The Death of Love Has Debased America's Greatness
Love is Finally Dead in America, but Does Anyone Care?
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Is it overly-dramatic to suggest love in America is now DOA—Dead on Arrival? Of course not. In various ways we may measure the death of love in society, from the state of dating, marriage and families; the vitality and content of the education system; the typical interaction between strangers; or the state of orthodoxy preached from American pulpits. While there may be a spirited debate over the exact definition of love—there can be no doubt that the traditional notion is now defunct. Seminal French intellectual Jacques Ellul wrote:
I might adopt once again a formula I have used many times without ever being refuted: “In a society which talks excessively about a human factor, the point is that this factor does not exist. People talk excessively about freedom when it is suppressed.” This formula has always proved to be true. I would thus apply it here as well. So many novels and essays and studies and experiments and propositions are made precisely in order to hide the basic absence of love. Love does not exist in our society. It is no more than a word.
But why make the dramatic claim love is dead? Because great evidence exists that this statement is true. Further, such a fact must mean that our culture is mortally ill and will die unless we reverse course on this essential issue. In a variety of instances we can see how the very notion of love itself has fled from an increasingly materialistic, over-sexualized and spiritually apostate land. For example, traditional concepts of marriage are replaced by cohabitation, hookup dating, pornography, and endless tales of misbegotten trysts—like the army of young and attractive female teachers seducing students, which hits the papers on a weekly basis.
All of this reveals a sad and alarming absence of real love. Again, consider how materialism, technology-mania, and pop-psychology have overwhelmed America’s traditional concern with friends, family and care for strangers. Further, ponder how a lack of understanding of God’s love—whether miss-delivered from the pulpit via various heretical sermons, or in private Christian lives and their pagan practices—has caused a catastrophe for America.
I. What is Love?
Existentialists, cynics, and contrarians might dispute the very existence of love. Yet, most persons will admit that not only does some form of love exist, but that without it, human existence would not be worth living. How love is defined is another matter. For this we must turn to both secular and religious authorities, being Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck and Saint Paul of Tarsus.
A. M Scott Peck—The Road less Traveled
One of the greatest successes in the history of modern publishing, The Road Less Traveled became a best-seller 5 years after its initial release. Much of the book focuses upon Harvard and Case Western Reserve trained psychiatrist Peck’s experience in practice and related ideas about discipline, human growth and love. Here is an excerpt:
I am presuming, however, to give a single definition of love, again with the awareness that it is likely to be in some way or ways inadequate. I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
Peck goes on to explain that love is not an emotion, but an act of the will:
Genuine love implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. When we are concerned for someone’s spiritual growth, we know that a lack of commitment is likely to be harmful and that commitment to that person is probably necessary for us to manifest our concern effectively….I have defined love as the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth. Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. If it is, so much the better; but if it isn’t, the commitment to love, the will to love, still stands and is still
B. Saint Paul—The New Testament
Undoubtedly the most quoted passage in history upon love comes from the pen of Saint Paul. Here, again the definition of love is put into terms of action, not feeling. From the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians 4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
C. Four Types of Biblical Love
The most sophisticated analysis of the different types of love is found in the New Testament, as analyzed by one author here:
Eros Love—This means physical passion; its gratification and fulfillment. The Greek word is not used in the New Testament, but inferred in many scriptures and is the only kind of love that God restricts to a one-man, one-woman relationship within the bounds of marriage (Heb. 13:4; Song 1:13; 4:5-6; 7:7-9; 8:10; 1 Cor. 7:25; Eph. 5:31).
Storge Love - Storge is the natural bond between mother and infant, father, children, and kin. William Barclay states, “We cannot help loving our kith and kin; blood is thicker than water” (N.T. Words, 1974).
Phileo Love - Phileo love is a love of the affections. It is delighting to be in the presence of another, a warm feeling that comes and goes with intensity. The Bible encourages it but it is never a direct command. God never commands phileo since this type of love is based on the feelings.
