We readily believe the above picture concerning “beauty;” why would we think “love” any different?
Before discussing how we go about loving others, I want to draw attention to what our culture has turned love into.
The meaning our culture gives to love is pretty clear when one spends time listening to music, watching TV or the movies, browsing social media, or noticing any one of a number of various social protests or movements: apart from the emphasis on love being a feeling is the strong belief that love means being permissive.
The popular belief is a strong encouragement for people to “find who they really are” and to be true to that no matter what anyone else says. Love then means supporting these endeavors, and any suggestion that could limit our permissiveness is equated with hate.
I want to look closely at this belief, though, because it isn’t consistent or sustainable – and I hope you can hear me out, because part of love is being honest and upfront. A silly but true metaphor is that if you think you see a friend sprinting toward the edge of a cliff, it is loving to share with your friend what you perceive, not to offer encouragement as they run toward potential death.
So let’s compare and contrast some aspects of the Judeo-Christian model of humanity with the popularly-accepted cultural model in order to understand these rival ideas of love.
The Judeo-Christian model believes that people are good but broken with a tendency to be attracted to anything other than God, ultimately to set ourselves up as our own gods. Because of that, our feelings and desires need to be compared against an standard outside of ourselves so we don’t fool ourselves into embracing internal urges which are unhealthy or rebellions against God. It believes that not all of our feelings and desires are good, and we need help to identify the ones that aren’t.
In contrast, the contemporary Western cultural model is an odd mix of Judeo-Christian influences with a strong flavor of Enlightenment rationale. The Enlightenment, starting in the 16th and 17th Centuries, produced a strong belief in a person’s power of reason, and over hundreds of years this has gradually become a general belief in the power of the individual itself. Instead of recognizing a need for a person to hold his or her impulses against an outside standard, it is instead the outside standards that are to be molded around the individual – whatever impulses you and I experience are believed to be real expressions of our “true” self, and we are called to embrace all impulses and follow wherever they lead.
One major problem with this model is it is wildly inconsistent: it preaches the message of being true to whatever impulses one experiences, but it doesn’t really mean it.
It relies heavily on each person’s ability to figure out by instinct some form of acceptable moral standard.
People’s abilities to do this are not equal. Relying on a system that puts the moral weight of actions on a person’s ability to be moved by the direction of the prevailing cultural moral winds is incredibly unjust. “People should just know better” is uncaring for those people who, for whatever reason, are not able to pick up on the majority opinions of society.
This moral standard is at its heart undefined and in a constant state of change. While it says “be true to yourself,” it doesn’t mean always – as one example, it does not accept (rightly so), internal desires toward pedophilia. The reason often given for opposing this and similar impulses is it violates non-adult consent.
The problem is the inconsistency with which this reason is applied. Because it is inconsistent, that means it is not a true standard (because a standard is stable), which means that contemporary society is floating in a moral haze that is massively unjust for any persons who are unable to grasp the ever-changing story of our zeitgeist.
The violation of non-adult consent is not a standard because we don’t consistently apply it: while we think we allow adults to do whatever they want with other consent-giving adults, and we think we protect the rights of children, neither is actually true.
Regarding adults, we don’t allow polygamy; we don’t allow suicide or assisted suicide; we don’t allow injecting or ingesting whatever drugs or chemicals we want into our bodies. Regarding children, arguably (and I emphasize “arguably” because this is debatable), IF human life begins within the womb and not at an undetermined moment outside it, we don’t protect the rights or lives of numerous kids by our multiple policies on abortion.
The contemporary model of humanity and love is inconsistent, incomplete, and inadequate. While it certainly touches on many particular truths, as an overall model it fails.
We don’t live our lives in a way that suggests we actually believe all our desires and feelings should be explored to find our “true” self. We don’t consistently treat love as if it is permissiveness (it certainly is not how we raise our children – for good reason).
These are not accurate models of successfully being a human in society and thus not a true narrative concerning the meaning of love.