Tuesday, January 14, 2014

C. S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and Love

My Dear Reader,

I think about love a lot.

Not romantic love, necessarily. Just love in general.

If you've never read C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves, I'd highly recommend it. The four loves he talks about are: brotherly/familial love, friendship, romantic love, and unconditional love. Each kind of love has its own parameters, but they are all love.

And when we talk about love, we talk a lot about selflessness. We talk about sacrifice, duty, and honor. But the more I think about it, the more I think that these might be bad descriptors of love.

And, in a weird way, some of these thoughts were inspired by the ideas in Atlas Shrugged. Not that I really like any of the romantic relationships in the novel. The way that Ayn Rand depicts all versions of love in the novel is one of the things I hate the most about the book.* But I really like the things she has to say about selflessness. It's really odd, the way Rand can do that.

Anyway, Atlas Shrugged preaches the idea that selflessness and sacrifice are amoral. But Rand also defines selflessness in a different way: as giving something up without receiving anything in return. Ever. In this context, a man who works tirelessly to achieve a goal is not sacrificing. He is paying the necessary dues in order to achieve a certain reward. A woman who goes hungry to feed her child is also not sacrificing, because she values the child more than she values herself, and is therefore giving something in exchange for a desired result.

I think that's it. I think it's that image of a woman going hungry to feed her child, and not calling it a sacrifice, that is making me think about how I define love.

True sacrifice, according to Rand, would be to let your own child starve so a stranger could live. That is what she defines as immoral, because you are giving away something you value, and getting nothing in return. Why? Because you don't value that stranger. You don't love that stranger. At least, you don't love the stranger as much as you love your child.

So if love means that you receive something when you give to someone, I guess you could say that love is inherently selfish.

Actually, you could probably say that love is selfish and selfless at the same time. But that's not a great way to say it. It's more accurate to say that love merges your well-being with the well-being of another. If you love someone, their happiness is your happiness, and their sorrow is your sorrow.

So, if you love someone, you help them in order to make them happy, because to you, it's the same as making yourself happy. Maybe it's better.

And that, to me, is what love is. Love is the merging of your self-interest with the self-interest of the person you love. They're the same to you. And the more you love a person, the more your needs and their needs share equal importance. All needs become one.

And that might be the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.

Because we are born separate and distinct individuals. But we don't want to stay that way. We want to connect with each other. We want to merge on one level or another, through our experiences, through our thoughts, and through our emotions. That's why art exists: to help us connect. That's why we're born in families and bred in communities. We hunger and thirst for this connection.

And when we find that connection, we call it love. But no two connections are really the same. You don't love your brother the way you love a friend. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a connection, a merging in both of those relationships.

So my theory is that the closer we get to the highest form of love, what C. S. Lewis calls "agape," or unconditional love, the stronger this connection gets. To the point where there is no difference between their pain and your pain; their joy and your joy. You truly pursue the happiness of the person you love, just as you would pursue that happiness for yourself. Because it's the same. Because you find equal value in both.

Maybe that's what it means to love someone as you love yourself. And maybe we shouldn't just strive to find that love with our spouses our our children. Maybe we can even have that kind of love for our neighbor. Or a stranger.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on love, for the moment. I'm sure I'll have some more thoughts another day.

But for now, I am thinking that Christ is even smarter than I ever realized.

Regards, best wishes, and agape,

-Cecily Jane

*Ayn Rand argues that a business associate should be more important to you than your family (if your family is a bunch of loafers), because a person's value is based on their ability to produce. I think that all people should be producers of some kind or another, each contributing to society in the way they can, but I detest the idea that this is the only way to determine worth. Honestly, I love a lot of the things she says, but some of her ideas are absolutely repulsive to me.

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