Philosophers, by definition, are lovers. The prefix philo means loving, while sophia means knowledge or wisdom. Combined, philosophy is the love of knowledge. To be a philosopher is to love the pursuit of wisdom. As a theist, God is the prime example of love, knowledge, and wisdom. In Mormonism, our goal is not simply to be like God, but to become God—a transcendent lover of knowledge and wisdom. I’d like to examine the concept of love through the lens of a Mormon philosopher.
The scriptures say, if we dwelleth in love, we dwelleth in God (John 4:16), and if we do not know love, we do not know God. (John 4:7-8) I suspect it is only through radically loving one another that we will ever come to know God. I’m confident that if God is love, then to the extent that we oppress love, we oppress our godly potential. To become God is to dwell in love.
I have often wondered how seriously people take these scriptures, even the most orthodox. Are we really willing to join one another into the fold of God and bear one another’s burdens? (Mosiah 18:8) Are we really willing to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort? (Mosiah 18:9) Are we really willing to rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep? (Romans 12:15) How can anyone love in such a godly paradox? If this sentiment is to be taken seriously, at any given moment we would be in a constant state of rejoicing and weeping with the whole of humanity. This would require that we push the edge of consciousness beyond the self and into the collective.
Are we willing to be of the same mind, one toward another? (Romans 12:16) Zion was called Zion because the people were of one heart and one mind. (Moses 7:18) I don’t know if I can think of anything more intimate than being of the same mind with one another soul in an interconnected network of intelligence. I know intimacy can be a problematic word when common vernacular often relegates intimacy to the bedroom. But that’s not my experience. Sexual expressions are only one modality of intimacy. To be sure, sharing my body with a lover is an intimate act, but I have also shared my body with my three children and sexual arousal was not a motive or result. They lived inside me. I gave them life. I fed them at my breast. Even bodily intimacy cannot be limited to sexual desire. Intimacy comes from shared interpersonal moments that engender closeness—to be of one heart and one mind.
For me, I think one of the most intimate things we can do with one another is to allow others to see us honestly—including in our worst, weakest, lowest, or truest moments. Intimacy happens when our vulnerabilities are exposed, and instead of turning our backs on one another, we pull each other closer while whispering, “I still love you.” Often, this is a question of whether we choose to fear or love.
As Christians and members of the body of Christ, love is a common purpose and goal. But what do people think being one body in Christ means? (Romans 12:5) (1 Corinthians 12: 12-27) Did they think finding unity in diversity was going to be easy? Did they think it would happen without significant emotional labor, vulnerability, sacrifice, or bravery? The scriptures say to love your enemies and do good to them that hate you. (Luke 6:27) The scriptures say to love and pray for those that persecute you. (Matthew 5:44) Atoning isn’t easy. Reconciling isn’t simple. Forgiveness isn’t painless. Love isn’t effortless. I do not expect this sentiment to be received easily, but as members of the body of Christ it is imperative that we learn to love unexclusively and unconditionally. We must be brave in confronting our insecurities and find the humanity in one other, not only when we find it easy to love, but also when we find it difficult to love.
As Mormons, we are commanded to establish Zion. (D&C 6:6) I imagine Zion is a community held together with love, not fear. There is no fear in love. (John 4:18) I’ll admit, there are times I still fear. I fear convention. I fear apathy. I fear the unfulfilled potential of humanity. I fear my community is only willing to aspire to Zion when it’s convenient. Is Zion willing to include the queer and peculiar? Or are the social outliers only worth loving when performing according to the desires of the majority? Must the fringe members of society contort their bodies into caricatures that cage the undisclosed desires of godly potential simply because we are unconventional? I honestly don’t know. The acceptance of the unconventional through unconditional love isn’t entirely up to me. I need grace, just like you. (Romans 12:3)
People speak of love as if loving a person somehow takes away from the love you have for another, as if love is a zero-sum game. In the context of a capitalistic economy, love becomes a resource where its value lies in its scarcity, not in unconditional abundance. If that is the case, love is prized in its exclusivity. Your loss is my gain. Your gain is my loss. It would be like saying God’s love is meaningless because They give to all Their children unconditionally instead of the prime few who “deserve it” or “earned it.” Similarly, it’s like saying the Atonement is less valuable when it is universal. Is that really the myth we want to tell? I don’t think I could call myself a theist if I believed that love is a finite resource to be squabbled over. I wouldn’t want to live constantly looking over my shoulder to examine the distribution of love in this capitalistic model.
What if we regarded love as an infinite resource? What if your gain, became my gain? What if your happiness was also my happiness—and mine yours? This is not to say that all things should be held in common at the expense of the individual, but what if we learned to love in a system of cooperation, instead of competition? I concede, we aren’t Gods yet. Our bodies and minds have limitations. However, I still believe in breaching nonessential limitations as we learn to love one another more wholly—more godly.
Perhaps we’re hypocritically only willing to aspire toward such trajectories when it’s comfortable, conventional, or convenient. In my experience, love—godly love—is rarely convenient. I imagine godly love is forged during the most uncomfortable, inconvenient, and difficult moments when real risks are present, when it feels as though life hangs in the balance. Is that not how Gods are made? Is the reward great if the pursuit is easy? Is love strong if it’s never been exercised? I doubt it. Gods are Gods because they learned to love when loving became difficult.
Jesus said the greatest commandment of them all is thou shalt love. (Matthew 22: 36-40) I imagine it’s for a good reason too, even if no one really knows exactly how to love. The scriptures also say let love be without dissimulation (Romans 12:9)—meaning let love be without concealment of one's thoughts, feelings, or character. I call this honesty. Let love be honest, genuine, sincere, and unfeigned. But what happens when honest love challenges the bonds which hold relationships and communities together? What is right when dissimulated love is unwanted? Dissimulated love must account for the complexities of conflicting desires and diverse values. I’m not perfect at this. I can recall many times I’ve fallen. I do not claim to know exactly how to love—only that we should try. Love is a process of discovery, thus the commandment to love one another is not one that can be lived perfectly, but lived genuinely in the pursuit of godly progression. Perhaps dissimulated love will prove to be the way to making the impossible come true.
The love we share with one another is likely no more than a naive flirtation when compared to the love Gods are capable of, but even so, the love we share is the beginning of our untapped potential. It’s the breath before the jump. I call it faith. Is Godly love a delusion? A fantasy? A mere myth? Perhaps. But for good measure, let’s test the theory and find out. We already know the answer if we don’t. Without love, there is no God. Yet, I know love, so I choose faith.