Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Prager evades Christian Love

In his most recent column Dennis Prager writes down some relatively reasonable thoughts on love. Here's an excerpt that caught my eye:

...But in the love of equals -- i.e., the love between a man and a woman and the love of friends -- it is not only all right to seek to be loved, it is a good thing. Taking the love of a spouse or friend for granted is perhaps the single greatest cause of marital divorce and the breakup of friendships. "What can I do to ensure his/her continuing love?" is a wonderful thing to keep in mind.

3. That is one reason the notion of "unconditional love" is foolish. The fact is, we all earn love, and it is a good thing to have to do so. What possible good purpose can the belief that your spouse loves you unconditionally -- i.e., no matter how you act -- serve? If we believe our spouse loves us no matter what we do, what would motivate us to be on our best behavior at all times? Why be kind even when we are in a foul mood? Why work to stay attractive if he will love me no matter how much I neglect how I look? Why continue to pay attention to her -- like regularly calling her from work -- if I know that even if I ignore her, she will continue to love me?

Unconditional love is not a good idea. I don't know where it originated, but I am quite certain it's relatively recent, a product of an age that has put primary importance on feelings.[emphasis added]

Relatively recent? That is a truly bizarre statement to make for someone who is as enthusiastic about religion as Prager is. Hasn't Christianity has advocated such "unconditional love" for all its history? Here's a relevant passage from the Catholic Encyclopedia on love:

The expression "to love the neighbour for the sake of God" means that we rise above the consideration of mere natural solidarity and fellow-feeling to the higher view of our common Divine adoption and heavenly heritage; in that sense only could our brotherly love be brought near to the love which Christ had for us (John 13:35), and a kind of moral identity between Christ and the neighbour (Matthew 25:40), become intelligible. From this high motive the universality of fraternal charity follows as a necessary consequence. Whosoever sees in his fellow-men, not the human peculiarities, but the God-given and God-like privileges, can no longer restrict his love to members of the family, or co-religionists, or fellow-citizens, or strangers within the borders (Leviticus 19:34), but must needs extend it, without distinction of Jew or Gentile (Romans 10:12), to all the units of the human kind, to social outcasts (Luke 10:33 sqq.), and even to enemies (Matthew 5:23 sq.). Very forcible is the lesson wherein Christ compels His hearers to recognize, in the much despised Samaritan, the true type of the neighbour, and truly new is the commandment whereby He urges us to forgive our enemies, to be reconciled with them, to assist and love them.

And here's another one from a Sermon on love by Martin Luther:

Third, the commandment names, as the sphere of our love, the noblest field, the dearest friend--our neighbor. It does not say, "Thou shalt love the rich, the mighty, the learned, the saint." No, the unrestrained love designated in this most perfect commandment does not apportion itself among the few. With it is no respect of persons. It is the nature of false, carnal, worldly love to respect the individual, and to love only so long as it hopes to derive profit. When such hope ceases, that love also ceases. The commandment of our text, however, requires of us free, spontaneous love to all men, whoever they may be, and whether friend or foe, a love that seeks not profit, and administers only what is beneficial. Such love is most active and powerful in serving the poor, the needy, the sick, the wicked, the simple-minded and the hostile; among these it is always and under all circumstances necessary to suffer and endure, to serve and do good.

No, Mr. Prager it is unconditional love is not a recent idea. It's been around for about 2000 years.

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