"The Fourth Proposition: Love wills the neighbour’s good whether we like him or not." (Joseph Fletcher)
Never sentimentalize love
Christian love is agapeic (committed to our neighbour’s well-being), as opposed to erotic (sexual) or philic (friendship). This means agape is about serving another’s needs first, not our own. It is also not doing something because we are emotionally driven to do it (i.e. because we like someone). We do something simply because it is the right thing to do. It is as Bishop Stephen Neill describes, “the steady directing of the human will towards the eternal well-being of another.” Agape is a decision, a choice! This is why agape can be commanded, and why the opposite of love is not hatred (feeling), but indifference (lack of intent).
“[Christian love] does not seek the deserving, nor is it judgemental when it makes its decisions - judgemental, that is, about the people it wants to serve.” (Joseph Fletcher [bracket mine])
“Christian love is the business of loving the unlovable, i.e., the unlikeable.” (Joseph Fletcher)
Christian love is not sentimental and recognises that fact that not everyone is likeable. There are people who are nice, and people who are not, but both deserve to be shown love equally (“Loving and liking are not the same thing”). This is why Christian love is radical because it does not seek anything in return for acts of kindness, generosity, mercy, patience etc.
“For [God] makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45, World English Bible [bracket mine])
The neighbour is anybody
Stranger-neighbour; enemy-neighbour. Christian love seeks the good of all:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, World English Bible)
Despite the fact that all are to be treated equitably, Christians are not to lose their sense of value. To serve all in love does not mean we are obliged to like everyone, or even eradicate the distinction between good and evil. What we are talking about here is simply a command to treat everyone in the same manner.
“One cannot command that one feel love for a person but only that one deal lovingly with him.” (Martin Buber)
“But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
True Christian love is one that gives and expects nothing in return.
Self-love for the neighbour’s sake
We are naturally selfish creatures; prone to self-love before that of our neighbour. So how do we turn “self-centered self-love into self-love for the sake of others?” It is surely possible in the following steps:
- Love of ourself for our own sake
- Love of our neighbour for our own sake
- Love of neighbour for our neighbour’s sake
- Love of ourself again, but this time for the right reason (i.e. for our neighbour’s sake)
“If we love ourselves for our own sakes, that is wrong. If we love ourselves for God’s sake and the neighbour’s, then self-love is right.” (Joseph Fletcher)
Calculation is not cruel
“All of this is thoughtful love, careful as well as care-full.” (Joseph Fletcher)
In order to make sound moral choices, one needs to have good information, but also the right disposition. With this in mind we make choices carefully, and thoughtfully. In many ways we are dealing with another version of Utilitarianism, only this time we are replacing ‘maximising pleasurable outcomes’ with ‘doing the most loving thing’. As with Utilitarianism, we are also not to discriminate in seeking the best outcome. If helping our ‘enemy’ is the most loving thing to do, then we do that, but if in helping our enemy we will hurt more friends, then we do not do that. At the end of the day neither our neighbour nor our enemy has stronger claim over the other. Our friends do not deserve more of our love than our enemies, just the situation:
“Which should you save if you can carry only one from a burning building… If the choice is between your own father and a medical genius who has discovered a cure for a common fatal disease, you carry out the genius if you understand agape.” (Joseph Fletcher)
To be sentimental about love means we will be driven by feelings to do loving deeds. For instance, we might take pity on the person standing by the side of the road asking for money, and so give them something as an expression of our love for them. Agape, on the other hand, asks whether giving this person money is the most loving thing to do. Are they really in genuine need? As the Didache* states, “Let your alms sweat in your palm until you know to whom you are to give it.”
“Love’s business is not play favourites or find friends or to “fall” for some one-and-only. It plays the field, universalises its concern, has a social interest, is no respecter of persons.” (Joseph Fletcher)