Can We, Or Should We, Love Or Not Love God?
The Christian Doctors have made their God so little worthy of love, that several among them have thought it their duty not to love Him; this is a blasphemy which makes less sincere doctors tremble.
Saint Thomas, having asserted that we are under obligation to love God as soon as we can use our reason, the Jesuit Sirmond replied to him that that was very soon; the Jesuit Vasquez claims that it is sufficient to love God in the hour
of death; Hurtado says that we should love God at all times; Henriquez is content with loving Him every five years; Sotus, every Sunday. “Upon what shall we rely?” asks Father Sirmond, who adds: “that Suarez desires that we should love God sometimes. But at what time? He allows you to judge of it; he knows nothing about it himself; for he adds: ‘What a learned doctor does not know, who can know?'” The same Jesuit Sirmond continues, by saying: “that God does not command us to love Him with human affection, and does not promise us salvation but on condition of giving Him our hearts; it is enough to obey Him and to love Him, by fulfilling His commandments; that this is the only love which we owe Him, and He has not commanded so much to love Him as not to hate Him.”
[Voltaire notes: See “Apology, Des Lettres Provinciales,” Tome II.] This doctrine appears heretical, ungodly, and abominable to the Jansenists, who, by the revolting severity which they attribute to their God, render Him still less lovable than their adversaries, the Jesuits. The latter, in order to make converts, represent God in such a light as to give confidence to the most perverse mortals. Thus, nothing is less established among the Christians than the important question, whether we can or should love or not love God. Among their spiritual guides some pretend that we must love God with all the heart, notwithstanding all His severity; others, like the Father Daniel, think that an act of pure love of God is the most heroic act of Christian virtue, and that human weakness can scarcely reach so high. The Jesuit Pintereau goes still further; he says: “The deliverance from the grievous yoke of Divine love is a privilege of the new alliance.”
I’ve always felt that the idea of “loving god” or “god’s love” – either of them – is some kind of category error. If god were actually infinite, immortal, all-powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent, how can a mere mortal even apply the word “love” to an emotion directed at such an entity? For does not “loving” something entail understanding it, appreciating it, or knowing something about it?* We are no more equipped to understand and love a god, proportionally, than a bacterium in my colon is equipped to love and appreciate me. And a supreme, omnipotent, omnipresent being – even if it is an infinite micromanager – can no more shower love on me than I can on any particular E. Coli. Indeed, saying that god has a “chosen people” makes about as much sense as me having a preferred strain of intestinal bacteria: they are unnoticed and beneath notice to me, and to them, I am not a discernable thing, I am their universe.
The latter point has always made me doubt the few agnostics/deists that I encounter. They appear to venerate the universe, since that’s all they know anything about, and that puts them very much in the same camp as a worshipful intestinal bacterium: “Oh, mighty warm thing that is my home, uh, thank you for, uh, being my home.” It’s a philosophy that’s certainly on a bacterial level of sophistication. One either wishes to be treated with the respect that we show to our intestinal flora, or one is putting on great airs indeed.
(* In my experience with other animals that are less intellectually advanced than humans – horses, dogs, cats, rats, snakes – I have often wondered at what point it is no longer possible to use “love” to describe the emotion they appear to feel for their caretaker. I am comfortable saying my dogs loved me. I am comfortable saying my horses loved me, in their own horsey way. Perhaps even my cats, though they seemed to love me more like one appreciates a prompt and excellent waiter. The difference between dog and man, and horse and man, is certainly not that great compared to the difference between god and man. I don’t feel any qualms about what happens to my intestinal bacteria, I certainly don’t love them, and I don’t mind putting them in water with bleach. Hmmm, perhaps I am godlike, after all.)