The Prime Minister was mocked for saying that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Such truisms are surely too simplistic for the sophisticated British electorate? The First Minister announced at the Glasgow Pride event at the weekend, “Love is Love” – and was applauded. But what does that mean? Just as ‘Brexit means Brexit’ sounds good to those who think Brexit is a good idea and think they know what it means, so ‘Love is Love’ sounds good to those who think they know what it means. But what does it mean? What is love? Is love more than a feeling? More than a second-hand emotion? And what does love have to do with government policy?
For those who are naturalistic materialistic atheists or agnostics, there is a real problem. If everything is reduced to the chemical, the physical and the biological then love is, like humanity, just a collection of chemicals. As the late great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell declared, “we are a blob of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another”. ‘Love’ therefore is simply a chemical reaction, something which makes the ‘Love is Love’ truism meaningless in almost every sense, but especially in determining government policy. After all why should one chemical reaction be considered more significant than another? Hate after all is hate – and it too is a chemical reaction. But hate is bad. Agreed? But how do we know that? In a materialistic world there is ultimately no good and bad, just social constructs and evolved language. Who is to say that just as we are told we can change the social construct of gender, that we cannot change the even more malleable construct of language? Maybe Orwell was right in his dystopian vision of 1984 – how long before we have crowds shouting ‘hate is love and love is hate’?
There is another even more obvious problem with saying that love is love in a Godless world. What if someone’s chemical reaction is to marry ten people? Or to marry their sister? Or they have a chemical reaction that attracts them towards children? No one doubts that these things exist but does that mean that because ‘love is love’; polygamy, incest and paedophilia should be government policy? Of course not. Before going any further it needs to be stressed (because there are those who think this and there are those who thinks it is being implied) that I am not equating homosexuality with these at all. I am trying to deal with the logical basis (if one is allowed to think logically in today’s emotive political culture) that the First Minister set our for her ‘consultation’ (which is of course nothing of the sort, as the result is already pre-determined) announced at the weekend in which people will be able to self-declare themselves to be whatever gender they want – without any need for medical or psychological evidence. ‘Love is Love’ is a nice soundbite to be applauded by an unthinking crowd, but it is not a reason for government policy – especially because it is so vacuous.
But is love irrelevant? No – we need to define what it is. Perhaps the Darwinian understanding of humanity can help here? Love is more beneficial to humanity than hate because we have learned that reciprocal altruism benefits the species as a whole- whereas hate destroys it. It’s a good argument. But is the ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ argument enough? Is that a sufficient basis for government policy? It’s certainly an improvement on love is love, but it still remains hopelessly inadequate. There may be times when hate actually benefits a particular group and society – would that make it right? And there surely is a time when even reciprocal altruism is not enough. What about that most absurd and evil of Christian doctrines, as Christopher Hitchens declared, ‘love your enemies’?
Because for the Christian there is a different and more concrete version of love. The Apostle Paul teaches about it in 1 Corinthians 13, the Lord Jesus exemplifies and practices it – and the Apostle John sum it up neatly in his first letter. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16 (NIV). “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. “1 John 4:10-11 (NIV)
These are profound and deep words that require a lot of thought, meditation and practical working out. But they are real and concrete. What if they are true? They provide substance and meaning to ‘Love is Love’ by telling us and showing us that ‘God is Love’. That does not mean that anything we feel is love can then be considered to be God. It does however give us an objective and real standard outwith ourselves, by which we can judge and be judged. It is the most radical and revolutionary teaching of Jesus Christ, which once turned the world upside down and can do so again. Perhaps our society really needs to come to grips with and understand the love of God in Christ – so that love ceases to be a second-hand emotion and instead becomes the dynamic of us all?
David Robertson, Solas CPC