Sunday, December 12, 2021

Was Love Born in a Manger?


A church sign I saw out in the country in Oklahoma recently read, “Love Was Born in a Manger.” I will briefly explain why this is wrong.

Most of my life, devoutly Christian, I was deeply moved, almost suffocated, by my belief that Jesus represented the manifestation of God’s love to humankind. I was wrong. The stories of Jesus are wonderful—certainly, in my mind, Jesus represents some of the finest of human love—and I wish I could still believe that love was born in a manger at Christmas.

But I will now explain why this belief is wrong.

The statement implies that, without Jesus having been born, or foreordained from the beginning of Creation to be born, then there would be no love. But it is quite clear that love evolved. I do not mean  in some vague way as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote about decades ago. I mean that love evolved by means of natural selection.


I am talking about altruism. Love promotes altruism which promotes fitness. Not always, but often. To love your offspring and, to a lesser extent, your relatives increases fitness through inclusive fitness. To love your friends increases fitness through direct reciprocity. To have a reputation for being kind and generous increases fitness through indirect reciprocity. Natural selection favors whatever increases our fitness. Often this is hatred, but often (perhaps even more often) it is love. Natural selection gave us the instinct of love. The evidence is that it feels so good. We need food; natural selection favored millions of years of animals who, when hungry, love the taste of food. We need water; natural selection favored millions of years of animals who, when thirsty, love water. Love is an appetite, just as much as sex, food, and water. Whether we decide to use the instinct of love or not is up to each of us individually.

There is another problem with the belief that Jesus is the origin of all love. It implies that those of us who do not accept the doctrines about Jesus (however much we may love Him) do not really love other people, the natural world, or God. We are either faking it or are totally deluded. What I experience, when I feel love for Jesus or for other people or for the creation, is not genuine, according to this view.

But I know what I am thinking. I know for a fact that I am not faking it. Billions of people who are not doctrinal Christians love people, the natural world, and God very passionately. Some are lying, but we can’t all be lying. I cannot speak for anyone else, but it would be the height of arrogance to claim that I am the only non-doctrinally-Christian person who sincerely loves other people. Many doctrinal Christians would claim that those of us who reject their doctrines might sincerely believe we are sincere, but it is in fact a delusion. I am not deluded. The burden of proof is on doctrinal Christians who claim that all who reject their doctrines are either liars or lunatics.

If, in fact, love does not exist apart from a doctrinal Jesus, then it must come from somewhere else. It must be part of human nature. And, as I wrote above, I believe that evolution put it there. Love is a basic instinct.

Merry Christmas, y’all, and though you may not think it possible, I believe Merry Christmas.

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