If It Makes You Happy

"Love" is bandied about as the answer to every societal ill.

What is popularly understood as love? The popular notion of “love” seems to be something that more readily resembles “happiness.” If something makes me happy then it is good, not just preferentially but also morally and ontologically. And whatever that good is, it must be celebrated and embraced by all people. This is how love and the modern notion of tolerance become so intertwined. Today, the idea of tolerance requires that you never question anyone’s pursuit of happiness but must only celebrate it. “Love,” (in its late-modern form) therefore, is the unhindered pursuit of happiness, and tolerance is the cheering on of those pursuing happiness. And if we just loved like that, then all our problems would be solved–or so we are constantly hearing.

 

A discernible pattern has emerged in the wake of recent events. A particular tragedy is perpetrated by a person of one community upon people of another community. The life of one who bears the image of God is wantonly snuffed out. One group of people is allegedly violated by an outdated or oppressive system. A protest for justice forms. Commentators and pundits try to explain who is really at fault and what needs to change. The solution is consistently summarized in one word…Love. Profile pics are changed. Statuses are updated. Social media activism is fully engaged. And with great intentions, everyone seems to agree that what we really need is love. Love is love! We might rightly respond to this ambiguous appeal for “love” with the ever relevant words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“Love” is bandied about as the answer to every societal ill. Every problem is met with the call to love. Racism, sexism, classism, terrorism, or whatever “-ism” that gets thrown out, the answer is love. What makes this solution so attractive and also so dangerous is that there is quite a bit of truth to it. If rightly understood, love is the answer to these problems. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? It is rare for the idea of love to be rightly understood. Often it is reduced to emotional or sentimental tripes that can be easily shared, retweeted, pinned, or liked.

What is popularly understood as love? The popular notion of “love” seems to be something that more readily resembles “happiness.” If something makes me happy then it is good, not just preferentially but also morally and ontologically. And whatever that good is, it must be celebrated and embraced by all people. This is how love and the modern notion of tolerance become so intertwined. Today, the idea of tolerance requires that you never question anyone’s pursuit of happiness but must only celebrate it. “Love,” (in its late-modern form) therefore, is the unhindered pursuit of happiness, and tolerance is the cheering on of those pursuing happiness. And if we just loved like that, then all our problems would be solved–or so we are constantly hearing.

The imperative to “be happy,” though, comes across as trite and hollow. Perhaps the singer Bobby McFerrin ruined it for us all. Happiness is too subjective and fickle. Rhetorically, “love” packs a much greater punch. There is a weightiness to love. Love is objective and unassailable. Love requires resolution, sacrifice, and commitment. Love requires a standard of faithfulness that is missing in the modern pursuit of happiness. The sexual chaos in our society today thrives off this lack of objectivity. The New York Times recently ran a story about “LGBT -Affirming” psychotherapy in which a psychotherapist questions the assumption of the benefit of “sexual fidelity in marriage.” He states it in the following way:

The whole idea of the crisis of infidelity is based on the expectation that it ought to be otherwise. And that somehow if a relationship changes in its dynamic and somebody has sex with somebody else, that somehow it’s ruinous to the intimacy and potential for growth and love. That’s an enormous assumption. And it’s just another example of a hetero-normative assumption, one that causes enormous suffering.1

Again, an understanding of love that has commitment and sacrifice at its heart is rejected for the pursuit of personal happiness. Ironically, the conflation of “love” and “be happy” is, in itself, a tacit condemnation on subjective relativism. We use love because we intuitively know that “happy” is too flimsy to carry the weight of the moment. While “love” is used, I believe it would be more accurate if we just admitted as a society that we’re trying to say, “Everybody ought to just be happy and then all our problems would be over.”

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