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9.1 Unselfish love

To answer that question, we need to understand another component of core theism. This component is not something obvious from the philosophical point of view, but is, rather, very personal:

Postulate 4   God loves us unselfishly.

To understand this, we need to know what ‘love’ means, and what ‘unselfish’ means. These will be discussed in more detail later, but for now let us just remember some of the basic facts about these two matters.9.1

Some may think that love is merely a warm sticky emotion in the presence or touch of loved ones such as babies or kittens with big eyes. Others may think it is the persistant feeling of longing for the beloved. Others (more scientifically oriented) may think it is a byproduct of the neuro-chemical and/or information-handling processes in the brain. Here, we are going to distinguish four things, all connected to love:

  1. Love, as the underlying motivation or disposition that generates all relevant intentions and actions,
  2. Desire, as the presence of love in our intentions,
  3. Delights, as the sensations and joy which are the final manifestation of loving actions, and
  4. Affections, as the feeling of persistent loves and desires that arise after experiencing delights.
For a given person and given motivation, these four things are all related. For now, we are going to focus on the love (1.), namely the underlying motivation for our actions.9.2I am using the word ‘love’ in a very general sense here, to refer not just to what we think of as good loves but also to the underlying motivations in all our activities. In this general sense I include each of the varied motivations for survival, such as sex, competition, and selfishness, as being different kinds of loves.

To love unselfishly means to love another person equally to or more than oneself. Its opposite is selfish love, which means to love oneself more than others. This may seem a too-quantitative definition, referring to ‘more than’ with respect to love, when love is well known for being difficult to quantify! I am trying here to explain ‘unselfishness’ without using the word again in the explanation. We certainly have in our loving a kind of ordering of priorities. What we love more takes priority, precedence and time over what we love less (especially when we are free of constraints). We prioritize from the delight we feel about that activity. In Chapter 11, I will discuss how we might come to know about our loves. In that coming to know there is also a coming to know of ordering, priority, and relative delightfulness.

That God loves us unselfishly, and that we should love each other unselfishly, is the import of the most basic religious injunctions, including those of theistic religions:

  • Judaism: “the LORD your God is God, he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love” (Deuteronomy 7:9); “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." (Psalm 145:9)
  • Christianity: “God so loved the world" (John 3:16); “Love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39)
  • Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." (Sunnah)

The love of others makes you want to give them what you have, to make them happy and enjoy their life. An unselfish love, such as we attribute to God, promotes our being happy as much and as long as possible, and delights if we delight in our life.9.3

Such unselfish loves are to be contrasted with selfish loves. There are many other names for them, but here note only that our selfish loves want others to delight in what pleases us. We can imagine a good king who is happy because of the fact that his subjects are enjoying their life. He can be contrasted with a tyrant, who has his own ideas about what is delightful (probably involving much slave labor by others), and who wants others to become happy by making him happy. Unselfish love has the essential characteristic of wanting to give to others what they find delightful. Most of us agree that is good to be unselfish, even if we do not always ourselves live up to this standard.9.4


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