Unchristlike Christianity

One traditional distinction in philosophical and theological reflection about love is that between eros and agape. At the most basic level, this distinction has been framed in terms of the relation between the value we see in the things and persons we love on the one hand, and the love we have for them on the other. In eros, we love the beloved because of some value we see in them: their beauty, their goodness, or their virtue, for example. In agape, in contrast, the order of explanation is reversed: we see value in the beloved because we love them.

Of course, in the sources of these two conceptions of love—respectively, the works of Plato and the Bible—each is developed so as to involve more than what’s contained in these characterizations.

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Spinoza’s dual perversity

Spinozian religion inhabits a strange space somewhere between secular atheism and traditional Abrahamic religion. For this reason, it can seem equally perverse to people in both camps—and despite all their differences from each other, for similar reasons. That is, in the religious life that Spinoza proposes, we take joy in our finitude: in the fact that we’re inescapably dependent on and vulnerable to a world that is utterly indifferent to us. For many secular and religious persons alike, though, our finitude is anything but a cause for joy, let alone joy of any religious sort.