Agape Love - Agape love is God’s kind of love. It is seeking the welfare and betterment of another regardless of how we feel. Agape does not have the primary meaning of feelings or affection. Jesus displayed it when he went to the cross and died for you and me regardless of how He felt. In the gospels Jesus prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt. 26:39; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:41-43; Jn. 18:11).
II. Love, American Style
Where is the evidence that love in America no longer exists? Actually, it is everywhere around. Contra, the real difficulty is in finding evidence of love’s existence, at all. For example,
A. Romance—No More Lifelong Love?
One of the hallmarks of Western romance was the idea of incorporeal love which lasted a lifetime—“In sickness and in health, till death do us part.” But today this idea has been set aside, with hookup affairs replacing traditional dating, and courtship thrown out the window—dating has been reduced to speedy tryouts launched upon mattresses across the continent.
So instead of deep relationships based upon knowledge of the other’s character and habits, commonalities and commitments, we have essentially continued on with trite high school unions, which begin and end upon a whim. Further, the deep dissatisfaction such relationships cause leads to marital instability and higher divorce rates. This in turn creates cycles of families without fathers, and all the associated problems this lack creates. Needless to say this approach reveals a lack of even the most rudimentary knowledge of genuine love.
B. Eros, God of America
We have created a de facto cult of sex in America. The ministers are the bizarrely ignorant mandarin class of relationship gurus who act as if they were just born, Athena-like, from a wound to the head of Zeus. No claim is too illogical, contra-factual or unsubstantiated for them to offer, as they are, as a group—positively allergic to genuine science. For example, during the Seventies, these “experts” explained how children would rather go through divorce than suffer parental arguments—and they’d be better off, too. What a joke. Common sense and later statistics proved how devastating divorce was upon kids.
This cult is driven by naive cynicism of Americans who no longer are taught to think or the elements of logic and debate in public schools. Instead, most Americans are simply ripe for propagandizing by the leftist media, politicians and academics. So this cult continues to grow, suggesting such weird ideas that, while Americans love their children, it’s OK to abandon them in divorces, or simply flush them down the sewer after a routine, government funded abortion. This last is the bloody sacrifice offered to the cult of sex.
An example our nonsensical approach to sex that many Americans now accept as inevitable is the astounding number of female teachers who seduce their students and are then caught and lightly punished. These women tend to be attractive, married and predatory. If anything reveals the disaster of separating love from marriage, and treating sex as a hobby, certainly this is it.
Further, the sad number of young women lured into the sex trade, be it for stripping, porn acting or prostitution reveals how destroyed the American family has been by the Sexual Revolution. These women tend to be, statistically,—highly likely to have been sexually molested in youth. Further, they remain untreated for this abuse. Children in broken families are at a stratospherically higher risk for being exploited by step-dads and boyfriends than kids in intact families.
So mentally disadvantaged and vulnerable women across America are being lured into ruining their lives in the sex trade, which are then further destroyed by drink, drugs and disease—without hope for treating the underlying cause. And Americans celebrate this debauchery of the abuse survivors by plugging into their daily dose of pornography. But where is the love to be found in this sordid mess? And this is the best we can do to care for our kids and create loving homes to nurture them?
The state of the American family has never been shakier. At one time, most folks believed it was a sacred duty to care and provide for their progeny which were produced with a single mate. Instead today, everywhere parents are coming together and breaking apart as if mandated by forces beyond resistance, while the children of these unions suffer for years without committed biological parents. But if these parents really loved their children wouldn’t they simply put away the games and enter into permanent unions with the other parent of their children?
Isn’t it childish and irresponsible to blame the lack of material goods or even one’s own happiness upon government or the opposition political party? Instead, wouldn’t a loving approach to politics insist that people do better when they are responsible for their own lives? Anything else would be less than loving, correct? Instead, our addiction to pragmatism—meaning any road from A-Z is acceptable—buries any question of whether lies, deceit, immorality or unethical behavior occurred to bring the results.
