How Does Love of Others Change Us?

Is there a definition of love that most of us can connect with from experience? A half century ago, psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan of the University of Chicago offered one that may come closest: “When the happiness, security, and well-being of another person is as real or more to you than your own, you love that person.”  Love is grounded in meaning and inclines us to action. When we love others, then, we feel that their happiness, security, and well-being matter to us greatly, and we act accordingly.

Love has its different spheres of activity. There is the sphere of the nearest and the dearest. Imagine young parents looking over their toddler, or a quiet moment between close friends. There is the sphere of the neediest. Imagine the chaplain who connects deeply with patients who are suffering with severe illness and is moved to tears. Cicely Saunders, founder of the world’s first hospice, remarked at age 83, “I still go into St. Christopher’s every morning to sit on the beds of the dying so I can listen attentively and follow them wherever they go with their emotions because then they feel loved.”

There is the sphere of humanity as whole, the equal-regarding affection for all that is associated with a Lincoln or a Gandhi or Rev. Martin Luther King. There is the love of non-human creatures, especially pets. Whatever the sphere, in love the other is no object (“it”) to be manipulated, but a subject (“thou”), a unique and cherished center of value. Ethically, love for the nearest and the dearest should not make us forget the neediest, our shared humanity, or other species.

Love manifests itself in different ways, all of which are necessary and useful. If love is the hub of a wheel, its spokes point outwards according to the needs of the beloved. There are at least ten modulations or forms that love takes. Celebration is love affirming the lives and achievements of others; Helping is love lifting burdens for others; Forgiveness is love in response to contrition; Carefrontation (confrontation being such a limited word) is love standing against destructive behaviors; Humor is love uplifting and reframing in mirthful lightness; Respect is love “looking twice” (re-spectare) at the views of  others; Attentive listening is love focused on the other’s narrative without distraction or interruption; Compassion is love aware of suffering and responding to it with depth; Loyalty is love sticking with others in their hard times; Creativity is love making gifts for  others. (See Why Good Things Happen to Good People).

Alas, human love so often fails. It can be unwise and overindulging, sending the message to the nearest that the neediest don’t matter, or that taking responsibility is unnecessary. Love for the near and dear is a good, but not when it demonizes outsiders. Our mere human love fades over time, here today and gone tomorrow. It is infected with impurities, and mutates into jealousy and rage. So spiritualities contrast human and divine love. Divine love is perfectly wise, extensive, enduring, and pure. Humans, it is asserted, must be elevated by the graceful experience of this divine love. But the stark pessimists, who grow all the more shocked by human nature based on what they read in the newspapers, claim that the human substrate does not need to be enhanced, but completely reversed. The great pessimists like St. Paul or Luther can be distinguished from the more optimistic Thomas Aquinas or Buddha.

Metaphysically, the perennial philosophers ask if God’s love is the Ultimate Reality  underlying all that is, bringing order to the universe and sustaining it. Is divine love the creative energy upon which all that exists depends?  Physics may or may not prove this a hundred years hence. But according to a recent scientific survey, 80 percent of adult Americans have experienced God’s love at least once, 45 percent experience it “most days,” and 9 percent daily (see The Heart of Religion). They report that it increases their love of neighbor and provides a higher purpose in life.  I shall offer a metaphysical definition of love: “Widely considered the highest form of virtue, Unlimited Love is deemed a Creative Presence underlying all of reality, the participation in which constitutes the fullest experience of spirituality” (see The Unlimited Love Institute).

The spiritual traditions assert that each individual can get “plugged in” to God and express extraordinary creative love. Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven that is within, and St. Paul wrote that we are each God’s temple in which dwells divine spirit. Shankara (788 – 820 CE) was the Hindu Indian sage who formulated the doctrine of Advaita, which refers to the identity of the Atman (“self” or “spirit”) and the Brahman (the “Supreme” or “Ultimate Reality” or “Godhead”). Each of our individual souls (Atman) is like a grain of sand. The whole mound of sand together comprises the Brahman, which shares bits of itself with each human being for the purpose of multiplying new agents of creative love. Creative love is thus our purpose in life and constitutes the image of God within us. Because human mind is of the same substance as Infinite Mind, it is capable of divine levels of creative love, as in moral and spiritual genius. Sir John Templeton described the biblical notion of our being “in God’s image” with explicit reference to Shankara.

