Affection is expressed and felt in all human cultures. Empathy is found throughout the whole of humanity. Empathy and affection are human universals. One might call these expressions and feelings of love.
Tragically there was a time when I reinterpreted love to mean “keeping the commandments of God”. Francisco’s comments on my recent blog post about Joseph of Arimathea brought back shameful memories of my past in a fundamentalist type of religion. (As Darwin might have said, this is like confessing to a murder, now.) Such a definition of love is a form of logicide. It is a perversion, a destruction, of the meaning of “love”. And it causes pain.
When I left that church, the truth was made as starkly distinct as night is from day. Friends whose love I had for so many years known and felt was predicated solely on my belonging to their church and having the same ideas about God and the Bible. Once it was clear I had come to think differently, those friendships (most of them) dissolved like fairy floss in the rain. Only then did I see that it was never me that they loved, but only my active support for their belief system and way of life.
True to the “commandments of God”, which I believed was “true godly love, agape, etc” I also “put on” (as in the command to “put on the new man”) a persona of love for those “in the world”, family included. But I know I hurt them terribly when I shunned participation in certain rituals and customs that I (or my church) declared to be “pagan” or “worldly”. In hindsight, I can see that they were not being pagan or “worldly” at all, but simply following normal cultural mores that represent or signify your one’s identity with them, one’s living within their orbit of trust and fellowship. Sure rituals like that are a game at one level, but they are also human universals that mark where friendships and communities and families are supported. Participating in them, even when it might be personally tedious at times, is an act of genuine love.
Fundamentalist logicide very often (falsely) describes “human love” as either “lust” or “selfishness”. To do this, they must withdraw so totally from others so as not to attempt to know or understand them on their own terms. Rather, their view of others (outsiders) is defined (brainwashed) by a book that says “the whole world lies in wickedness”. This is not a loving thought. But to justify it, the fundamentalist must resort to actively witnessing his or her own interpretations and ways “like lights in dark places”.
I found genuine, yes, human, love, when I left fundamentalism. I came to feel in place of my old view that the world was divided into two opposing camps a sense of one-ness, identity, with all others — even fundamentalists. I even felt a one-ness with all living creatures, especially of course other sentient creatures. The natural world and our place in it awed me, in a poetic (some might have said “spiritual”) sense. Realizing how fragile we all are, and how alike we all are, and how unpredictable and heartless the natural world can be, and the shortness and pains and joys of existence, all of this gave my natural sense of empathy for others a sharper edge. It became all the more an imperative to make the most of my time here, but especially to assist others in any ways I could to also have a richer and more fulfilling existence. It’s nothing special, this sort of empathy. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. The sentiment is found throughout the most religious and non-religious places I have experienced — Cambodia, China, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Turkey, Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and others. And my job has meant I have had to work closely with people from a dizzying array of different nationalities and languages/accents and religions. Natural human affection and empathy cuts across all of these.
Preservation of the planet, and causes of peace and justice, attracted me and filled a need in me to be actively involved in an organized and meaningful (meaning truly “impactful”) way. Such causes attract all types. But they also attract many who are likewise motivated by nothing but an empathy, a love, for people, the world, and other living creatures.
I have a deeply devout Christian friend at work. We agreed to have a time to discuss our different viewpoints one evening. We exchanged frank views in friendship, but I never had the heart to point out to her all the fallacies I believed were underlying her faith. It would have hurt her too much, stressed her, provoked a negative response, etc. It would not have been a loving thing to do. I reserve my comments for a blog where anyone interested is free to take up my thoughts. But it would be unloving and arrogant of me to attempt to sit someone down and tell them where they are all up the creek without a paddle flogging a dead horse. We are all where we are at, and that’s that (Dr Seuss, presumably.)
And I still love my children more than myself, like most parents do. And my love for my partner is far deeper than lust, though I know she appreciates a bit of that too.
The tragedy is that the Francisco’s will find fault with many of my words here and judge me entirely through the bible words in their heads, and not from a position of wanting to understand or come to know me or others as we are. And the tragedy is compounded by their idea of love wreaking so much pain and discomfort on others, and their withdrawal from cooperative efforts to make this a better world, and to do even just a little bit to make life a little more worthwhile for others, even “sinners”. They may do good deeds, and nothing wrong with that, whatever the motive. But it would be better if they could step outside their persecution and the-whole-world-lies-in-wickedness God complexes.
This post won’t achieve that of course. But who knows, maybe something will be planted that at some future date, when time and circumstances are right, will begin to blossom.
A related post of mine: Why oppose godless morality?
Recommended reading: The Mind of the Bible Believer (inspiration for my use of the term “logicide”) and Leaving the Fold (See my notes on Winnell in the Book Review section and also link to her Recovering from Religion site in my blogroll)