December 11, 2007

Defining Love

Posted in atheism, church, culture, family, friends, marriage, psychology, religion, scripture, soup at 5:20 pm by Jerry

“Love” is one of those words that are mutually expressed in conversation despite a lack of mutual understanding in its meaning.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 NASB)

According to this biblical passage, either there’s no such thing as an atheist or atheists cannot experience true love. Both are presupposed fallacies and possible explanations for the confusion over “what I believe”. I assume, when people say they just don’t know what I believe anymore, what their really wondering is where does my heart find meaning and purpose, what is it attached to or what does it rest on. In other words, where does my heart find security and significance?

I find, though, when I respond to this concern my answer is never good enough for a religious person. Maybe it’s because a religious person sees my life as cheated out of the extras in their lives, I don’t know. They have an extra reality called the supernatural. They have an extra life beyond the grave. They have an extra Being who is extra extra powerful and extra extra knowing. And because of all these extras, they have extra hopes for the future.

I think my life has just as much depth and fullness (sometimes more, sometimes less) than any religious person. So, if I do the math, I can only assume that I’ve been able to take greater advantage of the meaning naturally gleamed from this world than some others have. But my point is not to create a hierarchy of meaningful lives here. Rather, it is to emphasize the opportunities atheists have to enrich their lives here on earth. Now, to answer the interest in where my heart finds security and significance: I believe in Life and the Love it creates.

Whether life is intelligently designed or love is attributed to a god (Ishtar, Aphrodite, Freya, Radha, Jesus, Kama, and so on), I find security and significance among all the living and a world of exploration in the love that life creates. That’s right. I think life, good old fashioned naturalistic life created love. Yet some have told me that the evolutionary reasons (survival) for the naturalistic world to have created love diminishes love’s meaning. I fail to understand this kind of reasoning because I just don’t see how the evolutionary process diminishes love’s meaning – unless your losing some mystical extras presumed in love’s definition.

I think a close association between God, Life and Love makes some worshipers feel that an attempt to clarify what ‘love’ is would be irreverent or impossible because the true meaning of love is ineffable in the mystical sense. And even for those of us who feel our experience of real, beautiful love cannot be diminished by any explanation of it, we fear the loss of our own meaning of the word, our own poetical definition from the depths of our being that need not be mystical to be ineffable.

Sometimes I wish we could just eliminate words like ‘love’ and create a new word for each of the many meanings that can be found in it. Some languages do this already. Take the five Greek words for ‘love’, for instance. In the Greek, the words “Xenia,” “Storge,” “Eros,” “Agape,” and “Philia” are all translated into the English word “Love”. (If you’ve grown up going to church, you’ve probably heard these definitions with extreme emphasis on Agape as Godly love that completely outshines all others, even though the others, we are told, are not without purpose.)

After re-exploring the five Greek concepts of love, I discovered I already had my own personal revamped definitions of love too:

XENIA (known as love offered to strangers) = a consented act of service between those of their own species.

STORGE (known as family love) = a consented act of service between those considered a refuge.

AGAPE (known as unconditional love) = supporting humanity’s instinct for Xenia and/or Storge with a dutiful commitment to the political/social necessity of Xenia and/or Storge despite the lack of happiness found there in.

EROS (known as erotic desire) = a consented act of service between those with a mutual sexual attraction.

PHILIA (known as friendship love) = a consented act of service between those with a mutual attraction of minds; ‘soul mates’

(Notice how my definitions of Xenia, Storge, and Agape do not require or rely on the consciousness of physical or emotional feelings to perform the acts of love. Eros, however, does require a consciousness of one’s physical feelings; and Philia requires a consciousness of one’s emotional feelings.)

Now that I’ve articulated my current definitions of love, I’ll be analyzing them, contemplating overlaps or the lack there of, and looking to read material out there that will restore the true definitions of the greek words while helping me to develop my own.