Amor Dei and amor sui

Let us begin by again looking at the quote from Eric Voegelin with which we began part one of this post:

"Nevertheless, as early as the consciousness of autonomy becomes tangible at all there is also to be found the awareness of a crucial split in the psyche between spirit and power. As witnesses to this awareness I mention... finally the Christian climax in the Augustinian concepts of amor Dei and amor sui. However multifarious the desires may be, and however many of them may be distinguished by psychological description, they are overshadowed by the sense of a basic dualism in the psyche: autonomous man can order himself in society either by orienting himself toward transcendence or by emancipating himself as a world-immanent existence." -- Eric Voegelin, "What Is History?" The Collected Works, Vol. 28, p. 32.

Let us say that someone has no personal experience with transcendence: how is such an individual to choose between the two orientations? Here, history is informative: the egophanic phenomena is everywhere derivative of the theophanic, and only arises in its wake. And civilization is created by the theophanies, and eroded over time by egophany. This civilizational priority of the transcendental orientation over the immanent one should be decisive... except, of course, that the ego prefers egophany to theophany.

In any case, let us turn our attention to abortion, and see how this analysis can help us understand the current state of affairs on this topic. From the point of view of amor Dei, the position of the individual vis-a-vis abortion is clear: as Voegelin puts it, "The human carrier of the word has no will of his own..." (The Ecumenic Age, p. 61), or, as we say in The Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done." Whether or not one "wants" a baby at that moment is not relevant: we should strive to do God's will, not our own. (Of course, almost no one achieves this even most of the time, but it is the benchmark.) But how should we handle people who don't see things that way?

If we are talking to people who have been maleducated, by, say, contemporary psychology, consumerism, "sociobiology," and other modern mishaps to believe that all other humans are moved always and only by amor sui, then they are going to see someone opposing abortion as simply trying to exert his own libido dominandi, i.e., he is making an attempt to willfully rule over others. (And to be fair, there certainly are people who oppose abortion simply because they like making other people do what they want them to.) This is the basis of asserting that anyone against abortion is "anti-woman": in a social world seen as composed entirely of egos competing for dominance, it is natural that any attempt to stop someone from "doing what they want" (so long as it doesn't involve coercing another "non-enwombed" human being) is seen as oppression.

Or, in other words, abortion is not the place to fight this battle. By word and deed, we must inspire amor Dei, and then the person so inspired will have little problem sorting out the abortion issue for themselves.


  1. This is an insightful post, Gene. It reminds me of what is taking place in Catholicism right now: an emphasis is being made on the beautiful - and this apogee is necessary for the ultimate turning of the mind towards the Divine. Theologian Father Robert Barron has been emphasizing a less argumentative, and more contemplative and beauty-inspired approach to inspire amor Dei. Pope Francis also seems to be motivated along these lines. I am recalling a comment that Father Barron recently made: he said that the Catholic Church exists ultimately for the creation of saints - for people of incredible moral virtue. These saints then go and act 'in the world', but carrying a sort of light that makes them, in a certain sense, not 'of the world'.

    I could have missed the mark on your post, but this train of thought sounds very much like what is going on in the Vatican right now. Fascinating...

  2. Let me point that there is also a baby involved and one can strive to protect that baby regardless of having amor Dei. Of course, you are completely right that inspiring amor Dei is the best way for helping people sort the abortion issue. But when the people fail to be inspired regardless of the reason, the children still can and should be protected by law and force.

    1. No doubt: but one can only do this in a society where there is widespread agreement that the baby *should* be protected. And thus we are back to amor Dei.

    2. The real dispute is not that "the baby" should be protected. Most oppose 9th month abortions for instance. At that point the fetus is considered by most to be an unborn "baby", and in most jurisdictions the law recognizes this as well. The real dispute is when "the baby" becomes an appropriate description of the former zygote.

  3. Why is "sociobiology" in scare quotes?

    1. Oh, some of it is fine, but a lot of it is nonsense: see Mary Midgley or David Stove on the topic.


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