Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What is Love?

"You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don't have to be nice to them." Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991

The above statement by Pat Robertson is perhaps the most illuminating statement I have ever heard or read. Seriously! This insipid statement by Mr. Robertson really got me thinking, and ultimately enlightened me!

Now in my humble opinion, Mr. Robertson, despite being a self-made billionaire and a former "credible" presidential candidate, is unbelievably stupid. As an aside, and before I get to the point, these two factoids about Mr. Robertson do not in any way shatter my understanding of the way the world works; idiots can become rich, either by luck or excessive risk taking which (luckily) then pays off; and in certain political situations and political parties, it's not what you know and what you can do that matters, it's what you say you believe. Pat Robertson fits nicely into such an understanding of the world.

But to the point; Mr Robertson's above utterance has profound implications even if he is unaware of them. What is love to someone like Pat Robertson? What is love to all of his millions of followers who have, basically, made him impossibly wealthy and powerful? Can you love someone and NOT be nice to them? Can you forgive someone while wanting them punished or harmed? Can you repent without making things right?

Can God love a person he has condemned to an eternity of misery?

The majority of persons on Earth are probably in the Pat Robertson camp on this and related questions, which is to say that they either haven't given this any thought or that their thoughts are incoherent.

Consider the Religious Right's typical support for the death penalty; whether it should or should not be instituted is not the question here. The real question is whether those religious persons who are "sinners" themselves (so they say) and who claim to follow a God who supposedly loves all of us should support killing a fellow sinner who happened to break a law. What about the condemned opportunity to repent and hence, be forgiven and avoid eternal damnation? Being executed could deprive a person of the chance to "be saved." Who needs this kind of "love"? Executions that could deprive a person of a chance to repent should not happen at the hands of a loving God or his followers, should it?

It does happen, however, and with a vengeance. The Religious Right are typically the staunchest supporters in society of the death penalty. And at the same time, many Religious Right types (such as ex-Governor Huckabee) seem to love those criminals who have repented and "found" God - even though these "saved" criminals are just as apt as to return to crime as those who remained "unsaved". This endless set of contradictions makes no sense, of course.

Alright: the Religious Right is both eager to kill sinners depriving them of their chance to be saved and at the same time loves sinners who did get saved before they died or were executed. Is this nuttiness confined to the death penalty? Do religious zealots believe in harming others generally in the name of God while doing so in the name of love?

How many religions promote harm to sinners, unbelievers and heretics and how many of the followers then actually do so?

From the Koran:
Sura 33: 65.
ALLAH has, surely, cursed the disbelievers, and has prepared for them a blazing fire,
33: 66. Wherein they will abide forever. They will find therein no friend, nor helper.
33: 67. On the day when their faces are turned over into the fire they will say, `O, would that we had obeyed ALLAH and obeyed the Messenger
33: 68. And they will say, `Our Lord, we obeyed our chiefs and our great ones and they led us astray from the way,
33: 69. `Our Lord, give them double punishment and curse them with a mighty curse.


Sura 5: 52.
O ye who believe ! take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends of each other. And whoso among you takes them for friends is indeed one of them. Verily ALLAH guides not the unjust people.

Now the above Koranic citation should not allow for any smugness on the part of Christian America. It was in California where many Barack Obama supporters helped pass a proposition last year making gay marriage illegal. The Pat Robertson "logic" was in full command of the situation even if Obama voters were in the majority. The problem was that a "loving" God demands that his "loving" followers not be "nice" to a certain class of fellow "sinners": homosexuals.

It is a sad thing to conclude but it's obvious: most people have a worthless definition or concept of love. It would then follow that the concepts of "forgiveness", "repentance" and so on, are also poorly conceived as well. I said that Pat Robertson's idiotic statement had profound implications...

Love should compel a person to be "nice" to the beloved. Love should preclude harming others when no just cause is at stake. A God cannot simultaneously love humans and create a hell for many of them. He certainly is a monster if some persons are pre-destined somehow to their hellish fate or if, as an omniscient being, a God knows, even before they are born, that they will spend an short time alive and the balance of their existence in hell.

Love may indeed be a "feeling" that many persons claim to experience; but so what? If I claim to love someone and then harm them, does it matter if I "loved" them or "hated" them? Answer: NO!

So "What is love?"

To a humanist who judges behaviors by their consequences, a loving behavior is a behavior that leads to the well being of those to whom this behavior is directed. This definition does not preclude the idea of "justice" which requires that those persons who have caused harm must answer for their transgressions in a way that most benefits the society that was harmed.

A loving behavior is not mere romance or the mere appearance or claims of love. Love requires loving actions. Love is being honest while diplomatic and courteous; love is being responsible and courageous; love is being kind, reliable and loyal.

Love is not a mere gesture; it is a commitment to a way of living. Yes, a good, useful love is difficult to express!

The idea that love is a mode of behavior is very humanistic since it is consequentialist. It is not religious or dogmatic since the facts now matter; it now matters whether a person's love made the world a better place or not. Whether a God was "pleased" or not is irrelevant. With humanist love, one MUST be "nice" to the beloved.
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