Magazines 2019 Nov - Dec Love is love

Love is love

08 November 2019 By John G. Stackhouse

Another popular lie no one actually believes

The 1960s (which were really much of the ’70s too) taught us to doubt everyone in charge – ruling politicians, armed forces generals, corporate executives, senior clergy, even white-coated scientists.

As scholar Jean-François Lyotard was summing up postmodernism as "incredulity toward metanarratives" (1979), the alternative health movement of that time was setting us on the path toward "fake news" as it claimed to offer life-changing, even life-saving remedies in stark contradiction to the medical establishment.

The pervasive disillusionment was manifest on many a dorm room poster and lapel button – "Don’t trust anyone over 30."

No one actually thought that, of course. No one actually believed your 31st year of life instantly transformed you into a soulless cog in the military-industrial complex. But the slogan was useful in the cause of resistance to unpopular authorities.

More recently, placards and T-shirts and internet memes have told us that "love is love." Rightthinking characters on TV shows have repeated the slogan so often, it’s now passing into common parlance as a proverb, even a truism.

"Love is love!" someone says, and everyone else murmurs approval.

No one actually thinks that, of course. No one actually believes every kind of love is identical to every other kind of love. But the slogan has been useful in the cause of resistance to unpopular authorities.

For the record, I believe that some wrongs have been righted under the banner of love is love. I’m glad human rights previously denied have been properly recognized and that people formerly mistreated are increasingly given the respect they deserve.

love is love

Still, love is love elides distinctions vital to our well-being and the well-being of others, and as such it needs to be exposed as the popular lie it is.

Not so sure? Shouldn’t it matter who you love, so long as you love? Isn’t love just love?

Let’s ask Woody Allen, his family and friends. Cinema star Scarlett Johansson, who has appeared in several of his films, made news recently by publically supporting the filmmaker against claims by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow that he molested her as a child. Johansson has been active in advocating #MeToo and other similar causes, but in the case of Allen, she stands by him.

However, no one in the furor, not even I dare say Scarlett Johansson, doubts that if Allen did in fact love his adopted daughter in the ways she alleges, he would have been wrong.

And many think he was wrong to have previously courted and married Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his longtime companion Mia Farrow and 35 years his junior.

When Allen’s relationship with Previn made national news, Allen was widely quoted as saying, "The heart wants what it wants." (Some assumed he coined the phrase, given Allen’s talent for both the shrug and the bon mot. Actually it originates in a condolence letter by Emily Dickinson.)

But Allen’s use of this phrase, which sounds suspiciously like "love is love," was widely mocked.

Christians are taught by our Bibles that love must be rightly directed. Don’t love this – idols, the world system, your selfish interests – but love that – God, the world, your neighbour and yourself. And in the right ways.

Love isn’t just love. It’s not always a good thing in all varieties and circumstances. In our reflective moments we’ve all had to acknowledge how readily and willingly we can be confused about right loves versus wrong.

"It can’t be wrong when it feels so right," crooned pop star Debbie Boone a generation ago. "The heart wants what it wants," sings Selena Gomez in our generation. But responsible people know these are lovely lies.

So what is true about love? How could we know?

To teach us about the large and complex subject of love, in fact, is one of the main reasons God wisely and carefully provided us a large and complex Bible, and the loving example of Jesus, rather than a meme or a bumper sticker.

Or a poster.

Or a button.

john stackhouse

John Stackhouse is professor of religious studies at Crandall University. Find more of these columns at