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Monday, December 15, 2003

The Only of These is Luv.

Interesting debates flying about The Virtual Parish this week concerning love (including a disturbing subject) and hate.

I'll just chip in my two cents (adjust for inflation). I think that American Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, currently suffers from a debilitating emphasis on a greatly-deformed understanding of "love." In short, it's an understanding of "love" largely defined by our culture, with all that entails. It is a view of love unmoored from and unformed by any relationship to other virtues--namely, faith, hope, fortitude, temperance, prudence and justice.

It's a notion of "love" as a form of coddling by an endlessly-indulgent celestial grandpa who could care less about what you do. Well, he might give you a noogie, you rascal, but that's it. Keep flushing the babies down the commode, slugger.

This is the Great American Mushgod in action. Lost is the God whose love compels Him to set high standards for personal moral conduct, the God who demands faithful service even as he gives the grace to so serve, the God who embodies perfect Justice as well as perfect Mercy, without a hint of tension. The--eek!--"judgmental" God.

The same God who would live with and die for His creatures.

Instead, we get the hopelessly-sentimental "God" of Luv.

And the spillover impacts our view of "love" in personal relationships, too. It quickly degenerates into a love without rules, a love without regard to behavior, and a love without consequences. Look at the faintly desperate cover blurbs on women's fashion magazines, with their weekly/monthly headlines advising on the latest tactic to keep and/or win a man. Just as they advertise articles in the same issues bewailing the caddish behavior of the same pool of guys.

It quickly becomes a parody: the undemanding "love" of the abused, who waits in the almost-always futile hope for the abuser to change.

It would be impossible for this understanding of "love" not to enter the naves on Sundays, and it has. It's the "love" of a Jesus who really isn't into all those rules, man--he's all about "love," and he loves you! Don't go changing to try to please him.

He loves you just the way you are.... [Apologies to Billy Joel].

At the risk of saddling up on my favorite hobbyhorse, it is a decidedly feminine (and a malformed caricature of that, let me hasten to add) understanding of love. It even ticks off the ladies, too, after a while.

Why? Because it is malformed, unbalanced and ultimately false. It challenges no one, and is bereft, at its hollow core, of the essential Christian understanding of love: that love involves sacrifice. A sacrifice born of fortitude, faith, justice, hope, prudence, etc. This may be why a more balanced portrayal of love resonates so well with the gents.

I'm reminded of my father's decision, twenty-three years ago, to cross the picket line during a bitter strike, daily facing a barrage of savage personal abuse from associates and former friends to do so, without firing a word in response. Why? He had a family that came first, and he had to do what he had to do.

This is why Tolkien resonates today. There is plenty of love in his works--but it is love informed by fortitude, faith, justice, etc.--the kind of love we don't hear about much from either the culture or, more sadly, the pulpit.

The real kind.

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