How Religion Supports Our Idea of What Love Is

“Standing on a hilltop, the setting sun silhouettes a couple kissing” by Filipe Almeida on Unsplash

I’ve had several issues with the Abrahamic religions, dating back to before I became Christian. But as is my nature, if something interests me and I don’t understand it, I want to learn about it.

I had an expectation of where my study would lead me but as Brandon Sanderson wrote in his novel The Way of Kings, “Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”

When reading the Bible or singing hymns in church, it always fascinated me that these media were so focused on Israel. I mean, God created the world, but his chosen people were Israelites, the descendants of Jacob.

That’s… weird.

Then you have Jesus Christ coming onto the scene who said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” in Matthew 15:24. And yet, Christianity was never presented to me in this way. It was presented in a more John 3:16 style where Jesus came to save any and all who believed that he was God incarnate.

This is why when people say that there are inconsistencies, they aren’t just deceitfully trying to undermine God. But in studying the gospel of Matthew and comparing it to the gospel of John, it is clear that there are differing motivations behind each text.

When we love someone, there tends to be motivations there as well, motivations that may not be benevolent but we feel them to be crucial.

One such motivation is when we declare our object of affection as “mine”.

Let me make this very clear: there is a healthy and an unhealthy way to possess something or someone. For example, if you’re my friend, I don’t demand your time or attention, I don’t tell you what you ought to be doing and I don’t abandon you when you do something that I didn’t like. I give you freedom to be who you are, but I might give you advice for your benefit simply because I care about you.

In a relationship like this, you and I being each other’s friend is an unattached situation in tandem with the uniting forces of affection, mutual respect, common interests, shared experiences and interactivity.

Conversely, if I demanded your time and attention, I told you what you do and who to be, and I leave you or even punish you when you didn’t do what I told you or you did something I didn’t like, I am certainly not giving you freedom. This is unhealthy possession. This is gross attachment.

When it comes to Abrahamic religions, I can find no better source of this type of love than God himself. He constitutes worship, he dictates laws and he threatens to leave when you disobey. He chooses you and you’re made to feel special, but step out of line and he will punish and/or abandon you.

The sad truth is, so many of us treat the people we “love” just like this, especially when it comes to romance. We’re expected to be mind-readers and to cater to the needs (and insecurities) of our beloved. Our beloved chose us and we them, but their unresolved personal traumas cannot allow them to actually love — and this is another motivation of why people love. They are trying to escape pain.

It is these traumas and misunderstandings surrounding what love is and personal identity that causes us so many problems in our most intimate relationships.

Tons of us suffer in romantic relationships, while in our platonic relationships, many of us are doing relatively well, but another symptom of this unhealthy relationship is the notion that the object of affection should love you and only you, which can show up in platonic relationships but is more often the case in romance.

Hmm, I wonder who else has a policy on loving them and only them…

Allow me to interject a side-note. I understand that some will feel that God isn’t a friend or lover but a father figure, that God’s love and human affairs are incomparable, and that the context of God and Israel is too different to be used to compare to human relationships.

Firstly, if my parents treated me the way God treated Israel I would be in debilitating mental shape. Israel really were like children: ignorant and needed guidance. Imagine if your mother or father left you or hurt you whenever you failed to do something whether through disobedience or simply not knowing how to do it. Is that love?

Secondly, while human relationships fail due to a confusion of obsession and unhealthy possession to mean love, God’s behaviour towards Israel manifests itself in the same ways of people in the throes of obsessive and unhealthy relationships.

I’m simply illuminating the fact that people suffer, resent, fight and divorce each other over the same things that God does to Israel.

But if one pays attention, one would notice that the deity that is written in religious texts is not the one they experience in real life (that is, if you believe the deity to be real and as described).

If your partner catches you in a lie, they may give you the silent treatment and unknowingly trigger childhood fears of abandonment. But what is God doing in this moment? Is he punishing you too? Scripture said he would (Surah Āli- Imrān 3:61; Revelations 21:8; Proverbs 19:5). But no, all that’s happening is that your partner is being vengeful.

If your partner catches you staring at someone else, they may get outraged and let out a slew of hurtful language. They, like God, are jealous (Exodus 34:14). But is God yelling at you? Does he kill you for paying more attention to your phone or money or spouse than you do him? Nope. All that’s happening is that your partner is yelling at you for something they’ve probably done because it’s completely normal and natural to be attracted to other people.

But if you’re like me, that realization made you uncomfortable, specifically the fact that the person you love could love someone else. So what then? Was the purpose of your relationship that this ONE person be your source of love? Yes, and even this mindset is promoted in religion by our clergymen, mullahs or rabbis as they attribute it to God. But again, let’s face it. We can experience love from other sources and we have!

While I am not advocating for polyamorous relationships, if we simply strip away the stigma and look at the term simply as having love for more than one person, then yes, I am advocating it, because it is reality. You don’t have to marry, sleep or kiss everyone you love. That’s a different matter.

When see seek emotional salvation through some significant other, we become jealous and resentful when the traumatic conditions that were always present, present themselves.

You can make the decision to not let your current or future partner be the sole provider of your love, not because you have other people who can love you, but because it’s a job no one can fulfil. We are all different, so we cannot simply know what to do and when to do it for our loved ones. We are flawed, so we cannot meet every need in the way our loved ones may expect.

How can we have many friends, many people we respect and care about, but somehow only love one person romantically? There’s a huge incongruency here!

But the reason you don’t put pressure on one person to be your friend is because you never had the thought that only one person can love you platonically.

And while I don’t believe the stories in scriptures to be much more than allegories with a hint of truth (with a few exceptions), the God of the Abrahamic religions would have saved himself much headache and heartache if he just told the world who he was and how best to live, not because he demanded love, but because he loved his creation.

There would be no need to fight one another when united under one deity, whose gifts were given to all. But then again, that’s how you know that these stories were written by Jews and Arabs, for Jews and Arabs. They couldn’t extend love to those outside of their territories anyway. Hell, even today barely any of us can.

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