Thursday, September 29, 2016

Affirmation Is Not Equivalent to Love

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Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

If I don't affirm all your beliefs it does not mean I can't love you. Loving someone does not mean affirming everything they do or believe in. If that was true, love would be nonexistent.

Take the statement: X is wrong, with X referring to, say, a behavior. Or a moral position.

Now imagine I say, "The statement X is wrong is true." That is, I believe it is true that X is wrong. It's wrong to do X, or hold to the moral position of X.

Next, imagine you believe the statement X is wrong is false. That is, you believe it is not true that X is wrong. It's right to do X, or right to hold to the moral position of X.

This means we disagree on the truth-value of the statement X is wrong. It means that you think I am wrong about this statement, and I believe that you are wrong about it. Make no mistake about it. This is about right/wrong, true/false. Statements are either T or F, without exception. (This does not mean we know which it is. For example, There are an even number of stars in the universe.)

You, therefore, cannot affirm me in my belief that X is wrong. I should not expect that you would. Why would I expect you to affirm something you thought false, or wrong? And I cannot affirm you in your belief about the particular state of affairs that X refers to. You should not expect that I would.

OK. This may cause us to vote differently. It may mean we go to different churches. It may mean that I go to church but you do not. It may mean I believe in God, but you don't. It may mean we have different beliefs about guns, or about fidelity in marriage, or about marriage.

Even though you think I am wrong, you should not force me to affirm something I do not believe in. Nor I, you. Anyway, coercion cannot produce belief. 

But at least one of us is mistaken about our belief. We cannot both be right. Ethical relativism will not work here. This is precisely why we disagree; viz., because we believe there is such a thing as rightness, and truth. This is why you are concerned to convince me that it is false that X is wrong. Maybe you are upset with me, angry with me. You think I ought to affirm you because you are right, and I am wrong. Objectively so.

Let's say I have studied the claim X is wrong for forty years. I have read everything pro and con about it. I have taken classes on it. I have dialogued with contrarians over and over about this. And still, after all this, I cannot in my heart and mind affirm what you believe about this. Let's further say you have done the same, and come out thinking I am wrong. It happens. You cannot nor should be expected to affirm me regarding my belief, and vice versa. You should not expect me to endorse X, or to engage in X, or to champion X, or get all excited about X. Depending on the level of importance the matter has to us, this may result in a certain parting of ways.

But we can still love. 

I mean, Jesus said we are even to love our enemies, and my enemies believe things I vehemently reject. An enemy is someone who affirms a set of beliefs which you do not, and cannot, affirm. But even if I am to you the enemy of your deepest beliefs, you can still love me. And if you have the expectation that I should affirm what you believe, I feel misunderstood and disrespected by you. Perhaps we can agree on this, and agree to love in spite of, and in the process learn what such outrageous love is and then talk about where it comes from and what it means.