I have been reading the chapter on Love in The Virtuous Life, which is the book my book club has chosen to study (since last year :P) and in it was raised the idea of dying for someone as the ultimate exhibition/proof of love. Now I am one who is firmly convicted of Alan Catchpoole’s definition of love – that you intelligently do what is best for the other. Only that this “other” that is the recipient of love may be small or large, according to the situation. Obviously sometimes the ‘other’ is replaced by ‘society’ as opposed to an individual person.
While in the not so recent past I may have unhesitatingly laid my life in place of my friends’ in this extremely primitive thought experiment, nowadays I start to take in all sorts of factors into consideration, such as
1. How much more of life has this person yet to experience? Correspondingly, how much younger is this person I am to die for? And how overrated are life’s experiences anyway? You are born, you grow old, you fall in love, you fall out of love, you find religion, you live, and you die. Which one is considered a ‘key’ experience?
2. How useful is this person to society? How large his/her sphere of positive influence? I don’t mean to be mercenary about this, but I do think many of my friends do not really make it a life goal to bless other people, to do good for them, encourage them, support them, etc. It’s just not really a consideration in many lives that I observe, and it’s not a moral/judge-y thing – there’s just no impetus for them to be, so it’s consistent with their scheme of belief. If it is the case that I actually do more good to a greater pool of people than they do (which I think happens quite often actually), then it no longer makes sense for me to take their place in death.
3. How many people will be affected by this person’s death? If quantitatively more people will be sad if I die than if the other person dies, then I may not give my life for this person. Then my next thought is – what’s so bad about being sad/mourning/grieving? Sure, it hurts, emotionally, you feel like you’ve been winded, you’re depressed, but I think it’s not really different from being happy. It’s a 0 or a 1. Either way, you’re alive to feel both extremes. Is it more important to be sentient or to be happy?
4. Is this person about to make great STEM discoveries that will benefit all of mankind, or is this person’s job involved in shaping young lives (say, working in ministry, or being a teacher)? Then again to some degree I also feel that ministry workers and teachers are slightly overrated. For the extremely hard of heart or delinquent, you will need divine power to reform them, not just tools. There are, of course, people who professions would never induce me to die for them – lawyers, accountants, engineers, you name it. Unless you’re at Legal Aid or something. You’d have to have a stellar personality as a civil servant for me to die for you.
Naturally I have no conclusion yet as to who I would die for. But if you submit a query for your specific case I will think about it :P
One person I would definitely die for is Liangze, but this is for far more selfish reasons than selfless ones (do not mistake this for romance), in that I cannot imagine existing contently in a world where he is not.
Now a special note for protestant Christians (since we are at the bottom of the charts in terms of IQ etc. Just today I read in the news of a couple of faith healers who decided to “faith heal” their baby who had bacterial pneumonia. Guess the end of that story. When I told it to LZ he said, well, that’s one way natural selection works, which may be callous but it is at least realistic. Not to trivialize that child’s death or anything.). One should not mistake Christ’s willingness to die for complete strangers as something to emulate. He died for a purpose, which is that He could take away mankind’s sins. If you think for one instant that your dying for someone else would have even an iota of the same impact as Christ’s, you have another think coming.
I also don’t know how much I agree with Christ dying for his “enemies” as further proof of his perfect love. The term “enemies” I think would take on a whole different connotation for him than for us, wouldn’t it? Our enemies are our peers, people on the same level trying to make life difficult or who are just plain annoying. His enemies have a much more incomplete picture of salvation history than he does – so there should be correspondingly less anger or frustration on his part – it’d be like us being angry at a pet dog misbehaving – totally futile.