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Depending on What you Mean by Love

There’s a great line in Madama Butterfly, after Pinkerton is asked if he actually loves his newly purchased (literally, for 100 yen) Japanese wife, and he replies “Well, it depends on what you mean by love.”   Of course, the point is to continue to illustrate what a truly terrible person Pinkerton is, but it’s actually a point to keep in mind.  What it means to love can vary widely based on culture.  This is something I really try to remember whenever my relatives who talk to me once a year via birthday card spend their entire communicative medium on attempting to convert me.  This year, it was a handwritten addition to the birthday card explaining that both god and the devil are real and powerful and god loves me and wants me to be happy and fulfilled while the devil hates me and wants my destruction.

First of all, I am trying to remind myself that for a Christian, love means constantly trying to convert people because, to them, hell is real and terrifying and the thought of people they know going there is sickening.  That’s why they may not realize how insulting and infuriating it is to be the recipient of evangelism.

Second, since god is love and god makes people happy and fulfilled is, to Christians, an unquestionable axiom, if I protest that Christianity didn’t leave my particularly fulfilled or happy, I wasn’t doing it right. Nevermind on all the rules about what I had to do as a woman that made me unhappy and resentful, and nevermind all the wonderful things I can do now that actually make me happy and fulfilled.  Dancing, for example. Being part of an egalitarian and consensual relationship, for another. Nevermind as well that I had god’s love described to me in terms of how he really loved the Israelites, but they kept falling away and forgetting him, so he had to send other nations in to conquer and punish them (this is the classic cycle of abuse, but in multigenerational god-terms.)  God’s love is perfect love, and if it comes attached to cruel and/or nonsensical commandments, well, those commandments are to keep me safe.  If I don’t think commandments are sensical, well, I just don’t know as well as god.   This attitude is demonstrated perfectly by this very condescending and threatening cartoon that I sometimes see floating about Facebook:

The Guardrail - Proverbs 19:16

For certain values of love, threatening people with death for not following rules is love.

So, feminists.  We’ve destroyed the traditional family (for certain values of both tradition and family) in the U.S. by introducing things like women’s suffrage and illegality of marital rape.  Can we set about destroying the traditional Christian definition of love?   In the meantime, however, sustainable behavior change happens with the least amount of change.  Deconverting and loving not in terms of Christian hell-mongering is a huge change.  Is there a smaller change, based on reasons Christians already agree with (that part’s important), that I can use to get Christians to recognize that relating to people only by trying to convert them and that their god-defined love isn’t the only (or necessarily best) type of love around?


Featured image from Wikipedia, John Martin illustrates God’s Love for Sodom and Gomorrah. 

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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