Can Real Love Really Be Diminished By This?
There’s a charge in the air. The hairs on your arm stand erect. You look that person in the eye, and the entire world melts away. They brush your skin, and it feels like your body just lit up like a Christmas tree. They say a word and your chest heaves. The sound waves being emitted from this beautiful creature… this creature you’ve fallen hard for, who loves you back. The sound fills you up so full you feel like you can’t contain it and your skin feels like it’s covered in butterflies, lightly crawling all over you, leaving glittery wing dust and a trail of electrified goosebumps. You dissolve into this person and you feel like nothing can get you, nothing can hurt you, nothing can possibly threaten you. That feeling… that feeling of falling in love.
It is magical. But is it God?
I get asked often what I think love is. In fact, I think I’ve covered it before in a blog post. I get a lot of theists asserting that God is love. When I disagree, they demand an explanation as though my disbelief requires a defence.
I tell them what I think love is based on what we know so far:
Love is a chemical reaction that creates a necessary bond between two members of the same species to promote procreation and/or survival of their species.
The theist balks and backs away in horror when I say that. I just don’t understand why.
When I had my son, I was overwhelmed with emotion. This living thing just emerged from me after I carefully carried him around for nine months. I had gotten to know his little kicks before I got to see his beautiful face. When he was born, I cried. Godless Dad cried. I was head over heels in love in an instant. What followed was an almost immediate awareness of the impermanence of life. I had never had such a profound run-in with my own mortality. If life can come this easily, it can also go… I am sure many moms out there understand what I mean when I say that this was life-altering. This being emerging from me, made me understand how fucking lucky I am to have had life at all.
It was the most profound moment of my life. Meeting my son for the very first time. I love to write, I live to write and some of you actually think I’m alright at it, but there is no way to put how I felt meeting him that first time into words. There is simply not.
I understood fully what had just happened. Through the act of sex, an egg had been fertilized inside my body and grew for 9 months in a bloody, mucusy mess. It made me emotional, hungry, gassy and achy. Hours upon hours of the most horrific pressure on my spine and my hips and feeling like I had to take the biggest shit of my life all damned day. Giant needles, all sorts of fluids, the reality is, childbirth is not a pretty thing. Creating a life is not a pretty thing. It’s very clinical and sterile and scientific. It’s painful and messy and gross. It’s not what you picture when you think of the most profound day of your life.
And yet it was. It was. Despite understanding how babies are made. Even though the birth process is pretty well understood and can be whittled down to little more than a medical procedure. Even though it’s messy and unglamorous and painful, it was still the most profound day of my life.
Some theists appear to have this silly idea that anything worth living for must be magical and supernatural. That if we don’t understand it, it is somehow better than if we do. They think that when an atheist explains the physiology of love, the chemical reactions that are taking place, that somehow we’ve lost the magic of love.
Chemicals reactions are nothing to dismiss. There are millions of people the world over who kill themselves chasing a chemical reaction that feels as great as love. They deplete their life savings, reduce themselves to a sexual commodity on the streets. They alienate and steal from friends and family… they end their lives for a chemical reaction.
Calling love a chemical reaction is not reducing it from the greatest feeling on Earth. Understanding what is happening in the body while experiencing love doesn’t make the feeling of love any less amazing, just like understanding what was happening in my body when I had my son, didn’t make meeting him any less profound and life-altering.
When you meet someone for whom you feel so deeply that you’d give anything just to touch your skin to theirs; to envelop them in your arms and look them in the eye and tell them how you feel. When you meet someone who makes you feel like your body is capable of bioluminescence, and your heart might take flight, and your fingers can stretch for miles just to brush their cheek. When you meet someone who sends you falling from sanity, descending through fireworks and landing in the welcoming and safe embrace of their arms. When you meet someone who makes you feel like this, what the fuck does it matter if it’s a chemical reaction? What the fuck does it matter if it’s an instinctual mechanism to protect the future of our species? What the fuck does any of that matter, in the throes of a passion so deep and illuminating you can’t hold back; you can’t see; you can’t breathe?
It doesn’t matter. Love is love. It can be explained. But anyone who asserts that by being able to explain scientifically what love is, it somehow takes away from how love feels in action, has clearly never actually been in love. No one, in the aftermath of a fall like that, is thinking about chemical reactions, just like no one, in the aftermath of giving birth is contemplating how eggs are fertilized. But that is how the baby got there, and the chemicals in your body are why you feel love.
Knowing why you feel love, could not possibly take away from actually feeling love… or it’s simply not love at all.