Theo-philosophy aside, love is not “taught” didactically but “transmitted” by role models. We love because we first were loved and the torch was passed. Christians proclaim, “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

So how does the love of others change us?

How are we changed when we extend active love?

First, when so engaged we are freed from preoccupation with the self and its problems, with rumination, and with other destructive emotions. Disappointment and betrayal are unavoidable in life. We get sucked down into a negative vortex of bitterness, despair, and resentment. Simple acts of loving kindness can transform us emotionally. It is said that if you do not feel happy, smile anyway, and happiness will likely follow. The keys to forgiveness are acts of love coupled with patience, because with the passing of time our perspectives mature. (See The Hidden Gifts of Helping)

Second, life becomes interesting. Selfishness is boring. When we seek the happiness, security, and well-being of another in creative love the world becomes full and engaging. Sir John Templeton once wrote that it is impossible to be bored if you love your neighbor.

Third, loving others gives us a reason to develop our gifts. Students learn more when they have to tutor younger peers, or when they learn in groups and are responsible for teaching one another. Most great people have fine-tuned their talents in the service of the neighbor.

Fourth, we make deeper friendships. Our friends are no longer the people we just hang out with, but they are the ones with whom we find exhilarating common cause and commitment. Finally we have serious friends, the kind who are loyal and want to keep us on our course and true to our higher selves.

Fifth, loving others is a source of hope because as active agents we use our strengths to make a difference in the life of another, and we can therefore have greater confidence in shaping the future.  This is an active hope, rather than the passive variety that just waits for a surprise.

Sixth, loving others is a source of joy. Happiness is to joy as optimism is to hope. Joy, like hope, is not a mere innate disposition, but a virtue fine-honed through bringing creative goodness into the life of the beloved. Thus, we should not worry much about reciprocity, because the benefits are already there inwardly.  As they say, “pay it forward,” although a note of gratitude is nice.

Seventh, loving others, so long as one also cares for the self and its limits both physical and psychological, is associated with self-reported physical health (see Altruism and Health).

With regard to many of these benefits listed above, I will site the 2010 Do Good Live Well Survey, released by United Healthcare and VolunteerMatch, based on a survey of 4,500 American adults. Forty-one percent of Americans volunteered an average of 100 hours a year. Sixty-eight percent of those who volunteered reported that volunteering made them feel physically healthier. Moreover,

89% report that “volunteering has improved my sense of well-being”
73% agree that “volunteering lowered my stress levels”
92% agree that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life
72% characterize themselves as “optimistic” compared to 60% of non-volunteers
42% of volunteers report a “very good” sense of meaning in their lives, compared with 28% of non-volunteers
96% said volunteering made them “feel happier”

They reported deeper friendships, sleeping better, and other benefits.

Investigations in Alcoholics Anonymous show that helping other alcoholics at a robust level in AA doubles the recovery rate in the year after initially going dry. The difference is a dramatic increase from 22 percent to 40 percent. Helpers also experience decreased depression. (See Helping Others Live Sober) In addition, those alcoholics who are more spiritual benefit even more from loving their neighbor alcoholics.

Finally, do people who sincerely love God and their neighbor as themselves flourish in a special way? Some people truly abide in the double love commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all they mind,” and “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-40). Do they flourish? I refer to this three-love matrix as the ontological generality, which means that we are formed as creatures to realize our fullest well-being in this matrix. This is the next big project of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Does love of others change us only when we are motivated by generous emotions?

If so, can we simply engage in helping others as an external activity and expect that kindly emotions will follow along, at least for most of us?

2. Does the love of others change us most powerfully when we are doing so with a sense of divine presence and expectation?

For example, in AA does helping others help the helper even more when the helper feels deeply connected to a Higher Power?

Discussion Summary

Thanks to all my readers for your fabulous comments.

