Joe Carlsmith on secular love and loyalty

The problem of evil is about more than metaphysics. Indeed, Lewis dismisses materialism as confidently as ever; Hart sets the question of God’s existence,” whatever that means, swiftly to the side; Ivan still expects the end of days. The problem of evil shakes them on a different axis — and plausibly, a more important one. It shakes, I think, their love of God, whatever He is. And love, perhaps, is the main thing.


To see a man suffering in the hospital is one thing; to see, in this suffering, the sickness of our society and our history as a whole, another; and to see in it the poison of being itself, the rot of consciousness, the horrific helplessness of any contingent thing, another yet.

We might call this last one existential negative”; and we might call Ginsberg’s attitude, above, existential positive.” Ginsberg looks at skin, nose, cock, and sees not just particular holy” things, contrasted with profane” things (part of the point, indeed, is that cocks read as profane), but holiness itself — something everywhere at once, infusing saint and sinner alike, shit and sand and saxophone, skyscrapers and insane asylums, pavement and railroads, the sea, the eyeball, the river of tears.


Father love,” for many, is easy to understand. Love, one might think, is an evaluative attitude that one directs towards things with certain properties (namely, lovable ones) and not others. Thus, to warrant love, the child needs to be a particular way. So too with the Real, for the secularist. If the Real, or some part of it, is pretty and nice, great: the secularist will affirm it. But if the Real is something else, the thing to be done is to reshape it until it’s better. In this sense, the Real is approached centrally as raw material (here I think of Rob Wiblin’s recent tweet: I’m a spiritual person in that I want to convert all the stars into machines that produce the greatest possible amount of moral value”).

But mother love seems, on its face, more mysterious. What sort of evaluative attitude is unconditional in this way? Indeed, more broadly, relationships of unconditional love” raise some of the same issues that Ginsberg’s holiness does: that is, they risk negating the sense in which meaningfully positive evaluative attitude should be responsive to the properties of their object (reflecting, for example, when those properties are bad). And one wonders (as the devil wondered about Job) whether the attitude in question is really so unconditional after all.

But is mother love unconditionally positive? Maybe in a sense. But a better word might be: unconditionally committed” or unconditionally loyal”. […] Where the archetypal father might, let us suppose, give up on the child, if some standard is not met, the mother will not. That is, the mother is always, in some sense, loyal to the child; on the child’s team; always, in some sense, caring; paying attention.


Chesterton, in Orthodoxy (chapter 5) talks about loyalty as well, and about loving things before they are lovable:

My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave behind because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more … What we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent.”

December 13, 2021