Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#LoveWins (Part 2): Does Love Always Equal Love?

In my previous post I sought to make a distinction between those who genuinely hate their neighbor (viz. hatred of homosexuals), and those who object- on moral grounds- to the elevation of homosexual partnerships to the status of marriage. Admittedly the following post is a bit more challenging than the former, for I ended the previous one with a very pregnant question; "How can anyone be against two people who are in love getting married; two people who- for all intents and purposes- simply want to memorialize that love?". After all, it is far easier to argue that mere disagreement does not rise to the level of hate, than it is to make the case that someone doesn't love someone they claim to love.

Let me begin by saying that I do not wish at all to suggest that person A does not love person B (or vice versa). If someone tells me they love someone I take them at their word, especially when their actions follow their declaration. I do not doubt for a moment that two homosexuals are capable of loving each other (anymore than anyone else is capable of it), and I think to suggest otherwise is misguided and wrong.

Consequently, the only way that there is even room for debate is if there is anything more than subjectivity involved in defining love. If there isn't, then there really is nothing left to debate at all: Love = Love… The end. Love inevitably has a subjective component, but the real question is, does it also have an objective element as well (i.e. are there moral obligations that transcend personal preferences)?

Part of the difficulty in defining "love" comes down to the fact that the English language is not equipped to make fine distinctions concerning its meaning. It is not equipped to do so because there is only one word in English for "love". For example, I love Vito's pizza, I love my cat Willow, and I also love Agnes, Agatha, Jermaine and Jack... not to mention my wife Lita. Thus, if the word "love" can be thrown around in such a wide variety of ways, then how much more likely will it be then that we might confuse its meaning?

For this reason, I would  like to argue that Greek provides us the best basis by which to distinguish the different types of love. In Greek there are four words for love: 1) Storge - a natural affection or affinity for someone or something; 2) Philia - brotherly love/ friendship; 3) Eros - erotic love/ sexual desire or attraction; 4) Agape - sacrificial love/ divine love. What separates agape love from the rest of the loves is that agape is fundamentally a decision (an act of the will), whereas the others tend to represent more of a natural affinity and/or attraction for someone or something.

A prime example of just how important this distinction is can be observed in the following passage from the Gospel of John (John 21:15-19);
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him,“Follow me!”
If you simply read this passage in the English, all that you are likely to glean from it is the notion that Jesus seems to be reminding Peter of his three-fold denial of him during his Passion. However, in the Greek, the context becomes far more rich, for the passage employs two different forms of the Greek word for "love". Jesus asks Peter if he loves him "agape", Peter responds in the affirmative, but qualifies his response by using the word "philia" ("Yes Lord, you know I love you philia"). This changes the whole connotation of the passage. Indeed, as a result of this linguistic distinction, the reader becomes aware of an entirely new dimension (i.e. the notion that Peter would be wise not to overestimate his own ability to love, especially if he is to remain faithful until death). Obviously there is more to be said about this passage, but hopefully this brief explanation demonstrates just how important the Greek is in helping one to gain greater insight into the meaning of this passage.

Another prime example of just how misleading (and potentially dangerous) an overly simplistic interpretation of this word can be is revealed in the following commercial:

Now if this very effective anti-discrimination ad had been employed in the defense of "philanthropy" (i.e the "brotherly love" of humanity), then I would have said "bravo!" For when you look at it, we are all the same underneath, and discriminating against someone simply because of their race or skin color is completely arbitrary and an irrational distinction. However, what this x-ray machine is employed to justify is not merely the equality of persons, but rather the equality of all forms of romantic love, and in particular to critique the prejudices of those who might oppose them. Here's the problem with the message of this most clever and extremely well produced video: if we were to actually follow the logic of it to its natural end, you would find yourself justifying any number of questionable relationships, relationships that even the freest of spirits might find disturbing.

Imagine we added a little more footage to this commercial, and along with everything else that was presented, we included a mother and a son emerging in a passionate embrace? What if we also did the same with a father and a son? What if a brother and a sister emerged, or a married person engaging in an adulterous kiss with a stranger (it's scary when that's the most acceptable of the choices)? The point is this commercial doesn't make the case for homosexual relationships- rather, it makes the case for eros under any circumstance. Indeed, according to the rationale of this advocacy commercial, as long as a person has a human endoskeleton (which includes every member of the human race), then they are a qualified as a candidate for a hook up. Is that what we mean to say when we argue that "love is love"?

Sometimes love actually means not entering into (or engaging in) a romantic/sexual relationship at all- even when our passions might suggest otherwise (see Plato and Aristotle). Sometimes the four loves are indeed in conflict, yet if we truly love that other person, we are obliged to defer to a more challenging and chaste form of love. What if a father is sexually attracted to his long lost daughter? Woody Allen once famously retorted when seeking to justify his impending marriage to his step-daughter; "the heart wants what it wants". What if an uncle is attracted to his nephew? What about a teacher and a student hooking up (think Mary Kay Letourneau)? What if a married man falls in love with his therapist, and what if a senior in high school is attracted to an eighth grader, same sex or not, and so on?

