(Psephizo) Ian Paul interviews Patrick Mitchel–What does ‘love’ really mean?

What do you think are the major issues in the way that love is (mis)understood in contemporary culture?

Today love has become virtually a religion in the West – an all-embracing belief system that answers questions of ultimate purpose. The reasons behind love’s exaltation are well described German sociologists Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim:

Love is glorified largely because it represents a sort of refuge in the chilly environment of our affluent, impersonal, uncertain society, stripped of its traditions and scarred by all kinds of risk . . . weighed down by expectations and frustrations, ‘love’ is the new centre round which our detraditionalised life revolves.[1]

So love, in itself becomes what life is all about. The ‘shape’ of that love will tend to be universalist and inclusive, almost a type of liberation theology, freeing people to be themselves. The philosopher Simon May has an incisive analysis of the high expectations that love now carries:

the more individualistic we become the more we expect love to be a secular journey for the soul, a final source of meaning and freedom, a supreme standard of value, a key to the problem of identity, a solace in the face of rootlessness, a desire for the worldly and simultaneously a desire to transcend it, a redemption from suffering, and, a promise of eternity. Or all of these at once.[2]

A key idea here is the anthropological optimism at the heart of much modern love. By this I mean how love is assumed to be within easy reach of anyone with little cost to the self. Yet this is a recent development and is far removed from how love is understood within Scripture and Christian tradition.

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Posted in Anthropology, Theology: Scripture