83 Love and its opposite

they-will-know-we-are-christians-by-our-love-not-doctrine2If you ask most people the opposite of love, they will, without thinking very hard, give the answer as hate. This answer is perhaps not wrong but also not the best answer. The opposite of love is found in a Latin word which does not have a satisfactory translation. The word in Latin is ‘cupiditas’.

The word ‘cupidity’ does exist in English but to make sense of this rather archaic word, we have to spend a moment in finding a better translation of the original Latin word. Cupiditas is a longing for something that is outside oneself, that which is not part of the self. It has the idea of almost an addictive attraction to something that one desires for one’s selfish needs. It could be a desire for food, for drink or for sex. One wants to take the desired object and in some sense consume it, take it into one’s being. Cupiditas in regard to another person is the opposite of love, because one wants that person for selfish ends. It may be that a man wants a woman to enhance his image, or to exploit for his sexual gratification. He may hide this from the woman until they are married and then the full betrayal of love can no longer be hidden. The failure of love becomes a nightmare from which this woman will need to escape.

Cupidity and love sometimes get confused in people’s minds, just as sex and love get muddled up. But it was a Russian philosopher who defined love this: ‘Love is putting another person at the centre which you normally reserve for yourself.’ So there is a massive difference between the two. If someone else is at the centre of one’s care and concern then personal interests take second place. It is not difficult to see this process at work when watching lovers walk hand in hand or parents caring for their children. Putting someone else at the centre is indeed a glorious thing to watch and to experience for oneself both as a giver or receiver.

When the Christian talks about love, the reference is not normally about sex or even family life. It is referring to the relationships that are to be found among the followers of Jesus. Love in the Christian sense is the ability to go out of oneself for another. There is no desire for gain of any kind. The focus for this altruistic love is a desire in some way to reflect back something of the love that has come from God. This kind of love that can be shared as widely as possible by the Christian is called ‘caritas’ in Latin. Its meaning is summed up in the words sung to a Taize chant, Ubi caritas et amor, ibi Deus est. Where there is love and caritas, there is God.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

9 thoughts on “83 Love and its opposite

  1. Love comes at the end when all else fails. Doctrine, although extremely important, has for some become a Totem pole to dance round and chant; “We have got it right”.

    There is madness in this. Some people will not be satisfied until they have a test tube full of a quantity they can call ‘God’?

    Unless God is identified as Love and that love far above anything human kind can conceive of we, as a society will fail.

    My personal battle with ‘faith’ is a simple one. After years of propping up my doubts (About suffering etc) with selective use of scripture, I cannot conceive of a God that allows this appalling suffering to continue.

    Peace, Chris Pitts

  2. ‘Allows this appalling suffering to continue’. Chris, you express a conundrum in what you say. You talk about God ‘being love far above anything human kind can conceive of’ before bringing that love down to a human level when you talk about love allowing dreadful things to happen. If God is really above what we conceive of then perhaps we should not judge him by human standards, ie compare him to a father who would never hurt his children. Perhaps the love of God is something quite distinct from human love while we want to bring it down to our level, ie something that can be bargained with and manipulated in various ways.
    If we say, as Christians, that God’s love is shown in Jesus then perhaps we can see a love that embraces suffering, tragedy and pain. It does not solve anything but helps us not to want make God act on our terms and according to our ideas of justice.
    This week I have been covering for the chaplain at the hospital. This has involved two of three times sitting with the dying and their families. On one occasion I remarked that the dying seem sometimes to radiate enormous peace. I did not call it ‘God’ but it could have been described this way. Perhaps we should try to find God in the pain. Having visited Syria in the 70s I am enormously exercised by the suffering there. I don’t have answers to that but I suspect that we may be asking the wrong questions somewhere. The challenge to find God in the pain has not been solved by anyone but the quest may help to deepen our spirituality and awareness of what is. Whatever we do, let us never descend to cliche and glib bible quotes!

  3. Thanks Stephen, I find a challenge in your honesty that perhaps I have not known before. I strive after meaning. There is a vacant space in my thinking, post my divorce from that vast ‘evangelical’ playground, it strikes a memory chord that chants; “We planned to shake the world together didn’t we?” “The foolishness of God” and “The base things of this world” I hope to know more of! More than just the poetic words of St Paul. If we are being ‘led into all truth’ then I and my fellow seekers have a hope.

    Peace, Chris

  4. Stephen gave a good answer to a complicated question, Chris. But it’s never wrong to say, “Why does suffering happen?” I found reading Basil Hume very liberating. Don’t know if you’ve tried him. I’m evangelical, but it’s brilliant. Anyway, he said, and I paraphrase, “I don’t know that anyone has an answer”. And that made me feel better. To be free to say, “I don’t know”.
    As far as love goes, I was frightened to death after I had my first child. (Your hormones go all over the place!) But I kept staring at this little object and thinking, “What have I done?” Love makes you a hostage to fortune, and I hadn’t known the real meaning of that phrase before. The love I felt was unbelievably intense, and I couldn’t imagine how I would feel if anything happened to my child. And what really blew me away was the realisation that God loves me like that. It doesn’t change the question you asked. People suffer. David Attenborough doesn’t believe in God because of the worm that burrows into children’s eyes. My uncle lost his faith in the trenches. Who can blame either of them?

  5. Walter Hollenweger made a profound comment on the nature of much our our institutional religion when he parodied St Paul. “There abides Faith, Hope, and Love and the greatest of these is the Status Quo”

  6. Thanks English Athena, It could be said; ‘Love knows no question?’
    Jesus asked a question. Yes, it was ‘Why have you forsaken me?”
    As I look back on those wonderful beautiful people who went through the sausage machine of the shepherding movement and worse, I find a question on a continuos tape that wont let me be. I am however, strangely comforted by a love that will not let me go. Ivor Gurney spoke of; “Strange Hells within the minds war made.” If that love can really reach the men of the Gloucester regiment, when they witnessed ‘Eighteen pounders hammering hells thunders,’ Then, bring it on, I want to know more.


    1. hi Chris, yes that love “passeth all understanding”, yet it can be so difficult to include yourself in it when it commands love your enemies and pray for them. I feel you’re fighting the good fight there.

  7. ‘What made fatuous sunbeams toil?’ (Wilfred Owen)

    Somehow in that “Strange Hell” Owen kept his faith?
    If there is such a thing as a roadmap for the soul, I hope to find it one day.
    Will it explain the ‘Superhuman Inhumanities’?


  8. Robert, I’ve been thinking about your blog. It certainly describes the mentality behind a lot of religious jargon. Coming from the lower ranks of the working class like I do, I find it bewildering that even before a ‘Minister’ (Post Training) takes on a parish, he has already reached a level of incompetence. The legacy serfdom casts a long shadow. Vending machine reactions follow that blind spot. When will they see that it’s not the ‘Problem’ that’s the problem, they are the problem!

    PEACE > Chris

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