I bring these relationships up not necessarily to compare them to same sex relationships, but rather to point out that there is more to the rules of sexual love than feeling amorous towards another person (coupled with their consent). In other words, there are objective norms for sex, even if we don't look at it that way. The question is: why are those rules there in the first place? What most fail to consider with these unsavory relationships is why we oppose them in the first place. And why is the public conscience formed in such a way so as to feel a general sense of disgust when discussing them?

We fundamentally reject these practices today only because the early Church fought so vigorously to make them taboo. And why did they fight so tirelessly to make them so? Because Christians came to the understandable conclusion, based on faith and reason, that it was the best way to safeguard the purity and stability of the family. Get rid of those taboos and constraints and you get rid of what they were there to protect.

These are primarily negative/disturbing examples of what can happen when love is purely defined by eros. However, there are plenty examples of what can happen when eros is placed in the service agape. For example, priests and religious take vows in order to devote themselves and their passions to the service of the poor and the most needy. I know a man whose wife had a terrible car accident early on in their marriage. The woman suffered such severe brain damage that she and her husband could no longer carry on a typical married relationship. The husband nevertheless remained faithful to his vow. Sexual love is a beautiful thing, but it is not necessarily the highest thing, nor is it to be regarded as an act of love simply by virtue of its function. In order for sexual love to regarded as "love" in the deepest sense it must be at the service of agape.

Whatever one's position on this topic, one thing is absolutely certain- the way that "love" is being defined today is at best inadequate, and at worst, destructive. As stated before, the aim here is not to deny one person's loves of another, but rather to ask this basic question: in what context is a sexual act to be regarded as loving? For instance, can sodomy ever be considered an act of love, or is it intrinsically damaging to a genuine friendship?

What is indisputable is that most people ultimately agree that there are some sexual acts that must be regarded as objectively immoral (e.g. incest or pederasty), the question is where, when, and why do we draw the line where we do?

There are many ways that we can dehumanize one another, and homosexuality is only part of the equation. However, if nothing else, hopefully what is gleaned from this particular discussion is that sexual love, if it is to be regarded as love at all, must not involve anything degrading or dehumanizing. And if we are to love one another in the deepest sense of the word (agape), we must discover other forms of affection beyond those of eros alone, or rather learn to employ eros in a more constructive fashion.

However, perhaps the greatest irony of all in this whole discussion concerning love and hate, comes down to the fact that it was the Christian Faith in the first place that commanded us to love our neighbors and bless our enemies. It was the Christian Faith that initially revealed to us our high destiny as children of God. And it was the Christian Faith that told us that "God is love", and that of all things, "He so loved the world that He gave us his only begotten Son..."

Nevertheless, the plough share has been turned into a sword, and the pruning hook into a spear. The gift has been turned into a weapon to be used against the Father in order to condemn him as cruel and inhumane. The Prodigal Son strikes back, employing a most cynical tactic, a sleight of hand whereby the lesser loves are substituted for the greater- and the greatest love of all is to be regarded as the most negligible. Interestingly, it was the Christian Faith that initially gave us chivalry, romantic love, and a divine Son falling prostrate at the feet of an earthly bride- that self-same religion (and God) that is now being scolded as the true enemy of love and marriage.

The last point that I want to address on this subject is the question of where to draw the line as it relates to sexual intimacy. In other words, what type of relationship needs to be present in order to claim that a sexual act is in fact an act of true love (i.e. when does sexual love = Love). I will attempt to answer this question in the following post.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

#Love Wins (Part 1): Defining Hatred

When I was in grade school there was a girl in my class whose mother apparently lived with another woman. How we all knew this seems very vague to me now, but safe to say, we were all aware of it somehow. This girl also happened to be a friend of mine. We certainly weren't "besties" or anything, but we did share a natural affinity for one another. I bring this all up only because in recent years there has obviously been a concerted effort to ramp up the rhetoric between those who oppose same-sex relationships, and those who are in favor of them. Whereas in the early aughts, if one happened to disagree with such relationships, one might have been regarded as a tad judgmental; now, if one even dares to raise a concern, one risks being labelled a hate-filled bigot (something on par with the KKK).

Looking back on grade school (a time when everyone was presumably less tolerant than they are today), I do not recall ever feeling anything even approaching the sentiment of "hatred" surrounding these matters. In fact, I don't remember thinking much about it at all. I probably thought to myself, well, that's different, but it's really none of my business anyway, and I think many of my classmates felt the same way.

Twenty to thirty years years ago, if someone in your family were under suspicion of living an "alternative lifestyle" (as was the popular phraseology in my day), aunt Betsy (or some such person), would usually pester uncle Billy and ask him why he couldn't find a decent girl and settle down. Obviously this issue gets more complicated when applied to a parent-child relationship, but that would be true regardless, for oftentimes our hopes and dreams are quite different from theirs.  