One reader suggested that engaging in the active love of others, even if only external at first, can indeed give rise to inward warmth. This is true, as emotions follow actions through the unexpected discovery of gratification and meaning leading to joy. In First Corinthians, St. Paul wrote famously: “Though I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels, but have not love, I am as a sounding gong, or a clanging symbol.”  He went on to assert that we may sacrifice ourselves entirely for others, but without love this too is hollow.  But why not get started doing “unto others,” and see if this inward warmth unfolds?

Another reader noted that divine love is greater than our thoughts, and therefore we can still be its conduits even if we are agnostics or atheists intellectually. I agree. God’s love, if real, is not limited by human thought, which is flawed even at its best as paradigms shift.

A reader noted Swedenborg’s metaphysics of a Divine Love that underlies all of reality (all energy and matter) as the Ground of Being. This may sound a little over the top, but so does String Theory. Given what some respected physicists claim without any real empirical evidence, Swedenborg sounds pretty mild.

The last reader views family love as a school for more expansive love. I agree that in functional families we learn to love, and I once wrote a book entitled More Lasting Unions that made this argument for expansivity. But families do not reliably lean outwards toward the neediest or all humanity, and at their worst, they can become insular and destructive. Families really benefit from being part of communities of faith that call them beyond their narrowness.

How does love of others change us?

(1) It bestows our dignity.

Our dignity is ours to claim when we treat another person with love. Human dignity lies chiefly in expanding the range and power of our greatest asset.

(2) It forms us from birth.

Without love, children will not thrive, and they may not survive. We humans rely on parental nurturance and protection as infants for a much longer period than occurs in any other species.

(3) It is the source of our significance.

Love responds to the deepest of human needs – the need for significance. It reflects back to the beloved that their existence does not rest on a cosmic error.

(4) It is the origin of our moral and creative energy.

We use our gifts creatively and morally, we are doing so out of love energy. Such energy seems to grow only more intense and expansive over time. Love defies the 2nd law of thermodynamics—i.e., it does not seem to run down or use itself up; instead, the more love is given the more there is to be given. It runs uphill instead of downhill energetically.

(5) It displaces our destructive emotions

Love and hate are polar opposites. It has been written, “Perfect love casts out fear.” It casts out hatred, bitterness, hostility, vindictiveness, rage, and jealousy as well.

(6) It is a gift to pass on to the future.

Love is transmitted by example. We are all its role models. And when we look back on our lives, it is most inspiring to see generous love in the hearts of those we mentored.

(7) It allows us to care for the weakest.

When it comes to the cognitively imperiled, how much some people, like Jean Vanier, do for them. The first principle of love for persons with cognitive disability is to reveal to them their equal value by providing attention, concern, and tenderness. Love does this heavy lifting.

(8) It can invade our consciousness.

One fine summer night in June 1933 I was sitting on a lawn after dinner with three colleagues, two woman and one man. We liked each other well enough but we were certainly not intimate friends, nor had anyone of us a sexual interest in another. Incidentally, we had not drunk any alcohol. We were talking casually about everyday matters when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly – because, thanks to the power, I was doing it – what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself. I was also certain, though the conversation continued to be perfectly ordinary, that my three colleagues were having the same experience.  (In the case of one of them, I was able later to confirm this.) My personal feelings towards them were unchanged – they were still colleagues, not intimate friends – but I felt their existence as themselves to be of infinite value and rejoiced in it. [i]

Good spirituality always has something to do with feeling that self and others are of infinite value and rejoicing in this.

I hope that each of us, in thought, word and deed, might abide in love. The Sir John Templeton I knew for some years cared most about one thing – our growth in love.

[i] Cited by W.H. Auden in his Introduction to The Protestant Mystics: An Anthology of Spiritual Experience from Martin Luther to T.S. Eliot, Edited by Anne Fremantle (New York: Mentor Books, 1965), p. 30.


Two New Big Questions:

1. Is growth in love the most important purpose in life, to which all else is secondary?

2. Is Unlimited Divine Love Ultimate Reality?

18 Responses

  1. spacecalculus says:

    Divine has been defined, love.

