A Moratorium on the word "Love": A More-Than-Half Serious Proposal

Proposing a moratorium on a word as august, regal, and, well—important—as Love may seem strange, if not downright offensive. But it is precisely out of deference to love’s hallowed place in the English language that I propose, with tongue-ever-so-slightly-in-cheek, that we may have reached the point it should no longer be said aloud, or at least not how we are accustomed to saying it. 

If I have not lost you already, let me begin with an observation that is bound to slough off another segment of readers here from the get-go: "love is love" makes no sense--it is a ludicrous statement. But why it is ludicrous is part and parcel to my proposition.

What you love and how you love it makes all the difference. To paint a much too obvious picture, the leadership of ISIS loves the fact that a) there are 50 people they deemed unworthy of life now dead in Orlando, and b) that this horrific event is rending apart the already fragile semblance of a unity our country currently “enjoys.”

But we are not even required to paint diabolical pictures to make this point. Take any addict as an example: they love (really, love) their drug of choice. Take the unrequited and envious lover, who loves his beloved so, even though it is destroying his life and only brewing hatred toward the one he loves. Take the one who loves pleasure or wealth or fame, and you will see that she truly loves them, but in doing so loves a thing beneath her dignity, a thing that will not love her back.

To make the point theological: we love our sins. Otherwise, we wouldn't keep doing them. And this is what gets in the way of our love of God. (It would be quite a spiritual achievement if every evening we would come to terms with this fact: today, I have loved my sins more than God). Even loving people is not a zero sum game--how you love them and for what end (myself? them? an abstraction? God? etc.?) is of the essence when deciding whether your love for them is good or, indeed, wicked--and not just on your part, but for their well-being as well.

Because of this, because the-who-and-the-what-and-the-how of love are so important, no one—and I mean no one—is wrong to scrutinize love. Love is the unitive force that brings the best things in the world together, but it is also the force that tears many things apart. The worst people in the world and throughout history love their hatred, and that is why they can go to near mythical ends to spread human misery and pain, all because of love. Satan loves nothing but himself and his hatred (he also hates himself because of this), and that is what motivates him to drag as much of mankind down with him into the abyss as he can.

Even God's love is not all puppy dogs and rainbows and lollipops—the same fire of love that purifies in purgatory and makes the Saints refulgent in glory is also the punishment of hell fire. Although God's love is pure and admits of no defect, it is still a terrible and wonderful thing to behold.

It is ridiculous to blame those who would scrutinize love for the attacks in Orlando, or any other act of violence, for to wish that a generic "love" may be all pervasive in society and thus end all violence is nonsensical. Love is the root of all violence, because at the root of all human endeavors is love, ordered and disordered though it may be.

And thus to learn anything from the doings of humanity throughout the manifold ages is to scrutinize love—who or what they loved, and how they demonstrated that love. It is the root for all serious study of the human condition. To say "love is love" is to deny the ability to learn anything from anytime or be any different in the future. When we use love as flippantly as we do, we remove our ability to look deep into ourselves, as individuals, as communities, as a species, and speak honestly about what rests in the shadow of our hearts.

For this reason, I propose a moratorium on the word love, at least for a time. But I don’t mean that we simply give the word up, or act like we could do without it. For starters, we have a cacophony of synonyms for love (as we should—it only makes sense), and if what I said above is true, one cannot escape talking about love. I only want to make it more difficult to say, as it were. I want us to trip over needing to enunciate it. I want us to take our time whenever we would dare place the word on our tongue.

And so, I suggest we do something akin to what Jews do with the Tetragrammaton, the name of God in Hebrew. They will not pronounce His name aloud out of reverence, in fear that they will use His name vainly, and go to great lengths to assure they will not utter The Name. We should do likewise with love.

As Christians, we know from the Apostle John that “God is Love.” And yes language nerds, I know that in Greek there are many words for love, and eros and philos and agape and etc. all have different shades of meaning. But all the many words we have for love, it has been revealed to us that they have their primordial root in God. By using the word love with such glib ease, have we not used the name of God in vain?

So perhaps we should make symbol for the word (that would be an interesting design contest), or every time we see the word in print, be required to say something impossible not to stumble over, “the-word-God-used-of-Himself” or some such monstrosity. Anything that would make the word impossible to use on throw-away Hallmark cards would suffice. Indeed, if we ruin the economics of Valentine’s Day by rendering such frivolities impossible, we will know we have made a start.

Or perhaps this is all too much, when all that needs to be said is that love is never just love—it is, in fact, everything, and we should stop using the word like it is nothing to do so.  

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Moroder, Wikimedia Commons