This week’s question: “What do atheists think love is?”
It’s interesting to me how often the word “love” comes up in conversations about belief in God. To many theists, it seems to be the ultimate counter to any skeptical argument. After all, love is immaterial, timeless, perfect, all-good and all-giving. What is God, if not perfect love? What is perfect love, if not God?
Even though they can’t explain what God is and lack evidence or justification for belief in God, they reason that if I can’t be justified in believing in God, then I can’t be justified in believing in love, for love lacks explanations and evidence.
[media-credit id=20135 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]To them, I would ask: Do you believe in the love between you and your parents, siblings, friends and spouses? Because I can believe in that love. It is as tangible to me as the chair I sit on or the paper you read. But is that love that you know perfect, timeless, all-good, all-giving or without condition? No. See, we both know that our love is not perfect — it is human after all — and it has its shortcomings. And perhaps only a god is capable of perfect love.
But I am here to tell you that just because I don’t believe in the perfect man, that does not mean I don’t believe in perfecting man. Though perfect love may not exist in this reality, it is the love here on Earth which we should really be striving to perfect.
David Urzua is a fifth-year philosophy major.
The naturalistic worldview that many atheists share receives heavy criticism for its apparent bleakness and lack of meaning. Some extreme critics even claim that a Darwinistic view of biology leads to a socially Darwinistic worldview, citing the actions of people like Stalin and Pol Pot as evidence. These claims are absurd, as there are millions of non-believers on this planet who manage to get through each day without filling a mass grave. How is this possible? Simply put, the removal of God from one’s life does not constitute the removal of love.
Love is extremely important in the daily life of a naturalist. The implications of being just one branch on an ever-adapting tree of life, riding around on a speck of dust in an unfathomable void can seem depressing to some. It is easy to understand the attractiveness of being someone’s special creation. However, for many of us non-believers, it is the love we share and receive in our daily lives that staves off the icy grip of fatalism. We choose to invest our love and compassion in relationships with people here on Earth, where there is evidence that our love is being reciprocated, or not. Non-theists even find empathy in their hearts for strangers, and in most cases, treat them with respect without textual instruction. It is foolish to equate love with something divine or beyond human comprehension when its effects are seen worldwide, regardless of creed (or lack thereof).
Mark Belko is a fourth-year film and media studies and French major.
Love is a biological and psychological response — a result of electrical and chemical processes in one’s brain. But that’s not the real question we’re being asked, of course.
The core of the query is whether I believe that love is different than other biological processes and that it is inherently more valuable, beautiful or special. After all, if it is as mundanely electrical and chemical as, say, digestion of food or the adrenaline fight-or-flight response, doesn’t that diminish love somehow, relegating it to an animalistic behavior? Doesn’t a chemical basis for an emotion make that emotion transient, unimportant or basic? The short answer is no. While there is nothing magical, spiritual or even inherently valuable about love in the same way that there is nothing inherently more valuable about a sunset than about the midday sun, most people would say that one is beautiful and the other unpleasant. Love may be a biological, evolutionary construct, a self-manufactured sensation and an emotional state that evolutionarily serves to make social animals more likely to stick around and care for each other and their offspring, but none of these facts have any bearing on whether love is awesome, important, special, beautiful and valuable. The people viewing a sunset give it its beauty; the people in love give love its value. Love is not diminished by its electrical and chemical origins any more than Shakespeare is diminished by its ink and paper origins.
Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.
Love takes the standard classic approach of saying “I can’t explain something, so here’s an explanation for it.” It is an affront to the mind and the English language, discarding any attempts at eloquence and clinging to a hopeless, childish romantic mindset.
I have never had two believers in love give me the same definition of love of it. The concept is even vaguer when expressed than the concept of God. Granted, the response is typically that love manifests itself differently in each person, but even this presents a whole new level of problems. The logic here is simpler than people are making it. If love is different for every single person, why even bother trying to form a consistent word or a unifying concept for it? A name for it (and I hesitate to even use the word “it”) does not make it any more solid or consistent than it is without one.
A profound attachment to someone or something does not imply anything beyond its face value (or that the feeling is even positive for that matter). I have heard many times that “love is eternal” and “love is fleeting.” The word has such a level of absurdity that it has become nothing more than meaningless nonsense. Words are powerful. Let’s not dilute them with things like love.
Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.
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I really enjoyed this article and all the differing opinions!
I tire of reading these masturbatory articles, and yet I come across them on a weekly basis. The condescendence from your writings is without cause, and I’m not sure why every week I have to read what an atheist is or isn’t. Frankly most of these writings are misguided, and I miss when people weren’t atheists just because it was fashionable. Could we please move on to something else? Most of these people haven’t realized that the “scientific” standard they impose on faith before they find it credible (which I get to read about every week, oh joy!) has been… Read more »
Not sure I understand what you said. Care to elaborate?
I also wonder if your complaints are not a case of psychological projection?
“I have to read what an atheist is or isn’t.” Who is forcing you to read these articles? “The condescendence from your writings is without cause” What do you find condescending about it? “Frankly most of these writings are misguided” Please elaborate. “I miss when people weren’t atheists just because it was fashionable.” I’ve never found questioning one’s beliefs to be “fashionable”. In fact, its been a very difficult journey for me, but its not something I openly discuss with others unless they ask. I’m glad these articles exist because its a way for me to interact with like-minded people… Read more »
I agree with Kristen’s point: no one is forcing you to read anything. If the goal is to obtain new information when reading the newspaper, why is it such a problem to hear the perspective of those you may not agree with? If anything, it can help you to solidify your own beliefs OR it can help you to conceptualize things you may not have ever considered. Either way, it can’t be that detrimental to your daily life or personal belief system. As far as your seeming attack on atheists, I find it slightly ignorant of you to make such… Read more »
I missed the earlier replies, so I doubt either of you will read this, but here’s my reply. @joshua: I’m worse off on knowing which part you didn’t understand. Maybe you should’ve specified. @Kirsten: You know, your first reply is the knee-jerk reaction on any argument, and I’m sure you can do better than that. I’m sure you can better evaluate the context of that sentence. For a condescending statement, read “To many theists, it seems to be the ultimate counter to any skeptical argument. After all, love is immaterial, timeless, perfect, all-good and all-giving. What is God, if not… Read more »
The part of your comment I could not understand was this one: *** Most of these people haven’t realized that the “scientific” standard they impose on faith before they find it credible (which I get to read about every week, oh joy!) has been forgone now that they consider “love”, because it’s everywhere and it’s apparent. Well so is faith, and its effects — for better or worse — are just as apparent. *** I think I get a sense of what you are saying now, but it’s hard to tell. “To our known limits the point can’t be proven… Read more »
Well said, Joshua!
For lack of a better term, “loved” this article ;)
Thought it was a great articulation of some of my own beliefs on the topic and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one out there who oftentimes views love as a concept.
A friend wrote this: “God is Energy” or “God is Love” or “God is…” anything else that already had a label for it. People use this tactic in an attempt to prove that God exists. It’s used far more often than sanity would normally allow, but do not forget we are talking about the religious. The problem is people take these other definitions and apply them as proof ‘God’ exists, and then claims their religion has Reason. But there is a very simple flaw… if you say something like, ‘God is energy’ then prove energy exists, then all you’ve accomplished… Read more »