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My background: 4 years undergraduate in Catholic university including 3 unit Theology course on sex, love and marriage with M Scott Peck readings. Recently been following Brene Brown who says 'We can only love others as much as we love ourselves'. Example: If a socially struggling parent wants to love a socially struggling child, then the parent needs to love himself/herself by accepting his/her social struggles.

Question 1: Which part of my understanding or assumptions below is wrong, and why?

  1. It's an alternative interpretation to Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18).

  2. The usual interpretation is

Humans generally don't have difficulties loving themselves, and their task is to love others to the level they love themselves. (2)

  1. Brene Brown discovers

Humans love others almost as much as themselves. Thus, they must love themselves more to love others more. (3)

  1. Brene Brown calls self-love 'vulnerability' and loving others 'empathy'. [Edit: Alternatively, 'empathy' is one way to love others. I guess others would be generousity, hard work, etc]

  2. Brene Brown says in order to have more empathy we need to have more vulnerability.

  3. M Scott Peck does not say anything similar.

  4. There is something in Catholic teaching that contradicts what Brene Brown said. --> If this is true, please cite from the Bible or Catholic teaching.

  5. The Catholic Church agrees with (2) and disagrees with (3).

Question 2: (If there is a disagreement) What specifically is the practical implication, if any?

I really don't see how Brene Brown's interpretation of Lev 19:18 might make one a worse Catholic. For example, Headspace on Generousity has a similar idea and it seems to complement the Prayer for Generousity. But if Headspace and Brene Brown are so dangerously contradicting the Catholic faith, I hope to know right away so I can be unbrainwashed.

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    I've read this question several times and am still having a difficult time understanding the actual question. Is the question 'Does Brown's definition of generousity/empathy/vulnerability conflict with Catholic teachings?' If so, the question would be greatly improved by explicitly stating those definitions. There is a great deal of background text in the question, but I'm having trouble extracting information from it. – bradimus Nov 2 '17 at 14:13
  • @bradimus What specific line/s in Catholic text/s or the Bible is contradictory to what Brene Brown teaches eg 'We can only love others as much as we love ourselves' ? I'll just take out headspace. Let's see if that helps. Thanks for the feedback. – BCLC Nov 3 '17 at 4:54
  • @bradimus edited! – BCLC Nov 3 '17 at 5:23
  • We can, and indeed we must, love God more than we love ourselves. So I take the "others" in the question to be non-divine persons. We (Catholics) are required to love ourselves, and then we are supposed to love others as much. – Andreas Blass Nov 3 '17 at 23:29
  • @AndreasBlass Not sure of relevance of first statement but as for second and third, thanks! now for third statement first part, how does the Catholic Church teach us to love ourselves? – BCLC Nov 4 '17 at 4:14
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+50

Original Post, founded on "God is Love"

I'm not Catholic and so won't be speaking from a Catholic standpoint, but I will try to ground my statements in Scripture and hopefully you will find that sufficient.

Love is a virtue, not a quantity

The premise of your question is 'love is a quantity' and can therefore be given more to some and less to others. I disagree. God is Love. In other words, everything God does and is, is loving and is the perfect example of what love is.

Love is not a quantity. Love is a virtue--a character trait--and as such is stronger in those who practice it and weaker in those who don't. For more on Love as a virtue, see James KA Smith, particularly You Are What You Love and Desiring the Kingdom (he also has books out by the same names), as well as anything by St. Augustine (particularly his Confessions).

What people often mean when they talk about loving someone or something more than another, is that they are acting more loving towards someone than towards someone else. But let's assume a person has perfected the virtue of Love, and they truly and perfectly love two people (a spouse and a child, for instance); their actions towards those two people will often be different.

  • At times, they will love their child by putting their spouse's needs first, and at other times they will love their spouse by putting their child's needs first. There are many examples like this. In these examples, it may seem to an outsider that they love their spouse "more than" their child, or vice versa, but that is not true.
    They love them both truly and perfectly.

Now to address your specific questions. I the statement 'We can only love others as much as we love ourselves' treats love as a quantity. I would reword it like this, 'We love others, ourselves, and our God to the degree that we have practiced the virtue of Love, and to the degree that we have allowed God's love to overcome us' (for more on God's love overcoming us, see all of St. John's letters, especially 1 John, particularly 1 John 4:19)

Question 1: Which part of my understanding or assumptions below is wrong, and why?

  1. It's an alternative interpretation to Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18).

Yes, it is a competing statement to the Shema and Jesus's interpretation of the Shema, where He famously combines Deut 6:4-5 with Lev 19:18. To Jesus, loving God was synonymous with loving others, and vice versa, again because God is Love.

  1. Humans generally don't have difficulties loving themselves, and their task is to love others to the level they love themselves.

Humans often have a difficult time loving anything, including themselves. Only in and through God can we love anything, including ourselves, again because God is Love. Humans are very good at preferring their own happiness over other things, but that is not Love.

  1. Humans love others almost as much as themselves. Thus, they must love themselves more to love others more.

See my answer to 2.

  1. Brene Brown calls self-love 'vulnerability' and loving others 'empathy'.

Love is Love. To differentiate 'kinds' of love is going to result in misunderstanding love. God is Love.

  1. Brene Brown says in order to have more empathy we need to have more vulnerability.

Both empathy and vulnerability (and all other things) are skills. As such, they can get stronger as we practice them. Some skills may benefit others where being strong in one skill makes being strong in another easier, but I don't think empathy and vulnerability are so strongly linked as to be necessary for one another like Brown indicates.

