Living by an Ethic of Love by Elise M. Edwards
If we base our love ethic in the love of God, we will be committed to the presuppositions that everyone has the right to be free and to live fully and well. We will not try to deny others access to safety, food, shelter, and companionship, nor prevent them from obtaining opportunities for growth and outlets for self-expression because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class or cost to ourselves.
I enjoy Valentine’s Day, and this has been the case for many years, whether I have been in a relationship or not. I think romantic love needs to be celebrated, even if it is at the urging of greeting card companies, chocolatiers, florists and jewelers. Of course, those of us who are even the least bit critical of consumerism and media propaganda will acknowledge that these companies try to convince us that we need to buy luxury items to demonstrate our love to the important individuals in our lives. When our consumption of these goods hurts other people in our world and our planet (as in the consumption of blood diamonds or flowers that have been flown around the world, and thus contributing to environmental ills), we must recognize that they are not true reflections of love. This is not to say that the intent of the giver or recipient is untrue. I do want to challenge the predominance of these kinds of images of love, and provoke us to reflect on another way – an ethic of love rooted in the love of God.
On Valentine’s Day, we tend to celebrate individualistic forms of love. We mostly celebrate romantic love between partners, but it isn’t uncommon to find parents and children, siblings, and classmates exchanging valentines or tokens of love. What would the holiday look like if we emphasized the social dimension of love?
In her book of essays All about Love, black feminist bell hooks describes a love ethic and what it means to live by it. The essay entitled “Values: Living by a Love Ethic” begins with this quote by Marianne Williamson: “We must live for the day, and work for the day, when human society realigns itself with the radical love of God. In a truly democratic paradigm, there is no power for power’s sake.”
When hooks describes a love ethic, she extends the claim in Williamson’s words, arguing that a love ethic means letting go of “our obsession with power and domination.” (87) She explains that love becomes a basis for a reorientation of values that finds its manifestation in action. Love gives us the power to align our values with our actions and to overcome the fear that keeps us beholden to the status quo.
If we base our love ethic in the love of God, we will be committed to the presuppositions that everyone has the right to be free and to live fully and well. Certainly, humanistic ideologies share these values. But I want to remind those of us who claim religious commitments, particularly Christian ones, that if we love God and also affirm that God loves us despite our human failings, we are compelled to love others in the same way. We will not try to deny others access to safety, food, shelter, and companionship, nor prevent them from obtaining opportunities for growth and outlets for self-expression because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class or cost to ourselves.
One benefit of a living love ethic is that we experience life more deeply and more connected to others. We learn to value loyalty and commitment to sustained bonds over material advancement, hooks asserts. (88) And there we find the radical, subversive power of a social love that is not celebrated in the media.
I wonder what it would be like if we turn Valentine’s Day into a day of service, in a way that many have tried to do to commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What if in addition to honoring the special individuals in our lives, we joined them in doing things that celebrate the efficacy of shared power. What would it mean to turn Valentine’s Day into an anti-domination day? Of course, I am mindful of efforts already in place to do so, most especially V-Day creator Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising, a worldwide flashmob to end violence against women (onebillionrising.org). Yet, I am saddened that there is not a visible religious movement in the same vein.
I ask us to use this day to live out a social love ethic and to reflect on how our religious commitments either support or hinder us in these efforts. If they are a hinderance, I ask us to commit to the risk that love entitles us to take to change the status quo.
Elise M. Edwards is a Ph.D. candidate in Theology, Ethics, and Culture at Claremont Graduate University and registered architect in the State of Florida. She does interdisciplinary work in the fields of theology, ethics, and aesthetics, examining issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.