The formula “Loving God is Loving What God Loves “ answers questions about the relation between morality and benevolence. There are two types of questions.
1. Does doing it because it is right diminish, if not eliminate, doing it because it is good for the other?
2. Is doing it only because it is good for the other amoral- without moral worth?*
The answer to the first question is No. Doing it because it is right is doing it because you love what God loves. God loves the good of the other. So, doing it because it is right is doing it for the good of the other.
An abstract answer requires an example.
Once I had an assignment as a Vincentian – a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I was to be a companion with Edward who was battling depression and other behaviorial health issues. I talked with him over coffee except that he wouldn’t drink coffee. We attended a few movies, sports events, some political meetings. I visited him when he was hospitablized in behaviorial medicine wards. On the whole, I found time with him dissagreeable. I could tell that he found me agreeable because I accepted his dislike of so many things and complaints. Over the years I slowly disengaged myself from him because he did connect with a few more people and I stopped driving. After not hearing from him for about three years, there was a message on my phone that Edward called. I did not want to return the call. I was going to ignore the call. Then I thought that I ought to return the call. By being his companion for quite awhile, I made some comitment to give him attention. That was my thought about morality.
With my moral thought, I intended to call Edward. Most likely, I would have called sooner or later. However, I started to think about Edward and “put myself in his place” to imagine how he might be hurt by ignoring the call but have positive feelings if I returned the call. So, for Edward’s good I made the call immediately. It turned out to be a pleasant call. Edward wanted to update me on his improved current status. I returned the call that I thought I ought to make for Edward’s good.
This example suggests another question about the role of morality and benevolence.
Edward might have been humiliated if he realized that I returned his call because I thought that I ought to and that it was for his good. He might think that I didn’t do it for him. Morality and what is good for him are not who he is. I slighted him.
The question intermediate between the two above could be posed as follows.
May doing it because it is right and for the good of the other fail to do it for the other?
The answer is clearly Yes. In personal relations, especially romantic love, there is a way of interacting which could be called doing it simply for that other person. Willing it simply for the other is a different type of love than willing it for the good of the other.
But simply doing it for someone without contraints of morality and consideration for the good of the other can be very destructive for oneself, the other and society. Think of a wife who enables her husband to contiue in substance abuse simply because he claims that if she loves him, she will give the money he despartely wants now. Think of a man’s mistress who demands that he kill his wife if he loves her.
I am not denying the reality and value of the personal relationship of acting simply for the other. When contrained by morality and consideration of the basic human goods, it is a component of friendship.
The answer to (2) above depends upon the kind of good being provided.
If it is a basic human good** or a direct means to a basic human good, there is a moral obligation to promote those goods and never intentionally inhibit them. So, doing it because it is a basic good for the other is inevitably doing what you ought to do and thereby is a moral action, i.e., has moral worth.
For instance, parents want to promote the health and knowledge of their children. That is what they ought to do.
If the good is amoral such as some condition or object the other desires, doing it to satisfy the other may well be amoral but of value for making life agreeable. It has no moral worth in the sense of being neither right nor wrong. Classing an act as amoral is not classing it as immoral. Most of what we do in daily life is amoral.
For instance, parents enjoy satisfying desires of their children. For the most part, that is just acting naturally.
Of course, if what the other desires is only good in so far as it is something he desires, providing that good has negative moral worth; it is wrong. The enabling wife and man manipulated by his evil mistress are examples of this type of wrongdoing.
So, morality and love harmonize
* I am obviously concerned with a controversy about Kantian morality. But I am not here concerened with Kantian exegesis. I tried Kantian exegesis in my book pp. 178ff. Contronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexuality as an antidote to nihilism. Tulsa OK, 2014
A copy of my book is available without cost by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
** I use a modified version of New Natural Law morality. The New Natural Law view holds that practical reason, that is, is reason oriented towards action, grasps as self-evidently desirable a number of basic goods. These goods, which are described as constitutive aspects of genuine human flourishing, include life and health; knowledge and aesthetic experience; skilled work and play; friendship; marriage; harmony with God, and harmony among a person’s judgments, choices, feelings, and behavior. From an essay by Christopher Tollefsen on The New Natural Law Theory .
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Love of God is Essentially Love of Neighbor”
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