The research paper analyzes Christian concept of love on the basis of Paul Ramsey’s work “Basic Christian Ethics”. At the beginning the general information and comparison of Christian love to other concepts of love are given. Then it is traced how love is interpreted by Paul Ramsey and its entity is revealed. And finally, an attempt to extrapolate the concept of Christian love to the modern society is made and its vague perspectives conclude the paper.
Human society was always characterized by a wide variety of views, particularly on such concepts as ethics, love, death, etc. These concepts remain actual nowadays and they are even more difficult to define and to make them universal for different societies. Traditionally western societies were characterized by the domination of Christian views which could be treated as universal to a certain extent. Naturally, they did not remain rigorous, they gradually evaluated but basic principles remained practically unchangeable though there were different interpretations and views on one and the same problem or concept. One of such conceptual things is the notion of love and Christian views on love. In the 20th century, a lot of arguments were hold on the concept of Christian love, different specialists suggested different interpretations, even those who were not big specialists in Christianity. At this respect, particularly interesting for further study seems to be the work of Paul Ramsey, namely his “Basic Christian Ethics”, in which he discusses Christian love in details and thoroughly analyze it in the context of the Christian religion. Naturally, Christian concept differs significantly from views of other religions or philosophical schools but it still pretends to become universal due to the fact that Christianity is widely spread through out the world and is the basis for western culture and philosophy that nowadays dominates in the world and in the future this trend may be even stronger than it has ever been before. This article will basically focus on Paul Ramsey interpretation of love in the Christian religion, its aspects and entity.
Christian love compared to other human loves
From the very beginning it is necessary to underline that different human societies, different cultures even different individuals have different views and understanding of the concept of love. It is particularly important to realize what Christian love really means because it is one of the basic concepts of Christianity at large. At this respect, Paul Ramsey’s “Basic Christian Ethics” is very helpful for it reveals the entity of Christian love in relatively modern interpretation of a person who is a representative of the 20th century that is to a certain extent revolutionary period in human history and in relation of people to love.
However, even within Christianity there is no consensus, no universal agreement about Christian love. For instance, there were Christian ethicists, basically protestants that created a so-called Agapeism and they supported the idea of authentic Christian love. On the other hand, they had some opponents, and Paul Ramsey was one of them, who disagreed with the concept of authentic Christian love. Actually, they “conceived of authentically Christian love or ‘agape’ as fundamentally other directed and free of egocentric self-love.” (Niebuhr 1992:163). At the same time, according to Paul Ramsey, Christian love is basically self-giving and it is oriented entirely toward help to other people and that all people should live peacefully and love each other.
Naturally, such attitude to love presuppose a person’s readiness to sacrifice himself or herself for interests of other people or for the interests of the whole community a person lives in. it means that unlike some other individualistic concepts of love, Christian love, according to Paul Ramsey, is societal and oriented on neighbors and their well-being. However, critics indicate that the readiness for self-sacrifice is not love itself but it is simply demonstration of love in probably its extreme point.
Thus, it is obvious that among different views on love there may exist different concepts of love and all of them have their own particular traits. At the same time, Christian love may also be understood differently, and it is extremely important to analyze these views in order to find the general concept. Probably, Paul Ramsey’s study could help to understand one of the possible interpretations of concepts of love but it demands a more detailed analysis of his views that would be done in the next chapter of the paper.
Christian love as it is seen by Paul Ramsey
As it has already been said Paul Ramsey supports the idea that Christian love is not self-oriented love but on the contrary Christian love in its large sense means a person’s readiness to scarify for the sake of other people as it has once done Jesus who died for all human beings and their well-being and salvage. So, he considers that Christian ethics denies that self-love is more preferable or even admissible for good Christians.
On the contrary he considers self-love as idolatry. It means that in his interpretation Christian love presuppose love that is oriented on other people or as Jesus said people should ‘love their neighbors’. Actually, this idea originates form the Mosaic laws and it was further developed in the New Testament. So, it may be said that such views on love are traditional and have deep historical roots in the Christian religion.
Actually, such interpretation and attitude toward love was quite revolutionary because basically there were a bit individualistic views and philosophy that dominated in other religions and cultures. Moreover, it was traditional to support quite negative attitude to representatives of other communities for instance. In order to understand this attitude it is necessary to analyze the period when the Christian concept of love was developed and formulated. In the ancient world as well as later until the present moment it was a norm when hate was a basis of upbringing, namely hate to enemies of a certain clan, or even nation. So, Christian love aimed at “the victory of love over the enemies hatred through the love of Jesus Christ alone.” (Hershberger 1985:35). On the individual level the situation was practically the same. Individual interests were practically always and everywhere higher and more significant then interests of other people. Naturally, Christian appeal to love neighbors was if not extraordinary than a bit unusual because it suggested to an individual to scarify his or her interests and care about other people even those whom the individual did not know. To a certain extent, Christian concept of love was even revolutionary because it made people treat people around them differently. It was quite innovative idea, and very humanistic one by the way, because it suggested a new philosophy and ideology. According to Christian views and Christian love people could live peacefully in harmony with their neighbors and with their own selves. It also suggested a new view on the role of individual in the community. Despite it decreased individual interests but, on the other hand, Christianity increased the role of an individual. It sounds a bit paradoxically but still it is true because the concept of Christian love presuppose that all people through mutual love will help each other and care about interests of each other rather than about individual interests.
