Friday, June 8, 2012

God loves us Unselfishly

We need to determine whether what exists is one or whether it is many. Having postulated that God exists, and that he exists as the being itself that we individuals have, we next need to know whether we form many beings or just one large being. We may conceivably be creatures who are continuous extensions of the divine being. Such creatures would be wondrous beings and feel wonderful, but it does not appear that we are that kind of creature. Why?  Is there any reason why we should be distinct from God?

Unselfish love

To answer that question, we need to understand another component of core theism. This component is not something obvious from the philosophical point of view, but is, rather, very personal:

Postulate 4  God loves us unselfishly. 

To understand this, we need to know what ‘love’ means, and what ‘unselfish’ means. These will be discussed in more detail later, but for now let us just remember some of the basic facts about these two matters.

Some may think that love is merely a warm sticky emotion in the presence or touch of loved ones such as babies or kittens with big eyes. Others may think it is the persistent feeling of longing for the beloved. Others (more scientifically oriented) may think it is a byproduct of the neuro-chemical and/or information-handling processes in the brain. Here, we are going to distinguish four things, all connected to love:

  1. Love, as the underlying motivation or disposition that generates all relevant intentions and actions, 
  2. Desire, as the presence of love in our intentions, 
  3. Delights, as the sensations and joy which are the final manifestation of loving actions, and 
  4. Affections, as the feeling of persistent loves and desires that arise after experiencing delights. 

For a given person and given motivation, these four things are all related. For now, we are going to focus on the love (1.), namely the underlying motivation for our actions. I am using the word ‘love’ in a very general sense here, to refer not just to what we think of as good loves but also to the underlying motivations in all our activities. In this general sense I include each of the varied motivations for survival, such as sex, competition, and selfishness, as being different kinds of loves.

To love unselfishly means to love another person equally to or more than oneself. Its opposite is selfish love, which means to love oneself more than others. This may seem a too-quantitative definition, referring to ‘more than’ with respect to love, when love is well known for being difficult to quantify!  I am trying here to explain ‘unselfishness’ without using the word again in the explanation. We certainly have in our loving a kind of ordering of priorities. What we love more takes priority, precedence and time over what we love less (especially when we are free of constraints). We prioritize from the delight we feel about that activity. Later I will discuss how we might come to know about our loves. In that coming to know there is also a coming to know of ordering, priority, and relative delightfulness.

That God loves us unselfishly, and that we should love each other unselfishly, is the import of the most basic religious injunctions, including those of theistic religions:

  • Judaism: “the LORD your God is God, he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love” (Deuteronomy 7:9); “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." (Psalm 145:9) 
  • Christianity: “God so loved the world" (John 3:16); “Love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39) 
  • Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." (Sunnah) 

The love of others makes you want to give them what you have, to make them happy and enjoy their life. An unselfish love, such as we attribute to God, promotes our being happy as much and as long as possible, and delights if we delight in our life.

Such unselfish loves are to be contrasted with selfish loves. There are many other names for them, but here note only that our selfish loves want others to delight in what pleases us. We can imagine a good king who is happy because of the fact that his subjects are enjoying their life. He can be contrasted with a tyrant, who has his own ideas about what is delightful (probably involving much slave labor by others), and who wants others to become happy by making him happy. Unselfish love has the essential characteristic of wanting to give to others what they find delightful. Most of us agree that is good to be unselfish, even if we do not always ourselves live up to this standard.

I believe that God is completely unselfish: that he cannot love himself at all. Such a 'strong unselfishness' is however difficult for us humans to comprehend.  It is, however, not necessary to go this far to draw the conclusions to be made in future posts.

Selflessness and personal unselfishness

One way of understanding the postulated unselfishness of God would be to imagine that God is a universal being who does not have a proper sense of self to start with. In this scenario God would have more ‘self-less-ness’ than unselfishness, since the boundary between God and the world could not then be rigorously defined. This comes from pantheistic inclinations and in it God is not a full person. This is an impersonal view of God.

We will see however, that the God we are talking about does have the existence and properties needed to be a person. I am not referring to a person like us and existing among us, such that we might possibly exist without him because such a God would not be metaphysically necessary. Instead, I am referring to God as Being itself, and also as Love and Wisdom themselves. These together are sufficient to make God a person, with a sense of self and a sense of consciousness as a particular person. Then we can say that God loves us unselfishly and not just self-less-ly in an impersonal manner.

Some theologians dislike this view because they formulate their postulates differently. That "God is Being Itself", for example, is taken by Paul Tillich in 1951 to imply that God is therefore not himself a ‘being’, since he is more the prerequisite or condition of possibility for any entity to exist. If God is not in fact a being, this has the consequence that God is incommensurate with human experience and cannot act in creation and hence not even love us in a way we would recognize as love.

Such a view is rejected in the theism postulated here. I argue that the Postulate that God is being itself, has a strict positive sense, and that it implies that God is the ground of all being, while still keeping God a necessary being and a person.

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