  2. Stephen Post says:

    Our first comment is a brief assertion, “Divine has been defined. love.” Just a few days ago I received a book by William C. Chittick entitled Divine Love: Islamic Literature and the Path to God, (Yale University Press, 2013). It is the finest study of love and divinity in Islam that I have ever read as it is tremendously insightful and encompasses all the major Islamic theo-philosophers. Chittick argues that the nonviolent Sufi tradition (for which the mystical poet Rumi is representative) defines the very core of Islamic thought, and is thus more than an outlier. I think that Chittick is correct. But like many religious traditions, this message can easily be lost as religions are so strongly dominated by group interests that center on some fragment of humanity and dehumanize or even demonize those who believe differently. The Yale theologian H. Richard Niebuhr thus distinguished “radical monothism” from “henotheism,” by which he meant the worship of some paticular national or regional domain such that this alone has value. David S. Wilson has underscored how powerful this myopic tendency is in the cultural evolution of religions. Indeed, this is more or less the only source of this evolution as Wilson sees it.

    But the great French theo-philosopher Henri Bergson wrote of The Two Sources of Religion and Morality, one source being the sociological tendency of any given culture or society to absolutize itself through religion, and the other source being the mystical dynamic of experiences of divine love centered on a shared or a common humanity that break though insularities. These two sources exist in perennial tension. But the mysical spiritual experience, which is typical of many founders of various religions as well as of prophetic critics of religion, was for Bergson legitimate and the origin of immense social creativity and progress at the level of “all humanity,” although sadly this “extensivity” might be compromised by nationalistic and insular tendencies.

    So, yes, spiritual and religious traditions associate a perfect love with the divine.The great Harvard sociologist Pitirim  Sorokin suggested that this perfect love is fully wise, exensive (inclusive), pure and enduring. But the ability of any religion to adhere to such love is severely limited by group (tribal, ethnic, class, national, regional, civilizational) interests. Indeed, these in-group tendencies distort the ideals of divine love and threaten the human future.

    So then love may be divine, and God may be love, but if so, God must be terribly frustrated by human nature.

  3. ISAS Forum says:

    An excellent article, thank you.  One aspect of love that seems to be missing from the definition is that of “self-love”.  Love has two poles – it can be self-directed or other directed.   This is not necessarily a bad thing.  For example, as you point out, doing good things for others brings extraordinary satisfaction, the consequence of which is a higher sense of self-worth and a more rewarding life.   In this sense we can be called to do for others as a matter of enlightened self-interest or self-love.  Without this reciprocity from the act of loving others, it is hard to see how a person would ever feel a motivation to love others!  On the other hand, love which is focused first on self-satisfaction can be exceedingly negative and manifest as impulses for mere gratification or dominion.  This is the inherent human evil that St. Paul and Luther warned about, is it not?

    On question 1, doing acts of charity from an initially selfish motive (to look good, for example) may yield an inward warmth that can change a person and lead them to greater acts of love to the neighbor.

    On question 2, it may be more accurate to say that experiencing the reciprocity of love may engender a sense of divine presence and expectation.  We are led to an appreciation of God through the experience of Love.

    Finally, I hope that it does not take 100 years for physics to appreciate the dynamic creative and life-giving power of Divine Love.  Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about this 300 years ago, and physicist Ian Thompson has recently shown (Starting Science from God: Rational Scientific Theories From Theism, 2011) the deep connections between what is known of modern physics and what Swedenborg had to say about Divine Love.

    • Stephen Post says:

      Indeed, love of self is critically important. With Kierkegaard, let us agree that the problem with self love is only that we love outselves wrongly. In the Ontological Generality, there is a simultaneous love of neighbor, self and God. This triadic structure is affirmed in the famous “double-love” commandment of Matthew 22:37-40, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Though shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This is a prescription for human fulfillment across all the Abrahamic traditions, as well as in many other traditions including Hinduism and Buddhism in many of its forms. Right love of self is thus associated with spirituality and concern for others. The second commandment above is “like unto” the first, implying that the love of self and neighbor are implicit in the love for God, since divine love is a sacred canopy giving meaning and value to each life in “equal regarding love” (Gene Outka).

