Thursday, October 8, 2009

God is Love?

I must be some kind of theological masochist, because I do look for things that will piss me off, so I can explain why here, in erudite terms and Monty Python sketches. It's not hard to find objectionable material, illogical assumptions, and bogus claims when it comes to the god(s) question. All I did was search "god's love" and I found the post "God is Love" on (I sense another series, like the Demon Busters and EveryStudent series.) Let's just dive right in, without further preamble.
God is Love: How do we Define Love?
"God is Love", but how do we define it? The American Heritage Dictionary defines love as "an intense affection for another person based on familial or personal ties". Often this "intense affection" stems from a sexual attraction for that other person. We love other people, or we say we love other people, when we are attracted to them and when they make us feel good. Notice that a key phrase in the dictionary definition of love is the phrase "based on". This phrase implies that we love conditionally; in other words, we love someone because they fulfill a condition that we require before we can love them. How many times have you heard or said, "I love you because you are cute;" or "I love you because you take good care of me;" or "I love you because you are fun to be with"?
First, I have to object to shystery word usage. The dictionary definition of love was "an intense affection for another person based on familial or personal ties" (emphasis added). Yet the author immediately substitutes this concept for sexual desire and physical attraction. I love my best friend Cay. She and I went on crazy hitch-hiking road trips together all around the state of Florida. We have been broke together, lost without a car together, going through break ups together, and loving each other for years. And I have no desire to have sex with her. (You're very pretty, Cay. You're just too heterosexual and female for me.)

The author substitutes intense affection for sexual attraction, and ignores the genuine fondness that can exist between friends. In part because my family was often cold, neglectful, or abusive; and in part because I grew up with a strong sense of group (rather than personal) identity, my friends are extremely important to me. Some have come and gone over the years, but the affection and love I felt for them was real, important, meaningful, and entirely non-sexual in nature. Love between friends can be really beautiful, and the author acts as if this kind of love does not exist.

Also, the phrase "based on" does not indicate that love is conditional (although I think it is). It indicates that love is not based on, for example, "feelings or emotions" or "sexual or reproductive needs"; rather, it's based on "familial or personal ties".

And I would not suppose that anyone who said they loved me for my appearance actually loved me. Unlike the unnamed author, I don't confuse sexual attraction with affection or love. And as for the person who would love me only because I'd take care of them, I would call that parasitism, not love. My ex-husband used to say my best quality was my tolerance; this was a rather bad sign considering what he expected me to tolerate. He did not love me - he showed no affection based on familial or personal ties. I do not equate vampirism with love. Someone who only wants things from you - and does not care for you - does not love you. It's very simple, really. Moving on.
Our love is not only conditional, it is also mercurial. We love based on feelings and emotions that can change from one moment to the next. The divorce rate is extremely high in today's society because husbands and wives supposedly stop loving one another-or they "fall out of love". They may go through a rough patch in their marriage, and they no longer "feel" love for their spouse, so they call it quits. Evidently, their marriage vow of "till death do us part" means they can part at the death of their love for their spouse rather than at their physical death.
Well, obviously someone has a problem with people changing their minds. Of course, sometimes circumstances and information changes, too. For example, when my mom found out my dad had a girlfriend (while she was pregnant with me and married to him), she decided that new information changed the status of their relationship. She may have still loved him, still felt affection for him based on familial or personal ties, yet a divorce was the right move. My own divorce came before my husband could hit me, but after he'd begun to abuse me. Though it is true I feel no love for him now, I did not simply "hit a rough patch"; I realized the entire exercise was doomed to failure, and leaving sooner rather than later would spare my son unnecessary harm and pain.