How do people treat each other these days? A number of articles have been written concerning how many Americans have dropped traditional manners. For example, many no longer say—“please,” or “thank you,” during everyday transactions. Further, there is a growing sense that many Americans no longer feel much gratitude at all, but instead are aggrieved over what they believe they are owed. But do loving people adopt these attitudes?
Is it true that we Americans are owed a handout. Setting aside all those who genuinely need some form of aid to make it, like the widowed, handicapped and orphaned, how many seemingly healthy Americans would prefer state aid over gainful employment? Is it a hallmark of a loving attitude to want others to support you if you are healthy enough to work?
Whether one accepts a biblical, therapeutic, or even a philosophical standard for love—like Comte’s altruism—we badly need to reflect upon the lack of committment to others in our society. If love is gone in America, only Believers can help bring it back. We must first blame the church for failing in its mission to bring light into darkness, and import salt as a preservative in troubling times. Then we must swear a sacred oath to bring back this foundational element, as we repent and instruct our broken land. Don’t forget it was Christ who stated in Luke 11: 33-36:
“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”
The aforementioned Christian intellectual and author Jacques Ellul writes a splendid chapter on Lifelong Love in his book What I Believe, reproduced here:
Since Western civilization achieved awareness of itself, no theme has been more scrutinized in literature, and later in music, than love. Everything has been said and written about it. Our own age is particularly
explosive on the subject. People discuss every aspect of it: homosexual and heterosexual love, plural love, free love, transitory love, extrovert love, trial love, love without limits. Everybody is concerned about it: the psychoanalyst of course, the scientist, especially the geneticist, the doctor, the psychologist, the moralist, the bishop, and the philosopher. All have their own remedies and conceptions and proposed orientations. I might adopt once again a formula I have used many times without ever being refuted: “In a society which talks excessively about a human factor, the point is that this factor does not exist. People talk excessively about freedom when it is suppressed.” This formula has always proved to be true. I would thus apply it here as well. So many novels and essays and studies and experiments and propositions are made precisely in order to hide the basic absence of love. Love does not exist in our society. It is no more than a word. Someone might object: “What does it matter what an old man says about love; he no longer knows anything about it and cannot do so; he is unaware of the beautiful blossoming of it all around him. He is simply looking at the past.” Nevertheless, I think I have something to say on the matter, the fruit of long experience, something that is not often put forward today. But I must begin by challenging certain actual orientations under the heading of the disintegration of love.
Here I want to present another point of view. What we very generally call love is the fruit of prolonged human evolution. Like all animals, human beings at the very first coupled together as male and female, and we do not know whether this coupling then took a permanent form. But the earliest records available to us show that by that time it was not a matter of a few minutes or of chance. There was a more complete union between a man and a woman (or several women). The sexual act was linked to a totality of life and of responsibilities. In relation to the woman the man had certain functions, as had the woman in relation to the man. This was not fleeting, temporary, or contingent coupling. The sexual union was a lasting one. In every country and tribe it had become marriage with various taboos and with a prohibiting of adultery or incest. The world of sex was integrated into a larger reality and regulated as one of the most important factors in life. Man and woman had a totally reciprocal life which included the sexual act, though this was neither primary nor exalted. The sexual act normally resulted in the birth children. Ideas relating to the union developed; it came to be magnified; it found expression; it became religious. Thus the stage of love arrived, the express commitment of one person to another, a choice, and even by way of prohibitions and taboos a sublimation. Love consisted of this emotional, voluntary, reciprocal, and vital totality. And the love of the two led to love of a third, the product of the union, when it came. If romantics have fallen into idealistic excesses regarding incorporeal love, those who deny the existence of total love fail to recognize the profound reality of human beings for at least five thousand years. The corporeal and physiological aspects are indissolubly related to the spiritual aspects, to the total relation.
