Well, strictly speaking, love is indivisible. You can’t truly love somebody without potentially loving everybody, including yourself. I’m reminded of Jesus’ comment when he was told that his mother and brothers were waiting for him outside a crowded room:
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He stretched out
his hand toward his disciples, and said, “Behold, my mother
and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who
is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother. (WEB)
Nevertheless, love is expressed in different contexts; i.e., love can have different objects. So, it’s possible to speak of types of love. There are many typologies of love, but a particularly perceptive classification has been done by Erich Fromm in his book, The Art of Loving. Fromm distinguishes five basic types of love: brotherly love, motherly love, erotic love, self-love, and love of God.
Fromm says that brotherly love is fundamental love, underlying all other types. He continues:
By… (brotherly love) …I mean the sense of responsibility, care
respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further
his life. This is the kind of love the Bible speaks of when it says:
love thy neighbor as thyself. Brotherly love is love for all human
beings; it is characterized by its very lack of exclusiveness.
Then there is motherly love—unconditional love.
Mother loves the newborn infant because it is her child, not
because the child has fulfilled any specific condition or lived
up to any specific expectation. …Unconditional love corresponds
to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every
human being ….
A third type of love is erotic love.
In contrast to … (brotherly and motherly love) …is erotic love;
it is the craving for complete fusion, for union with one other
person. It is by its very nature exclusive and not universal; it
is also perhaps the most deceptive form of love there is.
Then there is self-love.
It is (often) assumed that to the degree to which I love myself
I do not love others, that self-love is the same as selfishness. …
(but) If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it
must be a virtue—and not a vice—to love myself, since I am a
human being too.
Fromm’s last type of love is the love of God.
…the basis for our need to love lies in the experience
of separateness and the resulting need to overcome the
anxiety of separateness by the experience of union. The
religious form of love, that which is called the love of
God, is, psychologically speaking, not different.
Love of God is more complex than other forms of love. That’s because there are so many conceptions of God. In patriarchal societies where God is thought of as Father, people are taught that they must meet God’s expectations and demands. They must obey God’s rules—for example, the Ten Commandments. Someone who doesn’t obey Him may expect divine punishment. So, when the Israelites at Mt. Sinai fashioned an idol to worship—the Golden Calf—God condemned them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Fundamentalist Christians even believe that God sends unrepentant sinners to Hell for all eternity.
Other, more mature Christians, attribute the qualities of motherly love to God. God as mother loves human beings unconditionally, forgives sinners without reservation, and accepts human beings as beloved children. Of course, it’s possible to call God “Father” while unconsciously thinking of “Him” as Mother. (That’s me.) In practice—even though it’s paradoxical—most Christians conceive of God as some combination of Motherly and Fatherly love. (Fromm does not consider paternal love to be one of the basic types of love, perhaps because fatherly love is conditional; and Fromm’s five basic types of love are—at least potentially—unconditional.)
Speaking of paradox brings us to non-theistic religions like early Buddhism or Taoism. In these traditions, Ultimate Reality (“God”) is simultaneously conceived of as Being and Non-Being. This paradox is believed to be the result of the limitations of thought. Thought or rationality is incapable of comprehending Ultimate Reality. That being so, these religions recommend “right action” or good deeds as the alternative to paradoxical thought. Another possibility is to seek a mystical union with the Ultimate through meditation, thereby avoiding thought and rationality altogether.
Well, I haven’t done justice to Erich Fromm and his typology of love. My summary of Fromm leaves out the historical details and examples—as well as the perversions of love—that Fromm uses to support and clarify his types. Nor have I included Fromm’s argument that love is not a sentiment or emotion. Rather, it is a commitment or intention that expresses itself in loving actions. To fully understand Erich Fromm’s ideas, why not read The Art of Loving? It’s available both in print and as an eBook.
~ Richard Russell
This blog was set up to post content of interest to Old Chatham Quaker members and attenders. Posts related to one's own personal spiritual journey, reports based on interviews with others, and reflections on Quaker-related topics are welcome. Posts by individuals are personal expressions and do not necessarily reflect those of the Meeting as a whole.
Guidelines for posting on website blog:
Submit to member of Communications committee; committee has editorial oversight over all content posted on the Meeting website.
Be respectful of the nature of vocal ministry given in Meeting for Worship or other settings and any private conversations about spiritual matters.
Cite source of any image or other external content submitted.