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The Heretics of Love

02.05.12

 

 

"For many years, in fact since my childhood, I have been amazed by the swashbuckling claims that people routinely make on behalf of love – and on behalf of their own capacity to love. It seems that, if only we work at it, love can be a cocoon of perfection: it can make us feel totally secure, wanted, and respected in all our individuality; it can redeem the brevity and imperfections of life; it can give meaning and purpose where nothing else can; it can protect us from every abyss. The Royal wedding in Britain is likely to be a showcase of such sentiments – and of their almost unquestioned status.

(...)

"It is fascinating to discover that Jesus is much more modest in his talk of love than we tend to be these days – or than much of the Christian tradition that speaks in his name.  As he is quoted in the gospels, he never presents love as an all-purpose solution to life’s problems or suggests that human beings can become gods through love.  Indeed, it came as a surprise to me to discover that in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke he seldom talks about love at all, and almost never mentions sex.  Other things concern him far more – not least pride and greed for money."

Which led me to one of the main themes of my book: love became god only in modern times – that is, roughly since the mid 18th Century. This can’t be a coincidence, for since the 18th century belief in the Judeo-Christian God has drastically declined, and it seems that the religion of love has rushed to fill the vacuum. Indeed I see the divinization of love as the latest attempt by human beings to steal the powers of gods – attempts portrayed in the earliest myths, such as Adam and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or Prometheus’s theft of divine fire.  Such hubris, like every attempt to arrogate divine power to humans, is doomed to end badly.

In a sense, therefore, we are waging the wrong ‘God Wars’ today. Dawkins, Hitchens and Co are still fighting the last war: many if not most of their arguments against the ‘delusion’ of believing in an all-good, all-powerful, saving, creator God have been around for at least a century or two.  Both sides of the argument have well-rehearsed positions, to which little of any novelty has been added in recent years.

As importantly, the war itself is regarded as legitimate by all parties to it. It is acceptable, even honourable, to fight about whether God exists and whether belief in him is good or bad for human flourishing.

But is it yet acceptable to debate publicly whether parents love their children unconditionally?  Have we yet asked how much damage love as religion is doing to human flourishing – and whether there isn’t a more realistic and successful way of conceiving this greatest of emotions?  My book is an attempt to find out.


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