Wednesday, March 30, 2011


In our data-driven, sound-bite (or byte) world, words create worlds of anarchy or community, of mutual understanding or polemical alienation. We hold ourselves hostage to our solipsistic creations, arguing vacuously and wondering why others "just don't get it." In my last essay, I posited that justice is a deep, rich cry from the soul pointing to a universal in human consciousness, a principle I believe points to a Transcendent Creator. However God is conceived (or denied), justice matters in human affairs and our search for its norms really matters. When we avoid the either/or fallacy and stop manufacturing false combinations (If you are against abortion, you must be for war, etc.), there is hope for a better, more civil society. Another word that either enslaves or liberates is Love. Immediately all kinds of ideas, images, and feelings come to mind, from a Hollywood love story to Mother Theresa's efforts in Calcutta. We read daily of people falling in and out of love. If we crack open a Bible, we discover that God's love is the root and fruit of all other virtues. From the classical Greek literature to C.S. Lewis, thinkers have distinguished various types of love, from erotic connections (eros) to comrades on a battlefield (storge), to friendship (phileo) to altruistic, self-donating action for others (agape). All four of these loves are important to human flourishing; however, the last two are essential for a civil and virtuous society that offers maximal personal freedom and community cohesion. C.S. Lewis once said, "Friends look in the same direction." We need to cultivate healthy friendships, across ethnicity, cultures, genders, and religious affiliations. A spirit of brotherly/sisterly love (the heart of phileo) conceives of others as part of the same family and works to ensure their protection and opportunities to flourish. Such good affections also create virtuous boundaries so that brothers and sisters do not exploit each other - in fact, rather that staring at each other, they are engaged in play and work that is meaningful. Sustaining such friendships and extending hospitality beyond our inner circles of blood, culture and soil is a noble aim; however, a deeper love must animate us if we are going to enjoy mutual respect. This is agape love, the love that wills the highest good for others and gives out of abundance, without expectations of return. Already I hear the behaviorists arguing that altruism is impossible and I am naively suggesting that humankind is above the rest of animate creation. Other suspicious readers see me sneaking in Theism under the veil of universal love. To all critical thinkers let me be clear. Agape love is possible because humankind is made in the image of God, a God who is Eternal Love and delights to share that love with us. But humankind is also deeply flawed, capable of incredible evil and in need of transformation. As a Christian, I forthrightly declare that faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ is the way to a new nature, a new destiny and transformed relationships. In a pluralistic society, however, not all share my faith, but all can aspire to love that is more than self-centered passion or quid pro quo negotiation. Throughout history we see women and men of all traditions living for the good of others and sacrificially donating resources and time so that liberty and justice advance. America needs a revival of love. Yes, I believe the best way for this to happen is a decisive, personal encounter with Jesus Christ, who is God's full and final Word to a world. While I will pray and work for such an awakening, there are more modest fruits of love worth working for as well:

  • I want for my neighbor all the same liberties I desire for myself.

  • Life is more than my current desires, it is about preparing a better future for others.

  • Love is not agreeing on everything or accepting any opinion - it is respecting others you profoundly differ with and searching for ways to work together while debating fundamental ideas.

  • Love is not an opposite of justice - it is the real center and circumference of justice. Punishing evil is necessary if we love others and want their safety. Offering redemption and remediation to perpetrators is an essential part of a just world as well.

  • Love is not the absence of anger - it is anger transformed into altruistic action.

  • Agape love is the proper context for all other affections, from erotic attraction to loyalty as friends.

When I turn on the news or read debates, the missing ingredient is unselfish love. Passion is fine, debate is needed, but it seems that our entire culture is awash with fear and narcissism. We can and must do better. The future of our neighborhood and planet depend on the decisions we make today. I choose Love.

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