I love, I think about my beloved, I want good things for my beloved, and I feel about things happening to my beloved like they happened to me.
- Aquinas distinguishes "love of concupiscence" (desire) from "love of friendship".
- Can we have love of friendship for God? Problem: How can we benefit God?
- Aquinas' solution: We can indirectly benefit or harm someone by benefiting or harming those that the person loves (with a love of friendship). God loves everyone. Hence, by benefiting fellow human beings we indirectly benefit God, and so we can express a love of friendship for God by benefiting God.