The Nonsense of Unconditional Love

October 26, 2017 at 9:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

There is a pop-culture concept of “falling in love” and it is used to escape focus on love and marriage as based on commitment. A similar pop-culture concept is “unconditional love”, and it is worth understanding too.

The famous author of “His Needs, Her Needs” Willard F. Harley Jr. likewise discusses from every Biblical angle and rejects the “unconditional love” idea.

I’ve looked to find the origin of the term and think I’ve found it. It was coined by socialist* humanist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in 1934, and then published in his bestselling book “The Art of Loving” in 1956. In his work, unconditional love is what you get from a mother, and conditional love is what you get from a father.

* Note that I’m not mistakenly altering the term “secular humanist”. Fromm was a founding subset of humanist promoting a strict socialism. Further, humanist is a term for a type of atheist that is strictly opposed to the entire concept of faith, not just particular aspects of faiths.

Now, we all may know examples of the potential negative impact of that stereotype of unconditional love from a mother. I knew a thirty year old career criminal who had never held a job for more than a couple weeks because his mother wouldn’t let his father discipline him, no matter how often he returned home unrepentant and unapologetic intending only to steal more, till he finally died of drug use. Unconditional love could save him from short term discipline to bring about a young death due to unlearned self-discipline. But Fromm’s concept is still just no better of a concept than any other stereotype that maybe true 50% of the time. Plenty of mothers know the importance of love as discipline.

The New Testament expands upon the conditional and disciplinary nature of love by commenting on Proverbs 3:11-12 in Hebrews 12:6-11:

6 “For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”

7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

I’ve wondered how the concept of unconditional love gets mistakenly applied to the Bible, or to any faith when its origin is in anti-faith, but I have a good guess. Fromm’s concept of motherly unconditional love is close to the pop-Catholicism concept of “Pray to Mary because she will forgive you for anything.” I call that pop-Catholicisim because even sincere Catholicism isn’t that bad and recognizes that praying for forgiveness without conditions like repentance isn’t any good.

From Catholicism, I assume the concept probably spread through interfaith organizations like the National Council of Churches and universities, where Protestant Christendom was influenced by psychoanalysis.

St. Augustine’s negative view of sex in marriage even negatively affected the Churches of Christ, and he is the common most influential person and link between Catholicism and all “official” Protestants. (i.e. Calvinist, Lutheran, Anglican, and their heirs). It is possible to see how unconditional love as a concept was easy to tie to Augustinianism.

In 418 AD, a Council of Carthage, under the influence of Augustine and Emperor Honorius declares Pelagius and related beliefs as intolerable heresy. The attack on Pelagius was because he defended even partial free will in man’s response to God. (You might see why Pelagius should instead be viewed as persecuted hero.) Augustine’s rejection of free will is consistent with his justification of violence and persecution of those with peaceful but different beliefs, like Augustine’s violent rampage against the Donatists. But Augustine demanded and promoted the central importance of belief in literal eternal damnation of all unbaptized infants creates the concept parallel to unconditional love, namely, unconditional damnation. These aren’t opposing beliefs, unconditional love and unconditional damnation are a matching pair that justify each other in Augustinianism.

So Augustine laid a foundation concept of unconditional love and unconditional damnation, so that when the term unconditional love was first created by an anti-faith atheist, the term was nevertheless quickly adopted into the Augustinian faiths.

Recently, I saw a post about a “FAIL” example, where a Pentecostal church sign said “God’s Love is unconditional as long as you are obeying Christ.” Then I saw two sides of comments. One group was of the Fromm influenced Protestants who were annoyed by the “extra condition” being added of obedience. Another group of comments pointed out the silliness of trying to salvage the term unconditional while admitting conditions are obvious, natural, and unavoidable in real love. Remember Romans 6:16- sin unto death, or obedience unto righteousness, 17: we obey from the heart that doctrine to which we committed. Or take John 3:16, where the condition is belief, etc. The Bible gives lots of conditions repeatedly, so trying to fit a psychoanalystic humanist term into Christianity will just cause confusion.unnamed

Next time you hear someone try to push “unconditional love” as Christian, challenge them on it, and let me know if they have any evidence that it predates Erich Fromm. If they do, let me know as I don’t want to say anything incorrect in calling him its founder.




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  1. Actually, the concept of “unconditional love” is inherent in the word “agape” which is the word for love used in the New Testament. God will chasten us as His children, but there is love even in chastening. God does not stop loving. He is Love. Agape means a commitment to love and God is committed to love us even if we are disobedient children. Does a father stop loving his child because he disobeys? Or rather, does he chastise him because he wants to correct his child? John 3:16 DOES NOT say God’s love is conditional upon belief; it says He loved the world so much that He gave the Son. That is not conditional. What is conditional upon belief in John 3:16 is everlasting life. God cannot and does not stop loving, because Love is inherent to His nature. Sometimes love is tough, and requires us to invoke consequences; that doesn’t mean that we stop loving the person. It means that we cannot allow the person to continue in their behavior, despite the fact that we love them.

  2. I’m very familiar with agape and the other Greek terms for love, philia, pragma, storge, eros, ludus, etc. But there is no reason to trivialize agape into a meaningless tautology of modern irrationalism. (Did anyone ever claim agape was “unconditional love” before Erich Fromm? I doubt it, but correct me if mistaken.)

    John 3:16 sets up:

    Initial situation/condition: God loves the world
    Transforming challenge/option: Individual action/choice/condition of belief in Jesus

    Option/situation/condition/result 1: Eternal life
    Option/situation/condition/result 2: condemnation

    If one wants to avoid the central focus, verb/change/activation one then thinks passive acceptance of “unconditional love” is enough or a focus (ignore the condemnation option), then expect that default option, as also the lesson of the Parable of the Talents. Ignore transformational love because that is a condition and so not unconditional. There is no way to escape either condition 1 or condition 2.

    But the reason people can think so irrationally is 1500 years of influence of the murderous and bloodthirsty St. Augustine.

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