Loving God for no reason

Why does a devotee love God? Because He is good, merciful, omniscient…? Or just out of love?

This seems to be one of the moot issues between the two currents within the form of Vaiṣṇavism later to be known as Śrīvaiṣṇavism, since Piḷḷai Lokācārya (13th c.) stresses that loving without reason is superior to loving with a reason, just like Sītā’s ungrounded love for Rāma is superior to that of Lakṣmaṇa, who loves Rāma for his good qualities (see Mumme 1988, p. 150).

Rāma between Lakṣmaṇa and Sītā (r.)

In fact, one might add, Lakṣmaṇa would stop loving Rāma if he were no longer good, or might even start loving someone else, if that other person had better qualities than Rāma. Thus, one who loves with reasons is like a mercenary who is ready to serve a new warlord. Similarly, one might further speculate, one who loves God for His qualities is in fact in love with the qualities, not with God as a person. By contrast, when one loves a person, even her defects seem attractive to one.

This all makes sense, perhaps even a lot of sense. Yet… this means that there is no intrinsic reason to say that loving God is better than loving a demonic being who demands from us that we kill and torture living beings. If we love the latter, we will encounter consequences among human beings, such as jail, and possibily also in the after-life, since God is more powerful than demonic beings and will punish the people whe are not His devotees. Yet, there is no reason whence loving God should in itself be a reason for distinguishing better people. In fact, theoretically there might even be people who love a saintly being who is even ‘better’ (more compassionate, for instance) than God. And yet, they would not be compensated for choosing the more morally perfect being, since God would only compensate His devotees…

What is then the alternative to mercenary love and indiscriminate love for whomsoever?

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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4 thoughts on “Loving God for no reason

  1. I think the question of the “grounds” for love is the ne plus ultra of the Euthyphro dilemma. One finds it, too, in a certain reading of Levinas, for whom the encounter with another just constitutes ethical obligation. Wittgenstien too held that it was “deeper” to maintain that the good was what God commanded, rather than that God commanded the good. And yet, as you note, sans “reasons,” what do we do when someone asks us “why?” Would Sita just say, “because he is Rama?” And what makes us think (if we do) that this is adequate with regard to Rama, but would be inadequate with regard to, say, Ravana? Perhaps God could say “I love Ravana because he is Ravana.”

    • Dear Skholiast, yes, this is exactly the point! Basically, on the basis of this argument, there is nothing axiologically better in loving Rāma over Ravaṇa, given that one would love the former even if he were ugly and mischievous. As for Sītā’s answer, the Śrīraṅgam author mentioned in the post says that she answered “because it is my nature”.

  2. This reminds me of a dilemma that is in the philosophy of love: does x love y because x finds y valuable/special? Or does x find y valuable/special because x loves y?

    In the philosophy of love, the former is known as the appraisal view. X loves y because y has certain properties. In the appraisal view, X loves y because x has reasons to love y, namely because of P.

    On the other hand, the latter is known as the bestowal view. X finds y having certain properties because x loves y. With this, x has no reason to love y. Sometimes, this is known as blind love.

    There’s an intermediate view by Troy Jollimore with his book Love’s Vision. Jollimore argues that we start with the appraisal view, but over time, we end up with the bestowal view as we love the person more.

    I don’t know if this helps answering your question, but it could be a start to your very interesting question.

    • Thanks a lot, Shaun. I encountered this dilemma years back through Arindam Chakrabarti, who discussed it in the form of a paradox:
      1. If ABC loves DEF because of X, DEF is unsafe, since there can always be other people who have more X than DEF —and ABC will fall in love with them if ABC loves DEF *because* of X.
      2. If ABC loves DEF because of no reason, DEF is unsafe, since unreasonable love has no reason to stay.
      At that point, I had replied that:
      —ABC loves DEF because s/he is his/her spouse, the father/mother of his/her children, the one with whom s/he shared so many experiences, etc. The more they have shared, the more reasons ABC will have to love DEF. And no one will have more of these properties, unlike in 1.
      However, in the case of God this paradox becomes even more threathening, since this third way out does not seem to be possible. One either loves God because S/He is good, etc., or just because of “blind love”. One might say that one loves God because S/He is one’s God, but will this make any significant difference over “blind love”?