Saturday, January 19, 2013

How can God demand obligatory love?

This is one of the questions asked by Hitchens in his arguments against the morality of Christianity, and it was recently asked me by one of the youth I work with.  But the nature of the question shows that the very understanding of God and the love he 'demands' is skewed.

The first place where there is an error is the idea that God rewards or punishes us based on our performance, with Heaven or Hell.  This is not exactly accurate.  The most accurate analogy for God's love, and the one most frequently used in the Bible, is the love that a spouse has for another.  Being in Heaven is simply being married to God-  united with Him forever.  Being in Hell is being in no relationship with God.

So take the perception people have of how to please God and extend it to the concept of marriage.  Supposing my wife were to say to me "I demand that you love me at a satisfactory level, or I will divorce you."  Fair enough, in a sense.  If I don't love her, I cannot be in a relationship with her.  So in a sense love for her is obligatory.   But it would still be a rather demanding and unloving attitude she had toward me to say such a thing.

Instead, in order to be married to her, I had to choose to love her in the first place.  I had to make a commitment to her that said "I promise to be faithful to you, yada yada yada."  (Turns out the words yada yada yada are not precisely in the Catholic ritual, but you get my meaning.)   In other words, I had to choose to commit to love her!

I consider it a duty to love my wife, and to love my children, and to love my God.  Is this what is meant by obligatory love?  Am I obligated to love my kids?

Part of this too is confusion over the term love.  To a Christian, 'luv is a verb' (classic DC Talk), as well as a virtue, a commitment, the nature of God.... the emotion of love comes pretty far down the ladder. Though I doubt many Christians would deny the existence of the emotion.  if love is reduced to being merely an emotion, how could you demand it of anyone?  Contrariwise, how could you commit to it when you get married?

So the long and the short of it is that Heaven is not exactly a reward for being good-  it is the logical end of someone pursuing a relationship with God and therefore being with Him for all time.  Neither is Hell a punishment, but it is no relationship with God, the natural consequence of rejecting His offer of a relationship.  This is also what is meant by the way when people say that God does not send you to Hell, you choose it. You may not fully realize what you are choosing when you reject God, but it is what you are choosing!

Here's the troubling thing.  Hitchens debated all kinds of Christians in his lifetime.... how come no one told him this?  I suspect that they did.  I suspect he knew it even before he raised the question the first time.  I suspect that he was deliberately misleading when he misrepresented Christianity in his statements.  I know that most people are ignorant about what Christianity really teaches.  Most people have a concept of Christianity that they developed by the time they were 12, and they expect that true Christianity has no more meaning or maturity behind it than their 12 year old interpretation.   But I think Hitchens must have known better, and Dawkins must, and so when they refute the Christianity of 12 year olds, I think they are being deliberately disingenuous.


  1. I can understand what Hitchens is saying here. Although, I will say that I have heard Hitchens completely give a false representation on the Church's stance on Abortion for medical reasons. Who knows if it was intentional.

    As far as this one about love, I liken it to a child and parent relationship rather than a spouse. Because spouses choose each other, but children don't choose their parents. It's seems a bit outrageous if a child had 2 choices: eternal life of "bliss" with their parent or "outer darkness" where there will be wailing and hashing of teeth.

    Do you want to spend the rest of your life in your parents home? Especially if that was the only option they really gave? The truth is that parents let their children go to live their own life, hopefully.

    I think that is his point.

  2. Personally, I don't believe anyone can love out of duty or obligation. They can remain with a person, keep a promise or perform from duty or obligation, but loving or feeling affection for another cannot be done from duty/obligation.

    It is from the heart with elements of adoration, affection, admiration and joy that comes from being with that person and sharing things together in a positive reciprocal relationship.

    Also, it is an error to believe or think that loving God is obligatory or that He demands such an atrocity from his creation. Love is always freely given or freely withheld, otherwise, it means nothing.