      It is interesting to note that a sub-population in the US with the longest life expectency is the Seventh Day Adventists. They understand that each of their lives is valued by a loving God, and therefore requires diligent stewardship (or care of the self as a divine duty). Their tradition includes vegetarianism, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, getting good sleep, and of course, regular exercise. A visit to Loma Linda University demonstrates a community devoted to good health care. One finds equally diligent care of the self in Judaism. In these traditions we find much higher levels of compliance with medical treatments, as well as more consistent preventive care. Overall, the health benefits of certain (not all) religions is directly correlated with their emphasis on self-stewardship, as well as on the care of the neighbor. Of course health is a penultimate value in most of these traditions, and must sometimes be set aside for an even  higher purpose. Pitirim Sorokin pointed out that historically, after factoring out the saints who lost their lives due to persecution, those Christians recognized for saintly virtues have generally been longer lived than the population as a whole.

      I am not claiming that diligent love of self is not found outside of the Ontological Generality. However, as a gross generalization, population studies show that self-care is intensified when the self iunderstands life as a divine gift for which the individual has responsibility as a caretaker.  The self does not own the self, and therefore has no right to destroy the self.

      Love of self is not always conincident with love of neighbor. There are distortions, such as manipulation, or the loss of balance between self and other that leads to exhaustion, stress, and failure to thrive. Balance is to a considerable degree subjectively defined, but there are psychological and physicial limits in each individual that must be respected however inspired the agent is to do good. Over the long haul, balance is important.

      I agree that one can engage in loving acivities as external acts and that often enough, inner emotions of kindness and care will follow.

      I have not read Ian Thompson, but I will order his book.

  4. ianful says:

    An excellent topic for discussion covering most aspects.  You have also well described the benefits of being in the state of love.

    You appear to be writing about unconditional love.  Love is a state of being, and perception is unique in that state.  Everything is seen differently from that state, compared to what we are usually preoccupied with.  That is the realm of matter, plants and animal life (and other humans of course).  Science is used to understand that realm, but cannot be used to fathom or negotiate the abstract spiritual realm of God and love.

    • Stephen Post says:

      “The abstract spiritual realm of God and love” does not lend itself to scientific study. We can investigate people’s self-reported esperience of God and of a love interpreted as divine. Indeed, William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience did a wonderful job capturing individual experience. We attempted to do this at the level of a national survey in The Heart of Religion. William Miller does a nice job in Quantum Change. It may be that at some point in the future, love “as a divine energy” will be better defined and approaches to it other than self-reported experience will become available. But at this time, we can only ask the question Is Love Ultimate Reality? We cannot answer it.  Maybe there is some energy field of love that the mystics have touched on that is objectively real. But science requires proof, and proof or a method we do not have.  Let’s see where this is in a hundred years.

      • ISAS Forum says:

        Stephen – your reply, and the use of the phrase “objectively real”, points out the difficulty of some of our definitions.  If we define “objectively real” as being physically observable and testable as most scientists do, then we will never bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual.  William James analyzed spiritual phenomenon from a psychological perspective but did not give it the credibility of being real other than in a subjective sense.  For contrast, I would recommend reading C.S. Lewis’ Miracles – he points out explcitly that if we approach these questions as “Naturalists” seeking scientific proofs, then we are pre-disposed never to believe in the reality of spiritual phenomenon.  To borrow a phrase – physicalism becomes a self-fulfilling phrophecy.  Scientiific “proof” is also in some sense an illusion – there are always underlying belief structures that support such proof, including at its most basic the belief that the laws of nature are immutable.  How do we know that is absolutely, objectively true?

        • Stephen Post says:

          This matter of the objective and the subjective is complex. True, pure objectivity does not exist in any area of science, as paradigms and interpretations are inevitable, and what is objective today looks subjective tomorrow. I often speak of truth as “plausible” rather than “proven.” But at the ultimate level of reality, in divine time (kairos), I do believe in actual objectivity. The problem is that for now we see only “through a glass darkly.”  

          I am not an epistemologist, certainly, and only grapple with the sociology of knowledge lightly. I did know Stephen Toulmin well at Chicago, and appreciated his work in this area.

  5. spacecalculus says:

    Function or paradox? Thesis to Prometheus, energy.

