What do you live for? What most in this world gives your life meaning and purpose and joy? I suspect many people would answer those questions with the word ‘love’.
I’m beginning to read the philosopher Simon May’s Love: a History. Published in 2011, it has rave reviews. His prose is outstanding. Here’s a taster.
In the wasteland of Western idols, only love survives intact. (4)
Elsewhere he sums up exactly what he means by this. And what he says below is bang on – the worship of love itself; love the goal to deliver our hopes and dreams; love as that which lives on after death, giving meaning to life.
In my book – Love: A History – I attempt to trace how love came to be the new god. And not any old god – say, one of those self-seeking, lustful, capricious and frankly evil Greek gods – but rather the spitting image of the Christian God. In other words, love – genuine love – has come to be seen as all-good, unconditioned, unchanging, selfless in showing concern for the wellbeing of loved ones, and our chief bulwark against suffering and loss. Today love has arguably become the only truly universal religion in the West – including in the United States.
I can remember well the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in 1997 – the national and public outpouring of grief and simultaneous divinisation of love as that which gave her sudden death eternal significance. But you could pick any big public funeral – perhaps you can think of some? ‘Love’ takes over: on its own it is everywhere invoked in the face of death as that in itself which gives hope and meaning.
And this zinger from May,
Whereas becoming even a fairly competent artist or gardener or editor or plumber or banker or singer is dearly purchased with long effort and then only by the few with sufficient talent, love is a democracy of salvation open to all.
May’s book has three (ambitious) aims:
1. To show how, in Western thought, love came to play God; to be understood as the virtue that gives ultimate meaningful and significance to life.
2. To trace historically how genuine love came to be seen as unconditional.
3. To develop and present an alternative theory of love that sees it
“as a harbinger of the sacred without pretending that it is an all powerful solution to the problem of finding meaning, security and happiness in life.” (13)
Looks promising and provocative. I’m not going to post through it but will check in now and then.