An article donated by Alton C. Thompson
Love and God
This essay has its basis in two Bible passages:
First, Matthew 25:35 – 40:
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Note that neither “God” nor “love” occurs in that passage, but that the passage (a) identifies several behaviors that one would categorize as “loving,” (b) behaviors of that sort are enjoined, subtly, with (c) the enjoining ostensibly being done by Jesus.
The second passage of importance for this essay is from I John 4:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Both “God” and “love” occur in this passage, with one enjoined to love one’s brother. By implication “brother” refers to anyone else in need of help -- with the fact that no specific loving behaviors are mentioned suggesting that all conceivable behaviors of a loving nature are being enjoined!
What’s unusual about the passage, however, is its declaration that “God is love”—that “God” is equated with “love”! This assertion is not only unusual, but potentially radical! What could it possibly mean?! Here’s my interpretation:
A recent article—one that I believe has relevance for this question—begins this way:
"Consider the positive feelings you experienced the last time when you did something good for someone else. Perhaps it was the satisfaction of running an errand for your neighbor, or the sense of fulfillment from volunteering at a local organization, or the gratification from donating to a good cause. Or perhaps it was the simple joy of having helped out a friend. This “warm glow” of pro-sociality is thought to be one of the drivers of generous behavior in humans. One reason behind the positive feelings associated with helping others is that being pro-social reinforce s our sense of relatedness to others, thus helping us meet our most basic psychological needs."
What that passage states, in effect, is that scientific evidence exists to the effect that that by doing good, one will feel good. What I would add to that fact is that when one does good, one may very well feel that one is indwelled by a spirit. What’s interesting about that sensation is that I John 24 declares that God is Spirit!
What I would suggest, then, regarding the “God is love” claim in I John is that the author was saying that rather than thinking of “God” as a (male) Being “out there” some place, one should perceive “God” as the feeling one will experience upon doing good for others.
That’s a truly radical thought! For it suggests, e. g., that prayers are useless activities. That rather than asking a God “out there” to help someone needing help, one should oneself do what one can to help others needing help!! Don’t shift the responsibility for helping others to a God “out there;” rather, take on that responsibility oneself! Be, therefore, like the Samaritan who helped the injured man after that man had been ignored and passed by both a priest and a Levine!
The fact, referred to above, that one tends to feel good as a result of doing good leads me to ask the following two questions:
1. Given that fact, why is loving behavior not commonplace in our society?
2. Given that loving behavior is not commonplace in our society today, what can be done to make it commonplace?
Answering those questions requires the use of an historical approach, which I begin now:
1. Anthropologist Alan Barnard, in his recent Hunters and Gatherers (2020), asserts (p. 56) that we humans were “designed” for a way of life based on hunting and gathering.
2. Anthropologists, in studying contemporary hunter-gatherers, have found that cooperation is a common feature of such groups.
3. A hunter-gatherer way of life can be thought of as one that is natural for our species (given that we were “designed” for it!).
4. One can generalize from this fact by stating that hunter-gatherer peoples engage in loving behavior, and that that was true of hunter-gatherer groups prior to the Agricultural Revolution as well.
5. The development of “civilized” ways of life, beginning with that Revolution, meant that, therefore, unnatural ways of life were being developed.
6. What makes “civilized” ways of life unnatural is that (a) they are structured so as to make natural/loving behavior difficult, with (b) the ideologies that tend to develop in such societies adding to that difficulty.
7. One consequence of the anxiety, insecurity, etc., that one experiences as an “inmate” (!) of a “civilized” society is that one may develop a tendency to become obsessed with thinking about the esoteric, e. g., “God.”1
8. What’s ironic about that is that given that “God is love” (i. e., engaging in loving behavior is “God”!), it’s the fact of being an inmate of a “civilized” society that both causes one to think about “God” and prevents one from engaging in loving behavior as a matter of course!
9. Therefore: If one values loving behavior, one should work for societal system change in a “return” direction (i.e., in the direction of a way of life based on hunting and gathering).
10. I would suggest working to create, and work for a proliferation of ecovillages! See, e.g., this: A Road to Survival? I see such an effort as best involving a “return” in a manner meaningful for 2020.
11. Doing so might not only “save” our species from extinction (caused by global warming)2, if done “properly,” it could also help solve some of our social problems!
12. Of particular relevance for this essay: Life in an ecovillage would facilitate loving behavior, at the “expense” of thoughts about “God” (!); and by doing so would give “meat” to the claim that “God is love”! And given the current coronavirus problem, I should add that people living in an ecovillage would be better able to avoid becoming victims of a health problem of this sort because of the relative self-sufficiency of their way of life.
13. Thorstein Veblen [1857 – 1929], in his The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts (1914), recognized that a (p. 342) “discrepancy” existed between the way of life for which we humans had become “designed” and the way that we Usans (among others ) were forced to live in 1914, and stated (pp. 333, 334) that “Laymen seek respite [from it] in the fog of occult and esoteric faiths and cults, and so fall back on the will to believe things of which the senses transmit no evidence; while the learned and studious are, by stress of the same ‘aching void,’ drawn into speculative tenets of ostensible knowledge that purport to go nearer to the heart of reality, and that elude all mechanistic proof or disproof.” This suggests this question: Given that the Discrepancy to which Veblen referred is even more notable now in 2020 than it was in 1916, how might Veblen’s thinking about this be extended to 2020?
14. With global warming also contributing to the current coronavirus crisis!
Originally posted: 2020-APR-03
Latest update: 2020-JUN-26
Author: Alton C. Thompson