What is Love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Not surprisingly my last entry on pornography proved to be more popular than any other post I’ve written thus far, which means I’ll probably pursue the topic of sexuality more extensively in the future — something I planned to do anyway, but even more so now that I realize it helps the numbers. Until then, however, I think it’s crucial to address some more fundamental issues that will help set the stage for what’s to come, not only with regard to sex, but also with regard to all other ethical issues that confront us from day to day.

The fact is morality isn’t always as clear-cut as we would wish it to be; and I speak from experience when I say that conventional wisdom doesn’t usually answer the questions many of us are asking, at least not as thoroughly as we would like. For some, choosing to accept certain standards of behavior because “that’s the way I was raised” or because “my pastor said so” might be the right choice. Everyone has their own particular interests, and some are content with accepting the traditions that have been passed down over time, and that’s okay. Some of us, however, are a bit more restless and want to know “why?” What rational reasons lie behind these rules, constraints, and customs of society and religion that so many of us take for granted? I’m not saying I have all the answers. Far from it; but I am making progress in gaining some level off understanding.

At this point I think one of the key factors in any ethical theory, any system of morality, is the very basic concept of love — the love of the neighbor as expressed in the teachings of Jesus, most thoroughly in the Sermon on the Mount. It really does sound overly-simplistic and unfortunately cliché, but I do think that making this principle the foundation of one’s behavior is what humans are truly called to do, whomever or wherever they may be. The question immediately becomes, however, “what is love?”

Most people don’t really seem to understand this, probably due to the many uses of the word “love” that have been employed throughout history, even today; but the Greek concept of agape is most accurate to these purposes, which is essentially nothing more than the desire for the well-being of others, not just family and friend, but foe as well, or, to put a more Hebraic spin on it, the shalom of all humankind. As St. Paul says in his epistle to the Romans, “whatever command there might be…it is fulfilled in ‘love your neighbor as yourself'”. For some things, this is pretty much obvious. Murder, rape, and theft are all clear violations and can almost never be done in a loving manner since they always harm members of humanity and desecrate the rights of individuals, though, admittedly, one could conceivably argue that, in certain instances, terribly heinous acts could be done to accomplish the greater good, such as in the case of murdering one to save twenty or stealing to provide for a family. These, however, aren’t the questions I’m trying to address right now, and virtually any ethical system is going to have its difficulties, so at this point it’s not wort placing too much emphasis on these matters. What I do want to clarify, though, is that the ends do indeed justify the means. contrary to what many would say. What comes of our actions is what makes our actions right or wrong, and it is this consequentialism that has significantly influenced my thinking. I’ve taken a page from Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics as well as from the works of David Brondos, whom I so thoroughly praise whenever I get the chance. A part of me is also attracted to certain forms of virtue ethics and natural law, which I don’t see as necessarily contrary to a love-based ethics as such, but rather supplementary, depending on how one sees it. At the end of the day, what we’re all seeking is the good of humanity, and to be ethical, we must direct our actions in such a manner.

My ways of thinking will no doubt evolve over time, and I hope no one considers me the final authority on anything, since I no doubt will change my mind on many things and don’t consider myself an expert on these topics. But be that as it may, I do think I might be able to contribute something of value and I hope whatever I write will be given due consideration by those reading.

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