Saturday, July 15, 2006

Love is all you need?

A friend, an Anglican minister, holds that love is the guiding principle of any truly ethical life. Perhaps, but what about those medieval Inquisitors who held that they were expressing their love for the souls of heretics by casting out demons through the most horrible tortures? Possibly as a result of the ambiguities inherent in the word itself, the love criterion does not admit of easy application.

The hippie "love children" of my youth believed in expressing affection, including sexual love, but they excluded violence. Eventually, their commitment came up against hard economic realities, from those who would exploit them, and from their own unwise choices regarding drugs and group living.

Moreover, in using massive violence to stop Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, were we not expressing love for the millions who were suffering under their regimes?

In one of those notorious college bull sessions, most of them best forgotten, one of my peers advanced the claim that "love is a penis." This slogan seemed crass, but I couldn't think of an immediate answer. In retrospect it is too bad an open lesbian was not present. For them, love is definitely not a penis.

The whole question of the sexual component is vexatious. Clearly there are many kinds of sex, even consensual and conjugal, that involve no love at all. The traditional answer is that loving sex is only permissible within marriage. Nowadays many amend this to "within a longterm relationship." But is this fair? One scholar of sex told me that he had interviewed a man who had been very repressed. Once, however, at a gay dance he was moved to enter the dance floor and fellate one of the dancers. In retrospect the man viewed this act as almost sacramental. For him it was a truly loving moment.

Forty years ago an answer to these questions was provided in a widely read book, Situation Ethics by the theologian Joseph Fletcher. Fletcher advocates the love criterion, but only in its agape form. The distinction between eros, sensual love, and agape, spiritual love is ostensibly traced to the New Testament, as discussed in a famous book by Anders Nygren. Subsequently, scholars have shown that the bright line that is supposed to separate the two--well, it wasn't. Augustine, for example, employs three different Latin words, amor, caritas, and dilectio. While many hold that Augustine must logically condemn amor (as the equivalent of the carnal eros), he did not, using the words synonymously.

One of the practical examples Fletcher discusses is abortion. At first glance it would seem that the agape principle would require one to love both the mother and the unborn child (at least in cases where there is no physical danger to the mother). This would double the love. But no, Fletcher invokes the assumption of "complexity" to justify approval of abortion. In the matter of abortion of course this is the bien pensant--if you will the PC--solution showing that Professor Fletcher was like all of us, when all is said and done, a child of his times.

Situation ethics is widely misunderstood as a convenient form of relativism. It is not. However, the theory involves two additional assumptions that are debatable: the eros-agape distinction and complexity. In a theologian sense it is hardly a discovery in Christian ethics to argue that complexity, even deviousness, may be appropriate under some circumstances. These arguments became acute during the Reformation, when both Protestants and Catholics were faced with threats to their lives if they did not employ dissimulation. By contrast, Jehovah's Witnesses were easy prey for their Nazi persecutors because they could not lie.

Without invoking any iffy concept of complexity, one has to say that the love criterion is a murky one. On the whole, it is better to have some love than none. But beyond that tentative affirmataion I don't see where to proceed.


Blogger Danny Haszard said...

Good read my exception is that Jehovah's Witnesses DO LIE

There is no Armageddon that will annihilate 6.5 billion people,and install Watchtower leaders as world rulers.

The core dogma of the Watchtower organization is that Jesus had his second coming 'invisibly' in the year 1914.Their entire doctrinal superstructure is built on this falsehood.

Jehovah's Witnesses door to door recruitment is by their own admission an ineffective tactic. They have lost membership in all countries with major Internet access because their false doctrines and harmful practices are exposed on the modern information superhighway.

There is good and valid reasons why there is such an outrage against the Watchtower for misleading millions of followers.Many have invested everything in the 'imminent' apocalyptic promises of the Jehovah's Witnesses and have died broken and beaten.

Now if you wanted to know about the quality of a product,would you listen to the seller's pitch or a former longtime customer?
Respectfully,Danny Haszard (consumer report on the Watchtower organization)

5:27 AM  

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