Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Love is the best

It's been almost a month since I last posted, so I'm pretty intent on posting something today. There are a few topics I want to get into, but there's a fair amount of work to be done before they are ready to exist in blog-form; and frankly I don't have the time for all that yet.

So today I submit to you a passage that had a profound effect on my journey towards atheism, and certainly is an inspiration to ideas about secular spirituality.

This passage is from Ludwig Feuerbach's "The Essence of Christianity," in a chapter in which he examines the phrase "God is love."
Love conquers God. It was love to which God sacrificed his divine majesty....What then is the true unfalsified import of the Incarnation but absolute, pure love, without adjunct, without a distinction between divine and human love? For though there is also a self-interested love among men, still the true human love, which is alone worthy of this name, is that which impels the sacrifice of self to another. Who then is our Saviour and Redeemer? God or Love? Love; for God as God has not saved us, but Love, which transcends the difference between the divine and human personality. As God has renounced himself out of love, so we, out of love, should renounce God; for if we do not sacrifice God to love, we sacrifice love to God, and, in spite of the predicate of love, we have the God – the evil being – of religious fanaticism. (part 1, ch. 4)
When I first read this I found it mind-blowing, and the effect has not faded-- to me it means that "God is love," is not a statement about how loving God is; it's a statement about how godly Love is! Love saves us. God only saves us insofar as God exemplifies love. Without love, God is just some powerful authority figure. Love is the key element. Love saves.

Granted, Feuerbach's definition of love (that which impels the sacrifice of self to another) is not terribly self-positive. I think a higher concept of love includes both sacrifice for the other and a certain manner of self-love. But besides that, he just cuts right to it, showing us how love is the true divinity, not the actual figure of the Godhead.

What I especially appreciate here is that Feuerbach asserts that Love transcends the human/divine divide. This is not the case, often, with an idea like "good," on which people tend to equivocate, assigning different meanings to notions of "human good" versus "divine good." Thinkers attempt to justify God's actions by calling on a divine, transcendent notion of good-- which is fine for justifying God, but leaves us humans wondering what to do with our own notion of "good." But it seems that Love must be the same, regardless of whose love it is. Love is only love if both (or all) parties involved can call it Love.

I anticipate doing some more writing on Love in the next month or so, so stay tuned for that.


  1. Matt,
    This is the first thing that you have written that I have read. Mostly because I've spent very little time in pursuit of the types of knowledge that you are so deeply immersed in. I saw the words "journey toward atheism" in the facebook tagline, so i thought i'd give this a shot.

    I am much less eloquent than your man Feuerbach, but I find myself fervently cosigning his ideas. The idea of manifesting faith in something more tangible (as tangible as any one thing in theology can be) than "god," has always been, in my mind, the only way faith could be justified. To me, love is an absolute thing. Love of oneself and others can be directly incited, fostered, and grown.

    People doubt the existence of miracles, but the presence and power of love is undeniable. Mr.Feuerbach has put into words something I have felt for a long time. Have faith in what is real to YOU. My religion cannot be constrained within any number of texts because love is dynamic.

    As my love changes, my religion comes with me, which not a characteristic of other commonly practiced religions. Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc must alter modern ideas and social values to fit the system that is already in place. Renouncing god in the name of love allows you to alter the very foundations of what you believe in on a moments notice, given new revelations or epiphanies. And the best part about that is that you reach these revelations and epiphanies on your own terms. My experiences with love are not defined by anyone but me.

    I'm going on a tangent here, I enjoyed your article.

  2. Hi jnagle-- Thanks so much for your post. I especially appreciate two observations on the nature of love-- it's dynamic and it's personal. We get our understanding of love almost entirely through our personal experiences (not much from book learning), which I think produces the unique strength of our convictions towards love.

    As for love being dynamic... I'm not sure entirely in what sense you mean 'dynamic,' so I'll just use my own interpretation for now. I find love to be dynamic because it takes place between dynamic personalities in a dynamic world (ok now I'm sick of the word 'dynamic'). Love as a passionate commitment between people seems to require a consistent re-reckoning with oneself, one's values, and one's world-- a shifting stability... something with which most peoples' idea of God/religion cannot keep up.

    One last thing! Your last paragraph reminds me of a famous quote from St. Augustine: "Love, and do what you will."