  6. ryan.pendell says:

    I think what’s particularly powerful about the idea of divine love is the sense that people feel of its limitlessness. As you discussed about “human-level” love, we often have a zero-sum approach to love. We feel like we only have this certain amount of love (i.e. energy) to give. For example, compassion towards animals. Often people respond negatively toward loving animals “too much”–as if loving them would somehow take away love from humans. And perhaps to some degree we all feel torn between loves all the time (Harry Frankfurt’s books on Love come to mind here). We feel quite powerfully the limitations of our human economy of loves. We feel we cannot love everybody equally.

    And yet when it comes to the experience of divine love, people often experience it as limitless. To pour out compassion on one creature is not to steal it away from another. People who have deeply committed their lives to service often seem to run on energy reserves that others around them find almost supernatural. And those who have been known for their great saintliness speak to a great love that loves all creatures in equal measure at once, a kind of total embrace of existence.

    So many of the parables of Jesus seem to hinge on this distinction between the earth economy of the zero-sum and the heaven economy of endless generosity.

    • Stephen Post says:

      Pitirim Sorokin wrote that the astonishing limitlessness that characterizes various exemplars of neighbor love is the best reason for positing a “Supraconscious” source of love. Such individuals function at a level of energy that we do not ordinarily identify with the mere human substrate. Yes, as you note, they have reserves that those around them can only surmise to be more or less “supernatural.” They do seem to love all people equally with a genuine radiance and palpable joy in a “total embrace of existence.”  Whether it be the theologians like  Anders Nygren or the Hindu sages like Shankara (both of whom Templeton appreciated), the bottom line is that we can become conduits or channels of a divine love that is infinitely greater than human love. St. Paul wrote “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s spirit dwells within you?” (I Corinthians 3:16) He wrote of human love as at best a mixed bag motivationally, as inconsistent, as insular, and as limited in range and energy. He also wrote of agape love as a “fruit of the Spirit.” Sir John Templeton clearly agreed with this Pauline distinction. He once wrote to me that I should devote one third of every dollar of funding for the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love ( not to human love, but rather to “the love that made humans.” Anything less he consider arrogant. I appreciate your note very much, Ryan. It is clarifying for us all.

      I had the honor of hearing Sorokin as a young adolescent at a talk he gave in Concord, New Hampshire. Sorokin believed that God’s love is perfectly extensive, intensive, wise (effective), enduring and pure. He argued that the saints (he greatly admired Gandhi, and of course, so many of the Russian Orthodox saints of history) fall short of this perfection, but on a scale of 1 to 10 (wirth 10 being perfect divine love) the saints might manage a 7 or an 8, or possibly a 9, in certain of these dimensions of love. We average folks would typically be down in the range of 2 to 4, and that even includes parental love. The evolutionary biologists tell us that parental love is hard-wired, and so it is, but nevertheless it can turn abusive as soon as that little toddler starts talking back!

      So human love unattached to divine love is limited. When attached (in some mysterious way as outlined by Williams James and others), the sky is the limit. But then still, the human body is frail and mortal, so even then, the saints need balance. At our saintly best we still abide in the “betwixt and between” of limit and limitlessness.

  7. CSRoth says:

    I don’t know if there is a generalized answer to these questions. I find that each person gives and recieves love in a unique way according to their personality. One person may have a wonderful experience serving others, while another person ends up feeling resentful perhaps because it was not their love language. I think when we give in our own genuine way because something in our heart motivates us we will experience the emotional benifit of loving. If we feel guilted into giving in ways that are difficult for us it can have an adverse emotional effect, especially if it’s a long term relationship.

     In answer to the second question I would ask another question: Can an athiest or agnostic give and recieve divine or true love? I believe the answer is yes, because love is not totally limited by our thoughts. Our thought processes can limit love, our thoughts can distroy our ability to give and recieve love, but divine love is greater still. Even the worst kind of person can have an experience of the unconditional love & forgiveness of God. Also, I have known some very loving agnostics and athiests, they just don’t define their love in relation to a divine power. 

    So for me the answer to these questions is that love is personal and affects each person uniquely. When God touches someones heart it is done in a personal way. When I experience love in either giving or recieving it is because it happens through my primary love languages.