But what we see today is the complete disintegration of this totality. Already easy abortion breaks it open, though in a secondary way. But what we are now seeing is the breaking apart of the constituents of total love. Sexuality has been detached from the whole. To give people the right to procreate freely without any personal relation either to the donor or the recipient of sperm is to detach human love from one of its basic functions. What becomes of total love if the husband gives his sperm to some other woman, or the wife is pregnant by the sperm of another man? Or if there is in vitro fertilization? It has been well said (by a scientist!) What when a woman bears the seed of a man who is not her husband there takes place real biological adultery. And when in the discussions of the conference mentioned above someone asked what is meant after all by a couple, he was referring to the breaking up of that total complex of love. Procreation is no longer the fruit of a shared delight, a reciprocal joy, a tenderness, and a venture. It is a purely mechanical and technical act. Similarly, abortion as a merely practical and often invalid procedure has become no more than a technical operation without good reason or sense of responsibility for the life that is broken off. The final objection to my viewpoint is obvious: You are reactionary, you cannot stop progress, we now know how to clone and graft, there is no more room for discussion, the moral or humanistic criticisms are those of the rearguard that has already been left behind. This is a fine argument. What it amounts to is that we have no choice or decision to make, but have to accept what technological progress makes possible and necessary. Is this a triumph of freedom? In reality it is a triumph of bondage, of the very opposite of freedom. As slaves of progress we have to watch one of the main reasons for living, namely, love, being debased and destroyed before our very eyes. This is the question. And this is why we should pay heed to Monsignor Lustiger when he asks whether we have adequately reflected on these matters.
All this is just a preamble. But I want to say how sad I am when I see before me the thoughtlessness of many love affairs, and how compassionate I feel when I note experiences that show such a fundamental ignorance of love. When I witness the end of a marriage because one of the spouses is gripped by a passion for someone else, I am as sad as at the death of a child. I am sad, too, when I see what is now the traditional confusion between the sexual act and love. People are constantly talking about “making love.” But we do not “make” love. It is love perhaps that makes us by edifying us. No one has ever been able to “make” love. At best we live it.
But this is another matter. For many people, however, love is no more than making love. No matter with whom! And the partner is no longer flesh of my flesh or bone of my bone or more myself than I am. The partner is simply a partner in a game or in momentary pleasure. This is what love has become. Am I a romantic? If so, then people five thousand years before Jesus Christ were romantics. I am sad when people enter into preliminary experiences to find out if they are sexually compatible, for this shows that marriage is not a matter of love but of putting the pieces together well, of constructing a good machine. I am sad when I see a union in which there is no mutual commitment but only an agreement to live together. For this means that it will last only so long But why am I sad and not scandalized? Why do I not judge and instruct? I am sad because I realize that those who are living in this way do not know what love is. They are missing a whole number of possibilities.
Throughout their lives they have no knowledge of the finest of human creations. They are missing the truth, the only possible meaning of life, in the name of theories and passions. From the very outset they are failing as it lasts. to find the vital path of life.
I am sad, then, as before a life that has failed. Love is not fleeting or experimental. It is not a child of Bohemia. It is a permanent thing and not a butterfly flight dependent on those who feel it. It is made to last because it is life. Life comes from it, and not life alone, but the only possible relation to the other. We cannot live without this basic relation that presupposes myself in the other and the other in myself. Love cannot exist without this existential presence. But we need to find it again and not view the other merely as an accidental instrument of my pleasure or as an absolute stranger who has nothing in common with me apart from habits and experiences. Love is not just a matter of the I-Thou that one can have in a social relationship. Here is not just some other but the other that is also myself, unique and not indeterminate. I am in this other as this other is in me. The complete otherness comes to completion in an identity which excludes mere selfhood. This is the most basic experience that we can have in life. And in it alone the statement becomes true that love is stronger than death (Cant. 8:6).