We readily believe the above caption concerning “beauty;” why would we think “love” any different?
Before discussing how we go about doing this thing called love, I want to draw attention to what our culture has made love.
The meaning our culture gives to love is pretty clear when one spends time listening to popular music, watching TV or the movies, 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 permissiveness.
The prevailing narrative 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 becomes equivalent to supporting these endeavors, and conversely any suggestion at curtailing our cultural permissiveness is equated with hate.
I want to dissect this narrative 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 contemporary model in order to understand the rival notions of love.
The Judeo-Christian model believes that people are good but tainted with a propensity to be attracted to anything other than God, ultimately to set ourselves up as our own gods. Thus our feelings and desires need to be held against an external standard so we don’t fool ourselves into embracing internal impulses which are unhealthy or subtle 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.
The contemporary Western cultural model is an eclectic mix of Judeo-Christian influences with a strong flavor of Enlightenment rationale. The Enlightenment produced a strong belief in the individual’s power of reason, and over hundreds of years this has gradually spread to be a general belief in the power of the individual itself. Instead of recognizing a need for the individual to hold his or her impulses against an external standard, it is the external standards that are to be molded around the individual – whatever impulses you and I experience are believed to be legitimate 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 intuit some form of acceptable moral standard.
People’s intuitive abilities are not equal. Relying on a system that puts the moral weight of actions squarely on a person’s ability to adequately be convicted by the direction of the prevailing cultural moral winds is incredibly unjust. “People should just know better” is massively presumptuous and ultimately 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 flux. While it says “be true to yourself,” it doesn’t mean universally – as one example, it does not accept (rightly so), internal desires toward pedophilia. The ground often given for opposing this and similar impulses is it violates non-adult human consent.
The problem is not this ground itself nor others like it, but is the inconsistency with which the grounds are applied. That means that they are not true standards, which thus means that contemporary society is floating in a moral miasma that is massively unjust for any persons who are unable to grasp the ever-changing story of our zeitgeist.
The violation of non-adult human 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 sans consent, 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.
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.