Busy week here with little time to write! This post originally ran on January 24, 2011, comparing the atheist view of love with the Christian view.
It's clear from comments on this blog that there are two very different views of love: The Christian view and the secular/atheist view.
The cultural shift from the Christian view to the secular view has been steady -- and troubling. In past posts, I've asked atheists "What is love?" and the answers and discussions have been fascinating. Here are some thoughts on love from our atheist readers:
To me, love is a human emotion and doesn't have a 'meaning', any more than other human emotions like euphoria or anger or curiosity or whatever.
Just as I painted the walls of my master bedroom blue because it is my favorite color and makes me happy, I am married to my husband because he makes me happy as well.
I think that the feeling of "love" is what sets marriage apart from any sort of close friendship you might have with someone else, so once it is gone, there is no longer any point in staying with that person.
I absolutely would equate love to "chemical reactions in a brain that was randomly created and has the basic effect of making us feel good."
I don't think that I chose to love [my husband]. I think my love for him is one of those crazy chemical reactions, and not something that I picked for myself. I would say that love is something you "have" for someone, not something you "do" or "choose."
[Love is] a very special emotion.
Love is an emotion...associated with hormonal changes, physiologic changes, rapid heart rate, deep emotion, glad feelings, sad feelings, satisfaction, anxiety. Not under voluntary control necessarily.
Secular view of love = involuntary emotion; random chemical reaction; biological response; transitory; a feeling you "get", not something you "do".
Let's switch gears and look at the Christian understanding of love:
Christian love is an act of the will.
Love is a choice.
Love is a deliberate decision.
Love is willing the good of the other.
Love is an outpouring of self ("self-donation") to the other.
Love is an offering; in other words, a sacrifice.
Love is not a feeling, although feelings do accompany love. Sometimes those feelings are ecstatic, blissful and peaceful, and sometimes they are excruciating, agonizing and raw. At other times, there are no feelings at all.
What a relief and a freedom that true love is dependent on the will alone! Imagine the possibilities: While our emotions are not always within our control, our decision to love always is. This makes us capable of loving our enemies (or a cranky spouse, a defiant child, a nasty neighbor). It made the saints capable of loving their executioners. (Think about that for a minute!!)
Christian love is not transitory, self-interested and fleeting, but rather transcendent, transformative, and eternal.
We are told (and shown) by Christ that the greatest love is to lay down one's life for another. This is no "good feeling" or "chemical reaction" -- it is a choice and an act, a willful offering of one's whole self.
When I recently wrote about the sacrificial nature of love, one atheist reader responded with a single word: "gibberish"
But which view of love do we all yearn for? Is it the view that says "My love for you is based on an involuntary good feeling I get from you, and once the feeling is gone, so am I"? Or is the one that says "My love for you is based on an irrevocable decision to put your good ahead of my own, even at the cost of my own life"?
Which love do you want?
I don't really have to ask. We were all made to love and be loved, not to use and be used. In the depths of our souls, we know this. Every one of us knows this.
And it's not gibberish -- it's a clear, understandable, harmonious love song, straight to the heart.