Point being, it was not in those "hate-filled" days of intolerance where people felt most compelled to make resounding  judgments about the moral lives of others. Quite the opposite, it is in these dark times that one feels most compelled to make definitive judgments. I am relatively certain that in grade school no one would have asked me what I thought about Heather having "two mommies", but now everyone and their brother must "judge", not because religion compels us, but because civil society demands it. And what happens if I "judge" wrongly? Well then I am "on the wrong side of history", and no doubt filled with rage and hatred. They are filled with love, and I hatred. No fine shades of gray allowed.

Yet what perplexes me now (as much as it would have back in grade school) is this charge of "hatred". I may or may not have had a position on this matter back then (I frankly don't remember), but what I can say with relative certainty is that hatred would have had nothing to do with my position, whatever it turned out to be. What's more, it's always a little bit bizarre and pedantic being told how you feel about something, especially when you don't feel that way at all.  

It is a bit like accusing someone of hatred for objecting to the practice of cohabitation. Yes, if you really want to press me on the issue, I will give you my honest assessment of this increasingly popular living arrangement, not because I want to judge anyone in particular, but because I do have some specific ideas about what makes for a good society (and there are any number of studies that support my position). Call me opinionated, call me naive if you like, but hate-filled? Really? What does that even mean in this context? And why should the "mean/nice scale" replace any substantive dialogue on these matters? Cohabitation is not an exact parallel, but it does offer some insight (I think) into why there is very little mature discussion surrounding this issue.

This is not to say that hatred towards homosexuals is negligible, and that there are not those out there who do genuinely wish them harm. Indeed, there are always bullies waiting to prey on the perceived weaknesses of others. But that is precisely why the word hatred should be used in its proper context. The dictionary definition offers us further insight: "A feeling of intense dislike; enmity". "Enmity", is not a mere disagreement with another person's philosophy or lifestyle, but rather something which suggests malice or ill-will (it has the same Latin root as enemy). The figure in the photo below offers an excellent example of what that "malice" might look like:

The following does not:

This photo was taken in an AIDS Hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity. This has been part of their ministry since the 1980s, a ministry dedicated to the care of everyone afflicted by the AIDS virus, regardless of how one identifies

Having disdain for another human being, or reviling them to the point that you wish to deny their basic humanity- that is probably more in keeping with the spirit of this word. Subsequently, no one should employ it as a cheap rhetorical trick, anymore than one should blithely call someone Hitler. This is true not simply because few people deserve this moniker, but even more importantly, because the people who do deserve it, deserve to have it used with its full force and meaning intact.
There is of course a thing called "soft bigotry", wherein one exhibits a kind of moral superiority towards an individual or their philosophical worldview (a attitude ill-suited to any worthy discussion). That being said, there is still a huge difference between questioning the worth and dignity of an individual, and objecting- in particular- to their moral outlook.

The freedom to agree or disagree with another person's moral philosophy is not only not hatred, but it is  practically the very definition of a healthy democracy. Indeed, if mere criticism amounted to hatred, then everyone in the world would be reduced to silence (a sobering thought). People are to be respected. Ideas, however, can (and should) be debated vigorously. Tyranny in one form or another is the price we all pay for failing to uphold either of these virtues.

Because you think that the other person's position is mean and judgmental, and that your position is much nicer, does not mean that the other person must be silenced at any cost. Yes, "mean people suck", I agree, but we must be very careful to make a distinction between those little hood-wearing Hitlers out there, and the people that may earnestly, and with good reason, disagree with our point of view.

In truth, I think it seems relatively obvious why some have chosen to characterize all opponents of same-sex marriage as hate-filled bigots. Why? Because it is the best way to win the argument. One can hardly re-define something as universal and essential as the institutional family by a mere appeal to open-mindedness. You must instead create an enemy on the other side of the issue; a terrible troglodyte looking to crush the hopes and dreams of the tear-stained martyrs of love (throw in a few Westboro Baptists and you've got yourself a winner). But whatever you do, do not ever let anyone see that you too have some nasty folks on your side as well, for that might force people to focus on the ideas as opposed to the emotions.

Needless to say, there is much blame to go around, for none of this would have at all been possible were it not for the current condition of the family in the West- torn apart by divorce and infidelity- and further paralyzed by its own understandable (if sublimated) feelings of guilt and hypocrisy.

All that notwithstanding, if you are going to make the case for same-sex marriage (and gender ideology in general), you must successfully co-opt the two most important words in the English language (viz. love and hate), and then you must creatively re-arrange their meaning in order to accommodate your agenda. You must also ask this fundamental question: How can anyone be against two people who are in love; people who- for all intents and purposes- simply want to memorialize that love? After all, they can't be any worse than that couple over there who's marriage(s) are a veritable train wreck. Ah, it's all starting to make sense to me now: if you aren't for love and commitment (in whatever form it takes) then you must be for the opposite; you must be some kind of hate-filled, small-minded, red-necked, evolution denying, retrograde, bigot. Case closed.

In Part II of this post I will explore the question of how to define "love", especially in light of the question left hanging in the final paragraph; "How can anyone be against two people who are in love getting married; two people who- for all intents and purposes- simply want to memorialize that love?"