Category mistakes and lack of nuance are fallen humanity’s two highest
virtues vices. This human tendency to “tell like it is” is rampant in theological high towers, partisan Facebook posses, the fourth row of your local church congregation, and in the White House press room. Nobody is safe. Everyone is an extremist.
“I looove chocolate!”
One area where lack of nuance is pervasive (and very often destructive as a result) is when we speak about love. Aside from confusion of language (“I looove chocolate!”), when we speak about our “love” for a person, place, thing, pet, spouse, child, we often use the same turns of phrase, romantic jargon once reserved for ground-to-balcony soliloquies now gush about Jesus.
God is Love. We lowly lovers reflect the Divine Image in various ways. Countless examples of love in the Bible: David and Jonathan, the Father and the Son, God and one twin (and maybe not the other), mother Mary and baby Jesus, each reflect this Love but only ever in part, and always with ground statements, narrative context, and run-on sentences to attempt the connection. Great lovers throughout history join the chorus, kings, prophets, playwrights, and spouses, help us to understand the nuanced difference between loving Cecil and (yes, truly) loving Cecile.
It is no secret that my totes fave author had a few things to say about love (The Four Loves).
Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human
Before tackling love in all of it’s complexity, Lewis discusses the incontrovertible phenomenon of our liking stuff: food, water, nature, home, and politics, among others. This “principle of starting at the lowest—without which ‘the highest does not stand'” will indeed “pay a dividend” (p.16). To distinguish between our love for lions and our love for human beings, Lewis provides helpful guardrails on both sides to keep us on the road.
Lewis’ distinction between love for the sub-human and love for humans, in all its forms, gives a reasoned voice to the pro-life argument: “You rage against Cecil’s hunter while ignoring #BabyEmmett, cut into profitable pieces in a sterile medical facility.” One is clearly greater than the other and our rhetoric should reflect that. But my audience isn’t with the Left. It is the other side of the road that I’m most concerned with.
Lewis doesn’t address love for animals in his introductory chapter on sub-human loves. Rather, Lewis elevates our love for animals to a particular kind of affection, a step above the lower loves of “pleasure.” He writes:
The higher and domesticated animal is, so to speak, a “bridge” between us and the rest of nature. We all at times feel somewhat painfully our human isolation from the subhuman world— the atrophy of instinct which our intelligence entails, our excessive self-consciousness, the innumerable complexities of our situation, our inability to live in the present. If only we could shuffle it all off! We must not— and incidentally we can’t— become beasts. But we can be with a beast. It is personal enough to give the word with a real meaning; yet it remains very largely an unconscious little bundle of biological impulses. It has three legs in nature’s world and one in ours. It is a link, an ambassador.
The Four Loves (p. 52)
A Rhetorical Takeaway
If we pass off the outrage of the Left (concerning the killing of Cecil the lion) as merely a ploy to distract from the atrocity of abortion (which it is!), then we fail to recognize a real and justifiably offensive human behavior. The love of animals closely resembles the higher love for which we fight, but we do ourselves no favors by not honoring this ambassador to the higher love, reserved for human beings.
Rather than win points with other pro-lifers by lambasting the lion-lovers outrage, we would do better to acknowledge the real, albeit lower (but no less real) pain felt when a big game hunter employs shady tactics and a hurls a poorly shot arrow at a napping cat.
Honor the lower loves. Understand them in there place. And maybe, just maybe, you might have an audience willing to listen to your appeals to the higher loves, even to the highest Love.
Baby Emmett and the countless other aborted children need winsome, nuanced lovers on their side.