Furthermore, according to Paul Ramsey, Christian conception of love is characterized by a very critical interpretation and attitude to self while collective interests, i.e. the interests of the society and all of its members are highly valued as the most precious things. He estimates that Christian ethics encourages neighbor-oriented love that means that every Christian should care about others in first turn and only then about themselves.
Christian love and modernity
It is very important to realize that human society is always evaluating and naturally ethical and moral norms evaluate as well. Everything is gradually changing and attitude to love and its concept change as well. Naturally, Christian conception of love remains basically the same but it is also different now because the time has changed and it also should be reevaluated or on the contrary it should be accepted without any conceptual changes.
Actually, Christian concept of love is quite attractive because it aims at a peaceful coexistence of people on different levels beginning from the level of a family or local community and to the highest international level. This concept is particularly important and actual nowadays when a diversity of cultures, religions, traditions come into clashes. In such a situation human being really need some universal principles of ‘love of a neighbor’. It is obvious that in the contemporary world traditional norms and values become less and less important. Spiritual interests and values are now replaced by material ones while individualism and egocentrism are now dominating traits of character of the majority of people. Human society, especially in western countries, reminds a collective mechanism in which each individual works independently from others and aims only at self well-being and prosperity.
Naturally, nowadays it is difficult to speak about Christian love as a part of everyday life and there are several reasons which may explain why Christian ideals are hardly attainable. First of all, it is the fact that the contemporary society is highly individualistic. For instance in western countries, particularly in the US, it is possible to speak about a cult of individualism. At the same time, Christianity is deep rooted in western cultures that is why it has certain perspectives and its presence is still significant in social and moral norms of western peoples. For instance, the individualism that has been mentioned above also has another side, namely it is the result of an extremely careful attitude to individual rights and liberties. Probably, it is the result of such high appreciation of individual rights that limits the possibility of Christian love because it put interests of individual higher than interests of society and all of its members that is why altruism and love are on the background while individualism and a human self are on the first place.
Another important factor that prevents the contemporary society from total acceptance of Christian concept of love is weakness of Christian churches. Traditionally, Europe used to be the basis of Christianity but nowadays Christianity is spread all over the world. It seems that it creates ideal conditions for spread of Christian philosophy and views, including Christian conception of love. However, the reality is far from this ideal. In fact, the role of church is weakened because, despite some exceptions, practically all over the world the church is separated from the state and Christian churches are in the same situation. As a result, Christian ethics, philosophy and consequently Christian love, do not have a real possibility to influence significantly the society at large unlike mass media and television which on the contrary become a means of the formation of mass culture and, unfortunately for Christianity, the concept of Christian love is not among the principles which are up-to-date. Since mass culture does not necessarily mean the culture of individuals which appreciate interests of other members of the society above all, on the contrary, mass culture actually means individualistic culture where each individual live his or her own life and cares about his or her own interests.
Actually, mass culture may be singled out as another reason why Christian love, which entity may be traced in the work of Paul Ramsey, cannot be universal and abided by the vast majority of people. Generally, the effect of this phenomenon has been just described the only thing it is possible to add is the fact that the problem is what actually mass culture consists of and what ideology it spreads. So, probably it would be possible to make Christian principles universal for a great number of people if Christianity could compete with mass culture and mass media that in contemporary conditions seems to be practically impossible, or possible only hypothetically.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Christian love is rather a utopian idea that could hardly be realized even despite all its positive sides and advantages it may provide human society at large and each individual in particular.
Judging from Paul Ramsey work, Christian ethics and Christian philosophy have a lot of very humanistic concepts which under certain circumstances could become universal but they are practically unattainable in the conditions of the modern world. Christian love, as one of the basis of Christian philosophy, is among these concepts. It was and probably remains a revolutionary concept because it suggest an alternative to a cruel world human beings live in. Christian love implies the substitution of hate and anger by love even to enemies. For some people it is unthinkable even nowadays while in the past it contradicted to practically all dominating ideologies which traditionally treated killing of enemies as a good deed. Naturally, the latter contradicts to basic humanistic principles that are nowadays accepted by the majority of nations and states as the only possible for civilized human society.
At this respect Christian ideas were absorbed by the contemporary philosophy, ethics and moral norms. However, the contemporary world is highly controversial. On the one hand, hypothetically, it has all opportunities to make Christian principles, such as Christian love, universal for all people. On the other hand, the contemporary level of development does not permit to fulfill this strategy because, first of all, the current socio-political situation prevents Christian as well as any other churches from intervention in civil affairs. Practically, everywhere democratic states keep religion out of state business and churches cannot regulate the way of life of citizens otherwise then through persuasion or preaching. Secondly, the contemporary culture, as it has already been said in the paper is highly individualistic and such concepts as Christian love are far from what is promoted by mass culture and it do not correspond to the contemporary set of values.
So, Christian love, being an attractive concept, remains only a utopian concept people can strive for but can hardly attain though nobody know what will happen in the nearest future.
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