I've recently been asked to contribute a paper to a journal where I'll respond to five papers dealing with the subject of love from both psychological and theological perspectives. So on my bike ride to work I was thinking about the Greatest Commandments:
Matthew 22:36-40As I pondered these words it struck me that three loves are spoken of:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Love of God: "Love the Lord your God."Obviously, these loves have different foci:
Love of Other: "Love your neighbor."
Love of Self: "as [you love] yourself."
Cultic(The word "cultic" might need some explaining. I'm not talking about "cults" like what you hear about in the media. The word cult here is referring to religious activities that are devoted to the care and honoring of a deity. The word cult comes from the Latin colore, meaning to "cultivate" or "care for" in a gardening sense. Applied to religious life, then, cultic activity is the "care for" a God or gods--usually through rituals of worship, honoring, and veneration. Thus, going to church on Sunday to worship God is a cultic activity.)
As I thought about these loves and their different emphases I was struck how they exist in tension with each other. For example, in Unclean I spend a great deal of time talking about the tensions between mercy and sacrifice in stories like Matthew 9.9-13. In that story we see cultic love ("sacrifice") coming into conflict with humanistic love ("mercy").
I also discuss in Unclean the tensions between love of self and love of others. I recently wrote some more about this and received some pushback from some of you. Recall, I've expressed some skepticism about the modern therapeutic focus on healthy boundaries. However, many of you have argued that healthy boundaries, as a form of self-love, are necessary before we can love others in a healthy way. Thus we face another tension: Love of self (setting boundaries to preserve the self) and love of others (allowing the self to become expended on behalf of others).
In short, the ideal of love seems to exist in the middle of a triangle at the center of these three foci of love:
Using this model we can examine/describe various faith communities by looking for imbalances, where one vertex/corner might be being privileged over the other two. For example, when we find self love dominating in a faith community we have a group strongly focused on self-care and therapeutic issues (e.g., self-esteem enhancement). In communities where cultic love dominates we'll find a strong focus on pleasing (or displeasing) God, often through correct doctrine and rituals (e.g., religious dogmatism and fundamentalism). Finally, in communities where love of other dominates we'll find a strong humanitarian and humanistic community, with lots of discussions about things like justice and poverty.
We might even go further and create two-point codes showing how particular faith communities combine two loves to create a distinctive life. For example, a Unitarian group might get a SO code (Self/Other) if they have a therapeutic/humanistic vibe, with little interest in "religion" (the cultic love). A social justice oriented evangelical group (think Jim Wallis or Tony Campolo) might have a CO code (Cultic/Other) where there's a strong impulse to obey God that is mainly expressed through social justice activism. In contrast, more conservative evangelical churches might get a CS (Cultic/Self) code where obedience to God mainly results in benefits for the self, either salvifically or therapeutically (I'm trying to capture in this the huge self-help aspect of a lot of contemporary Christianity).
The ordering of the codes might also be used to communicate relative emphasis. For example, your typical therapeutic evangelical community might get a CS (Cultic/Self) ordering, but someone like a Joel Osteen might get that switched around with a SC (Self/Cultic) ordering to communicate an excessive focus on self love (where we start seeing that health and wealth gospel stuff emerging).
I'm just brainstorming with all this.
Anyway, to wrap this up, it does seem like some sort of balance is the key. And in light of that, I'm intrigued by the trinitarian structure.
So what do you think of this model? And for those of you in the social sciences or working with churches, have you seen a model like this anywhere else?