Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Perfect freedom

I'm going to comment on some statements by Alexander Pruss:
Before getting to the specifics, we need to define "love." "Love" can mean at least two different things:
i) Affection
ii) Acting in the best interests of another
It's possible to act on behalf of another despite not having affection for them. Indeed, there's something commendable about doing good to those you dislike. 
With this distinction in mind, one notices that there is a difference in value between God's creating a being that inevitably loves him back and his creating a being that gets to choose whether or not to love him back. Even if a being that inevitably loves him back is no better, God's action of inviting someone into communion with him very much has something very significant to be said for it that God's creating someone who will inevitably be in communion with him doesn't.
Unfortunately Pruss doesn't explain what makes that "very significant." 
The second point is this. There is a value to loving someone by choice. Now when God and St Francis love each other, each loves the other by choice. Francis chooses to love God, while being able not to. But God likewise chooses to love Francis, while being able not to. 
i) Pruss is half right. Ironically, that's the principle underlying double predestination. God is free to "love" some, but not love others. Unconditional election and reprobation. 
ii) Is love a choice? Depends on whether we define "love" as affection or a loving action on behalf of another. Humans can't simply choose who they have affection for. But they can choose how to treat another. 
iii) Apropos (ii), we choose our friends, but we don't choose our relatives. However, we tend to choose friends on the basis of those with whom we have natural rapport. We choose to associate with them, but we don't choose to like them. Rather, because we find some people likable, we want them to be our friends. 
iv) Conversely, it's a Christian virtue to befriend someone you don't like. Be a friend to them because they need a friend, without the expectation that they will be a friend to you. 
v) Libertarian theism is confronted with a dilemma: freewill theists typically wish to say that humans are free to love or withhold love from God, but God isn't free to love or withhold love from humans. 
Pruss's position is more symmetrical, but in that event, why does he oppose Calvinism? 
A certain symmetry and equality in love are particularly valuable. In the Trinity, we have a symmetry: no Person of the Trinity has the freedom to fail to love another. But we automatically start off with God having a choice whether to be in a relationship of love with a creature, namely through his having a choice whether to create the creature. It makes for deeper equality and symmetry if the creature also has a choice about how to respond to God.
No doubt that would make for a deeper equality and symmetry, but what if the relationship between God and sinners is inherently unequal and asymmetrical–like a mother and her newborn baby?
A love relationship that is chosen on one side but not on another is less valuable through the asymmetry. Imagine a woman who chose to have a baby had a drug that would ensure that the child would love her back. She had a choice, to some degree, whether to love the baby. But she refuses the child a choice about whether and how to reciprocate the relationship.
i) Once again, the reflects the systematic equivocation which runs through Pruss's analysis. He keeps blurring two different kinds of love. As a rule, parents and children don't choose to love each other (in the sense of affection). That's built in. Even in marriage, we try to marry someone with whom we're simpatico. 
ii) Pruss's standard is subversive. A fundamental feature of divine love, as well as the Christian ecotype, is loving the other even when reciprocity is absent. Loving someone in spite of their animosity. God's love for sinners is a paradigm case.
Or take a parent who continues to love a very difficult teenager. Or take a grown child who cares for an elderly parent with senile dementia. Not only is the feeble-minded parent unable to love in return, but the feeble-minded parent may be resentful and resistant. The grown child is caring for the parent despite the parent's inability to appreciate the loving intent. 

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