Monday, September 17, 2007

The Nature of Love

"Alex’s final words were: “I love you.”

There is no doubt that Alex had a keen awareness of the situations in which that sentence is appropriate — that is, at the end of a message at the end of the day. But to say whether Alex loved the human who taught him, we’d have to know if he had a separate conceptual grasp of what love is, which is different from understanding the context in which the word occurs. By any performative standard — knowing how to use the word properly — Alex loved Dr. Pepperberg."

Verlyn Klinkenborg, NY Times Editorial

The linked article raises some interesting thoughts about the abilities of animals to actually think. But the editorial raised the question of "grasp[ing] what love is," a concept I have just recently covered in my devotional reading. Just what is love? The best description of Christian love is in I Corinthians 13:4-7 (my own translation):

This love suffers long, for it is kind. This love is not envious. This love does not brag and it is not arrogant. It is not rude, for it is not self-seeking. It is not irritable, for it does not think on bad things. It does not rejoice when it sees evil, but rejoices when it sees the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, expects all things, and it keeps itself under control.

This is of course "charity," or sacrificial love. Alex the parrot certainly displayed an affection for his trainer, as does my cat towards me. Dr. Pepperberg spent thirty years with this one bird, teaching it concepts of colors and shapes, and even, it seems, numbers. Surely, then the filial relationship was established. The bird, though, was just too selfish to know "agape" love. This sacrificial love is known ONLY among men and with God.

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