This unwillingness to look at the various factors that go into a marriage and divorce, and to make the entire thing the contract - the vow, the promise, the "till death to us part" - contributes to the victim-blaming tone of discourse surrounding domestic violence. On the one hand, people say you must be exaggerating, or making it up, or that you're going along with it if you stay; on the other, you're called a quitter and accused of being unfaithful to your word if you go. I decided my son (and myself) mattered more than my vow, and it was undoubtedly the right thing to do. I wonder what this author has to say to women (or men) in abusive, alcoholic, or unfaithful marriages. If you're husband or wife goes to prison for pedophilia you were completely unaware of, are you a "quitter" and just falling "out of love" in a "rough patch" if you decide to get a divorce? Really, the idea that marriage is simply a decision to be faithful to your word is ridiculous and cruel.
Marriage involves people, sex, and money, and is therefore never simple.
Can anyone really comprehend "unconditional" love? It seems the love that parents have for their children is as close to unconditional love as we can get without the help of God's love in our lives. We continue to love our children through good times and bad, and we don't stop loving them if they don't meet the expectations we may have for them. We make a choice to love our children even when we consider them unlovable; our love doesn't stop when we don't "feel" love for them. This is similar to God's love for us, but as we shall see, God's love transcends the human definition of love to a point that is hard for us to comprehend.
I have never and would never see my son as "unlovable"! I might be angry with him - I might, in frustrated moments of motherhood, yell at him. But I never stop loving him. And even if I were to, that wouldn't mean he was unable or unworthy of being loved by anyone else. Hitler had two fiancees, okay? My son will never be unlovable in my eyes, even if he grows up to do actions I detest. All people deserve and need love. Some people are broken, and can't give it or get it, but even they aren't "unlovable". I still my love my grandmother, and she broke my brain and killed babies! I still feel affection for her - even as angry with her as I am, and as much as I honestly think the world would be better off if she'd never lived. Based on familial and personal ties, yes, I a godless atheist, still love her. "God is love", my keester. I have yet to see anything "transcendent" about the love of a god who would doom most of eternity to suffer and be tortured for-EV-er.
God is Love: How does God Define Love?
The Bible tells us that "God is Love" (1 John 4:8). But how can we even begin to understand that truth? There are many passages in the Bible that give us God's definition of love. The most well known verse is John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." So one way God defines love is in the act of giving.
God defines love in the act of withholding, not in giving. He wants people to kiss his keester (praise him and glorify his name) and believe his cockamamie story instead of all the other cockamamie stories. That's not love - that's a mind game. Since the Christian has used John 3:16, I'll rebut with my usual - John 3:18 "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (emphasis mine). I think I'm gonna change the ATAT banner quote to this verse. And I was only half-kidding about getting it as a tattoo.
However, what God gave (or should we say, "who" God gave) was not a mere gift-wrapped present; God sacrificed His only Son so that we, who put our faith in His Son, will not spend eternity separated from Him. This is an amazing love, because we are the ones who choose to be separated from God through our own sin, yet it's God who mends the separation through His intense personal sacrifice, and all we have to do is accept His gift.
This is typical apologist "Jesus loves you" cheer leading, but the love shown by God through the crucifixion of his son is not amazing - it's twisted penal substitution from crimes god created us guilty of, and which he decreed were crimes or "sins" in the first place.

Also, I think it's time we address the daddy issues Jesus undoubtedly had. I don't care if you try to say they're the same god - they have a parent-child relationship. And daddy god said son god got to be beaten and scourged and nailed to a couple planks of wood. That's not a model of loving parenting. That's murderous, sadistic, and cruel. It is not love of any definition that actually means love. It does not show intense affection from god toward Jesus. And I think the way someone treats their family tells you a lot about them.

God killed his son. Abraham believed God asked him to kill his son. My grandmother would have used him as justification to call my mother. Why do people worship him? How did killing his son turn into an evidence for his love for all of us? It's not like he had to kill Jesus. He's omnipotent, right? Couldn't he just give us this gift without killing his son? I have a son. I would not kill him for the love of any one of you. It certainly wouldn't be my first choice for ways I could forgive you for wrongs I perceived you had done to me. Substitionary punishment is a wicked concept. Atonement is... removed from natural consequences, from cause and effect, and from responsibility for our actions. Now of course I don't believe gods are real or that I've sinned against any of them. But I think having one person pay another's debt, or get fired for another's misconduct, or be jailed for another's crime is unjust and immoral. It's not "beyond comprehension" because it's so fantastic - it's beyond comprehension how we've twisted ourselves into believing this garbage.