    • Stephen Post says:

      You make an excellent point about people expressing love in different ways,and about our needing to recognize and value this plurality. This is why I included mention of the different modulations or “ways” of love. Love is the hub of a wheel with many spokes of expression depending on the needs of recipients and the strengths of givers. My dad was not a man of great compassion, but he was tremendously loyal and helpful to neighbors. Mom was a little more compassionate, but her main expression of love was though her painting. She painted nature with a mystical touch because she loved it and she wanted to encourage others to be swept away into its beauty. I have a firiend who is the best listener I know, and he rightly works in the field of clinical chaplaincy at a nearby hospital. Listening and compassion are closely linked expressions of love in his life. I have known some people whose love strength is “carefrontation,” as they are able to mentor and sometimes have difficult supervisory conversations with employees in a way that leaves them feeling cared for even if they might have to be transferred to a new department. So yes, I agree entirely, we all express love in our own unique combination of strengths. We should appreciate all expressions of love.

      I really like what you write about people who may be atheists or agnostics, but who are also very loving. You suggest that the power of a divine love can still work through them, regardless of their thought systems. What an interesting and deeply thoughtful viewpoint. It would seem that agape love could use anyone for a conduit, regardless of what they might believe about ultimate reality. Thanks for the insight.

      I find myself agreeing with you on both points.

  8. ianful says:

     Is Love Ultimate Reality? This a Big question, and St Paul of Tarsus was keen to rate love ahead of everything else. Will is in there somewhere in reality, and is an even bigger question perhaps. I tend to agree with Rumi, that God is the ultimate reality.

    • Stephen Post says:

      Certainly the Islamic tradition does have a metaphysical tradition in which love is Ultimate Reality. During the European Enlightenment, Swedenborg was the strongest proponent of this view. He actually held that everything that exists derives from and is sustained within Divine Love. This sounds so very odd to the modern mind. But Swedenborg thought that the prime energy that does underlie all of the universe as we know it must have the property of creative love. He was of course controversial, but seems not to have minded. Hinduism takes this view as well with the Godhead creating from an energy of creative love in order to enable other agents to be “god-like.” Hence, the statement “Atman = Brahman,” meaning the each self includes a grain of the Godhead , and this grain is manifest in pure love creativity.

      Physics will probably never prove that Love is Ultimate Reality. But the idea may come to be seen as plausible in the future- or as plausible as some major alternatives. I am no physicist, so I apologize for any overstatement or error.

      I think that today the greatest minds on this topic writing in English are Sayed Nasr and his student, William Chittick. Nasr’s The Heart  of Islam and Chitticks recent Divine Love I are extraordinary works.  Jeff Levin and I edited a book (2010) with the Templeton Press entitled Divine Love. We collected perspectives from many religious traditions.

      I find that people are willing to talk about deep other-regading love, and even the experience of it at the spiritual level. But when the idea of Love as Ultimate Reality enters the room, people vote with their feet. Nevertheless, if one accepts the idea that God really is Love, then the idea is not so strange.

      Let us state this whole thesis a little more easily: (a) there is a prime energy underlying all that exists, and (b) this manifests in our universe. This energy is the Ground of Being. Whether one views it as personal and teleological (intentional) or as impersonal, it is better to be thinking of the divine as the ground of being and not as something up in the sky.

  9. wondering14 says:

    God made humans. Humans have passion. Romance encompasses passion and leads to relationships, to marriage. The author doesn’t mention passion, romance, or couples. These aspects of the “love of others” are important, but is apparently outside the article’s scope. Yet intimate love, for many people, is  the foundation for love-giving at a farther reach.

    Love for the near and dear is a good, but not when it demonizes outsiders.” Why should the emphasis be put on a the “near and dear”  demonizing outsiders? A wife, husband, their own children is rightfully of priority. That does not mean going to the extreme of demonizing non-family members. Others outside the intimate knot of family are secondary (not demonized), not because they are less worth, but because humans can concentrate on only so much responsibly. Once family duties are in hand, the community of active love can be expanded. We get to calculus by learning first arithmetic.