Friday, April 23, 2010

Love or Respect?

In my World Religions class last night Christianity was the focus. I asserted that the "love commandment" was the main ethical imperative for the early church and remains so today.

One of my students challenged this by saying, "Love is too broad and difficult to define. I think that respect is more important than love in relationships." A lively discussion ensued. Some felt that love could be defined and others agreed that respect trumped love.

I think that the love vs. respect dichotomy is a false one. I can't imagine love existing without respect. Respect is a subset of love. However, respect can exist without love.

I see the point of the student above, especially when the "love commandment" is expressed in loving one's enemies. When it comes to our enemies, feeling love for them is difficult, if not impossible. Respect might be the best we can hope for.

My own definition of Christian love is "acting in the other person's best interests." This takes love out of the emotional realm and places it in the realm of the will. Love is a decision we make in any relationship, a decision to act on behalf of the other's good. This is also how I understand God's love-- as God desiring the best for us.

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