And we did not "choose" to be separated from god through our sin. Read your whole Bible, Christians. The curse, the Fall, whatever you wanna call it - God determined that all humans after Adam and Eve (minus Jesus) would be born with a sinful nature, and already deserving hell and death. (The rather insane ramblings on that linked page look like fun to deal with later, because they've at least got scriptural backing longer than the two verses up ahead.)
Another great verse about God's love is found in Romans 5:8, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." In this verse and in John 3:16, we find no conditions placed on God's love for us. God doesn't say, "as soon as you clean up your act, I'll love you; " nor does He say, "I'll sacrifice my Son if you promise to love Me." In fact, in Romans 5:8, we find just the opposite. God wants us to know that His love is unconditional, so He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us while we were still unlovable sinners. We didn't have to get clean, and we didn't have to make any promises to God before we could experience His love. His love for us has always existed, and because of that, He did all the giving and sacrificing long before we were even aware that we needed His love.
I like the narrowing down of scripture to make sure it fits the author's case, "In this verse and that other one I cherry-picked, we find no conditions placed on God's love for us." (Of course, if s/he'd just read two verses farther to John 3:18, the conditions on God's love would be obvious.) Further I vehemently reject the idea that I am or have ever been unlovable. I spent my childhood and teen years believing that, and it did me no good at all and quite a bit of harm. Religion teaches, fosters, and creates man's inhumanity toward man, through doctrines and beliefs like this. Of course I don't need to get clean; I am not dirty. I owe nothing to god, and if he exists, he owes quite a lot to me. I upheld my end of the bargain for years and he failed me (or you know, never existed in the first place).

And even supposing God did the crucifix/atonement combo, let's not forget that it was allegedly God who created mankind without the knowledge of good and evil, set up a scenario in which humans were doomed to fail, cursed them and all future generations for that forever, gave each of us a sin nature, and determined the punishment for being born with this nature that he demanded we all be born with. Christians think that it's the devil or the world that has them ensnared, but if we really are born into captivity and sin, it's entirely God's doing. The idea that two infantile creatures could bear the responsibility for every sin ever committed, or the introduction of sin into the world which would then affect everyone for the rest of human existence, is obviously wicked. God often seems to punish the many for the crimes of the few, and I'll be doing a post on that as soon as my brain coughs up enough cool phrases and segues.
God is Love: It's Unconditional
God is Love, and His love is very different from human love. God's love is unconditional, and it's not based on feelings or emotions. He doesn't love us because we're lovable or because we make Him feel good; He loves us because He is love. He created us to have a loving relationship with Him, and He sacrificed His own Son (who also willingly died for us) to restore that relationship.
Let's substitute the word "love" here to show how nonsensical that paragraph really is, with the word "pancakes" (because I haven't had breakfast yet).
"God is Pancakes, and His pancakes are very different from human pancakes. God's pancakes are unconditional, and not based on flour and egg yolk. He doesn't pancake us because we're pancake-able or because we make Him feel good; He pancakes us because He is pancakes. He created us to have a pancaking relationship with Him, and He sacrificed His own Waffle (who also willingly drowned in syrup for us) to restore that breakfast pastry. RAmen."
Obviously, that was over the top, but I wanted to illustrate how "God's love" still hasn't been defined at all. We're being told that it's different from human love, that it's not based on feelings or emotions, and - wait a minute - Straw man! Love was clearly defined as being based on "familial and personal ties" not "feelings or emotions". Again, shystery word usage is the main staple of apologists; it's not like they've got evidence on their side. But this is really my point: The author pretends to have defined love, and hasn't.

The dictionary definition of love seems suitable to me, but the author has spent the entire article so far disagreeing with that definition, suggesting that rather than being based on "familial and personal ties", love is merely physical attraction, or fleeting emotion, or is entirely dependent on what I can gain from another person. To then paint this non-definition of love as the straw man and pit it against 'something better' when god's love is so obviously inferior to what we know love to be, is dishonest. It also renders the word "love" meaningless. If love doesn't mean "intense affection based on familial or personal ties", and no other definition has been offered, then love may as well mean pancakes.

I'm gonna break here for now, and see you all tomorrow. I wish I had better arguments to combat, sometimes I feel like this is the conversation once a theist gets involved.