You’ve only to look through a smattering of the world’s literature to realise that love is a big deal to the human race. It seems as though every film, every novel, every song is infused with a love story to keep observers’ attention; it’s what we want to engage with. It seems fitting that such a complex species should be so obsessed with such a complex feeling. There’s no black and white to love – it can be a source of joy or pain, and often a mixture of the two – it affects anyone, anywhere, any time and it cannot be controlled. Previously straightforward decisions become clouded and overwhelming and strong opinions can be toppled in seconds. Love is not a force to be meddled with. It is so complicated, just finding words to define it is mind-blowing. It is a feeling, an emotion, an obsession, a compulsion, cruel, kind, beautifully simple and yet so hideously problematic. We are far closer to understanding time than we will ever be to understanding love.
Of course, it could just be an evolutionary compulsion adapted to give us the best chance of surviving to produce fertile offspring…
Humans are an incredibly social species in comparison to the rest of biology. The primary function of most animals appears to be to survive as best as they can and produce fertile offspring. For most animals, this really consumes most of their time; they rarely get a chance to sit down with a few friends with a couple of bottles of wine and chat through the night… and even when they have the time, they seem to have something better to do! The fact is, no other animal feels the need to form and maintain relationships with others in the same way we do. If you have a pet, I’m afraid they only love you because they think they need you to survive as best as they can; it’s what you’ve taught them. But for most people, relationships are important to us regardless of whether they pose us an advantage – we love our parents, for example, until the day they die and beyond, despite any mental deterioration and financial dependence that may arise in their old age.
I’m unsure as to how unconventional my view of altruism is among Christians but, for me, when I logically attempt to derive a conclusion as to whether the phenomenon truly exists, I only ever come to one answer. I should be clear that when I talk about altruism here, I am referring to the idea of complete selflessness; an ability to ultimately and definitively put someone else’s needs above one’s own.
One of the most common arguments used against the concept of a perfect, divine entity is that there is so much evil and suffering in the world. You don’t have to look far away to see pain, anguish and horrific mistreatment and to many people this is conclusive evidence that if there is a God; He cannot be both good and omnipotent. I’ve heard responses to this point that have been awful, and have seen some that completely dodge around it, ignoring the object and instead feeding you a decoy lined with uncommon theological jargon.
I think, certainly in the UK, people see Christianity as a form of life insurance, something that old people turn to in order to feel safe for their future. People have a very traditional view of what it means to be a Christian, and what church is like and see it is somewhere to go to when your mind is slowly deteriorating that gives comfort and peace in those final years. It is true that this aspect of Christianity exists, this is undeniable, but anyone who takes any of the teachings seriously will tell you that faith in the Christian God is far more complex, and far more relational than just a get-out-of-jail-free card.
We’ve all told that little white lie occasionally, perhaps our friend looks “absolutely wonderful” with their new life-sized tattoo of a cat’s head on the back of their neck. Or our mother has a “simply beautiful” singing voice when really it takes every ounce of self control not to cover your ears and run – we are just trying to be polite. Unfortunately, we undeniably live in a world where we can’t just go around saying what we think, we often have some fairly hurtful opinions that our minds do not hesitate to put into the clearest of words. Even the least intelligent of people seem incredibly practised in their use of imagery when talking about the new haircut of “that idiot over there;” it can be anything from a ‘dirty mop’ to a ‘dead cat.’ So, quite reasonably it seems, we are prevented from saying exactly what is on our minds.
If someone does something that is perceived as wrong then they tend to be punished. In the case of children, this punishment is usually administered as a form of discipline, teaching the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. They aren’t punished because of the thing that they did wrong, but because they are being shaped and moulded into the person that their carer wants them to be; it’s an act of love, or at least it should be. Most legal systems work on slightly different principles – their punishments are based on retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation.
Success is an interesting concept to consider because it’s definition is hyper-variable from person to person. My copy of The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as:
“The accomplishment of an aim or purpose”
You may be surprised as to how general that definition is. Of course, when we talk about success in general we are talking about the success of one’s life; how satisfied we are with the accomplishment of our own personal goals. These vary from person to person from happiness to love, sex, money, power, changing the world, having kids, marriage, having material published in their name – the list is endless. But is there a right or wrong answer?