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True Love

Allow me to propose what might be the underlying moral dilemma in all our relationships, public and private:

When people gain power, they become able to do bad and inconvenient things. For example, the toddler is capable of wreaking a great deal more havoc on the house than the nursing infant.

Nonetheless, the essential duty we have to other people is to help them gain more power. Nowadays we call it empowerment. More enlightened ages called it cultivating virtue.

That is true love.

When I interact with another person in such a way that after our interactions he is better able to be himself, when he is a better radiance of his true being, when some latent capacity has been cultivated, I have loved that person.

When after our interactions he is diminished, more occupied with finding a space where he feels safe, less able to express his personhood or essential being, more indebted and bound, more captive, more broken, fragmented, afraid, nervous, uneasy, dissonant; when some latent capacity has been trampled on, when I bring darkness to the eyes of his soul, I have hated that person.

He might think I have loved him, because I might have deceived him into thinking I accept him on the basis of his own personal, unapproachable mystery, which I revere, whereas in fact, I had some ulterior motive. Then I am a wolf, a fox, a serpent.

How he feels is not the important matter. Not on the surface anyway. Whether he is more radiant and, for lack of a better term, polished, that is what matters.

There is no point at which we can ever ethically say that the solution to evil is to eliminate or diminish a God-given faculty in another person except, so far as I can tell, one: when two conditions are met:

1. That person has overtly and demonstrably used that faculty to cause explicit and observable harm to others
2. The danger is so great and other solutions have been so consistently tried that the person is a true danger to the people around him

Even then, there are matters of degree that require wisdom and judgment to resolve. Does he need a time out/prison cell or a spanking/corporal punishment? How much? To what end? Is it enough simply to take tools and toys away? Or does he need to have faculties removed from his body or mind (as in Saudi Arabia, where a thief’s hand is cut off, or so I have been told).

But the main principle holds: love cultivates the personhood of the other person, and the main way it does so is by delighting in the being of that person for its own sake.

Hatred diminishes the other person and the main way it does so is by using the other person or somehow subjecting the other person to the will of the person who hates the other.

I can’t emphasize enough that love and hate are matters here of the will, not the emotions. Love and hate generate pleasant and painful emotions with the speed of thought, but to confuse the feeling with the intention is to become vulnerable to deception.

In short, what makes an act evil is that it attacks the Divine Image, the person.

That is why religious people can so easily fall into this trap, but I haven’t been able to see how people who despise religion can avoid it.

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