Which is the real delusion — love or selfishness?
This isn’t just a rhetorical question. It’s a question that gets at the heart of Western civilization’s moral and existential confusion. Are you most in sync with reality when you seek your self-interest first or when you “count others more significant than yourself” (Philippians 2:3)? Is love, and its resulting virtues, truly the highest moral good for humans, or is it really a grand illusion created by our genes to get us to behave in ways most likely to result in our genetic survival?
In other words, does love really exist?
I don’t mean mere social or sexual or familial expressions of “enlightened self-interest.” I mean real, self-sacrificial love, the kind of love that truly seeks others’ good to the detriment of the self, the kind of love humans everywhere and always have found morally beautiful and admirable. Does this love exist?
This is the question I pose to atheists. Because if such love really exists, it is a powerful and unnerving indicator of a profound reality beyond the bounds of what we call the material universe. But if this love doesn’t exist, reality is a nightmarish photonegative of what everyone really believes deep down, and in which no one really wants to live.
More Than Selfish
Darwinian theorists tell us that our obsessive selfishness is programmed into our genes. Taken at face value, Christians would not disagree. The Bible describes the effects of humanity’s fall as pervasive, including our genes.
But Christians believe this selfishness is pathological, a disease infecting us for which we need a spiritual cure. Darwinists, on the other hand, hypothesize that this selfishness is primal; the fundamental survival and procreative impulse that has been present since the emergence of our first cellular ancestor and became hardwired into our genes as we evolved into the almost unimaginably complex human organisms. In the beginning was selfishness. Our selfishness is simply our genes seeking to save themselves.
This Darwinian explanation makes sense within its framework. But it hardly begins to explain the true nature of human selfishness. You know what I mean: those dark impulses, emotions, and thoughts that we all feel and think, which we fight our entire lives to suppress, many of which we never articulate out loud, and which we have no adequate term for other than evil.
And history, as well as today’s news, is replete with instances of gratuitous, selfish human cruelty on levels that defy explanation — and even prompt Darwinists to label “evil.” In other words, our selfishness is far more depraved than the “red in tooth and claw” fight to survive. Humans don’t merely seek to survive and procreate. We subjugate, dominate, torture, kill, steal, and destroy in ways that are simply horrifying.
But another dimension to all of this makes a “selfish gene” theory an even worse horror. If Darwinian theorists are right, then all forms of love and virtue are essentially genetic illusions. They don’t exist outside the human psyche. Which means they don’t really exist. Love is fundamentally a utilitarian mirage created by our genes that natural selection determined as among the most effective means to ensure of our genetic survival.
But here is a terrible problem: when love becomes no more than an illusion, life becomes a nightmare once we realize it’s an illusion. For when people understand love as an illusion, they begin to see love as the photonegative of 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is selfish. Love is kind when it’s useful and cruel when it’s useful. Love uses envy as a motivator and flattery as a lubricator; it uses humility as a manipulator, and arrogance as a dominator. Love resents obstacles to self-advancement and rejoices with self-exaltation. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things that advance the self for the sake of genetic survival. For ultimately we love ourselves, and self-love never ends.
This is the stark, horrible reality if biblical love does not exist. Not only is the Bible not true, but virtually all of history’s greatest, most beloved stories, legends, songs, and poems are nothing but fantasies. Essentially, all the things that make life most worth living are delusions.
When people, regardless of their religious convictions, really think through the implications of such a worldview — when it moves from abstract theory to experiential reality — something deep inside almost everyone screams, “No!”
Why is that? That is the crucial question. Do we scream “No!” because our genes are such convincing illusionists? No. We find a loveless world revolting because we know it is not real. We may not be able to prove love’s existence in the laboratory sense, but we all know intuitively that it really exists. We know that selfish “love” is the love of hell; it is a domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13). Even in our selfish depravity, humans know this is horribly and morally wrong.
Wake Them Up with Love
Now, I’m going to take a logical leap forward and just say it: love exists because God exists, and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We know this, even if we suppress this truth (Romans 1:18). Selfishness as fundamental reality and love as a survival illusion are satanic nightmares out of which Jesus came to wake the world.
This is why Jesus emphasized love above everything else. He came to demonstrate God’s reality, not through scientific proofs, but through unsurpassed love. And Jesus means for Christians, his church, his kingdom of love on earth, to say to the life of lovelessness, by our very existence in the world, “Not true!” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16), and “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). When love like this is demonstrated, God’s existence is demonstrated.
This is why no matter what we do today, our highest call, our most important work, is to love. This comes from Jesus himself: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
I thank God for good apologists. They do important kingdom work. But the most compelling work Christians will ever do is not going toe-to-toe with Darwinian theorists over scientific evidence for God’s existence or with materialist philosophers over sophisticated arguments. Love is the most compelling apologetic for God’s existence and Christ’s sacrifice on earth: for “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
So, “let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Let us “love one another with brotherly affection [and] outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).
And “may the Lord make [us] increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 3:12), because God will use this to wake millions caught in the devil’s loveless nightmare of godlessness to the overwhelmingly joyful reality of the God of love. Through us, God will wage a worldwide culture war of godly love.