On Loves Ordered & Disordered

There has been a lot of commentary — probably too much — about the recent Supreme Court decision extending the legal definition of marriage to include homosexual couples. But the thing that struck me wasn’t the decision, or even the public outpouring of support. It was a simple hashtag: #lovewins.

With that hashtag, the supporters did two things. They identified their victory as a victory for love. And they declared their faith that love itself is a simple, unquestionable good.

Conservative Christians have mostly responded by questioning that first thesis. After all, if “God is love,” rejecting love hardly seems like a good idea. But from the standpoint of the Christian theological tradition, it is the second thesis which is most in doubt.

The Complexity of Love

In the Christian tradition, love is anything but simple. It is true that St. John identifies God himself as love, but the words for love were used in a much wider context as well.

Broadly speaking, love was understood to mean the desire or attraction to a person or thing. The desire could be of varying kinds (love of a friend’s company or love of a good meal) and degrees, but the concept was fairly unified.

Of course, desiring God is good by definition, since God is Good Itself, but desires for other things are good only in a contingent way. There are two basic ways that love can go wrong:

  1. Loving something too much or too little
  2. Loving something in the wrong way

I might love a good meal, but if I love good meals more than I love my friends, then that love is disordered. Similarly, I might love my wife an appropriate degree, but if I love her only as a caregiver for my children, that love is still disordered.

According to this classic Christian analysis, all sins are sins of love: excessive, deficient, misdirected, or otherwise disordered.

The Coexistence of Ordered & Disordered Loves

Adding further complexity is the fact that ordered and disordered loves may actually coexist in the same relationship. There are many couples who seem to have a reasonably well ordered romantic love for each other, but struggle with the everyday love of one’s housemate.

I have no doubt that many homosexual couples really do have a heartfelt love and friendship with their partner. Unfortunately, that says nothing at all about whether their sexual relationship is a good thing.

Love wins? Yes, but only when it is God’s love drawing us to him. All earthly loves must be set aside when they come between us and the Blessed Trinity.

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About Joshua Michael

Writer. Catholic. Fan of John Henry Newman and the Inklings.
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