  1. M Scott Peck does not say anything similar.

Not sure.

  1. There is something in Catholic teaching that contradicts what Brene Brown said. If this is true, please cite from the Bible or Catholic teaching.

I would say yes, the Bible contradicts what Brown is saying here and therefore Catholic teaching contradicts it as well.

  1. The Catholic Church agrees with (2) and disagrees with (3).

The Bible disagrees with both.

Question 2: (If there is a disagreement) What specifically is the practical implication, if any?

If we misunderstand Love, we misunderstand virtue, skill, habits, liturgies in short, we misunderstand how people grow. We are also very likely to misunderstand God. If we understand Love--what it is, what it isn't, how to grow in it, why and where we are deficit in it, etc--then we are closer to knowing God. We will please God more. There is always immense implication to rightly understanding or misunderstanding the Scriptures.

In response to OP's comments:

Regarding the statement, "you already love yourselves too much."

There is no such thing as too much love. There is love, which is always right, good, true, and perfect, and then there is ... for lack of a better phrase...wrong love or lack of love. It might be possible to love yourself at all times and to love others only sometime, in which case you should train to love others all of the time, but I would not use @curiousdanii's phrase to describe this.

'empathy' is one way to love others. I guess others would be generousity, hard work, etc

There are many ways I can love a person, and I think empathy must always be present to rightly love someone.

As for 8, well yeah what are the PRACTICAL implications exactly? ... Like it doesn't really affect my work or relationships if I believe the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father and not the Son.

First I feel the need to explain that we always act out of our beliefs. If we believe that a chair can hold us, we will sit in it. If we refuse to sit in it then it reveals that we don't actually believe that the chair can hold us. It is the same in all things. If we believe God loves us and that we are wholly unworthy of that love on our own, then we will act very differently than if we don't believe it. (All of us believe lies to some degree, otherwise we would always act perfectly.)

So if we believe a lie (in this case, and in my opinion, that 'we can only love others as much as we love ourselves') then we will act from that lie, which will always be bad for ourselves and others. The practical implications are many (as are the practical implications of believing the lie that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father and not from the Son):

  • While truths can be perverted by the enemy, it is much easier for us to act perversely if we believe a lie than if we believe truth. In this case, our actions are much more likely to become inclined to 'love' ourselves only (love in quotes because this would not be love), at the exclusion of God and/or others.
  • We may focus on growing the wrong skill. We may focus on loving ourselves more, when instead we should focus on 1) being loved by God, 2) responding rightly (in this case accepting His love and submitting to it), 3) being changed by His love.
  • If we try to love ourselves, we will fail. Only by doing 1 and 2 above can we love at all.
  • etc.

[Loving myself more], in my experience has enabled me to love others more. So I overlooked something?

I would say yes, but at the same time I would rejoice that you have grown in love! We can grow even when we don't believe everything perfectly. This should be obvious because 1) we don't believe everything perfect, and yet 2) we still grow. But how quickly, efficiently, and thoroughly you grow will not be as good as it could be. Consider swimming. If we start with someone who can't swim, and tell them that their primary source of success in swimming is kicking their legs, and then proceed to teach them to swim, they will get better at swimming. But they will be limited because success in swimming is not primarily about kicking. Later, when they see the lie, they will have to 'unlearn' a lot, and then learn how to swim all over again, in a certain sense, or forever be limited.

When you say love is not a quantity, do you mean something like it is binary/absolute rather than continuous/subject to gradation? If not, what do you mean?.

Loving can be portrayed as an acquired skill. Consider the skill of playing an instrument. You or I can practice flute or guitar or violin for years and years until we are quite good. We have increased our ability to play well. However, we may decide to play poorly for some strange reason. Or we may neglect to rehearse a certain piece and then perform it far below our ability at the concert. Love is the same way. We may practice love for years and years until we are quite good, and our ability to love has increased. But we may decide to not love someone because we're tired or hungry, or they are a different political party than us, or a different color, or some other reason (Consider Mat 5:46 in light of what I just wrote. Jesus is instructing us to grow in our ability and consistency to love). Any skill is made up of ability and execution. If we want to master a skill, we must grow our ability and consistently execute at the top of our ability. When we begin, our ability is low and thus our execution will look poor even though we are executing at the top of our ability.

I think this is precision being sacrificed for concision. We could say 'we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves' kinda like 1 John 4:20 which talks about love binary-ily.

You are probably correct that Brown, Saint John, and others, are sacrificing precision for concision, which we must do on a regular basis or risk speaking Entish. That does not make them wrong. However, we must be careful when communicating with people who don't know us very very well, to be precise or risk misunderstanding.

In much of what I just wrote I neglected to outline what part God plays. Phi 2:12-13 indicates that we are responsible to work it out because God has already brought about the desire and effort. He is there before we ever realize we desire to do good, He has paved the way for us, He will help and accompany us on the way, but we must make the effort.

  • I think loving God is how we love ourselves more to love others more like Mk 2:27. Posted an answer. Please comment (then you can downvote after). – BCLC Nov 9 '17 at 2:28
  • Also, actually I guess (2) is not what the CatholicChurch/Bible believes but I think it can be a misconception by some. Do you disagree with curiousdanii, namely "you already love yourselves too much"? – BCLC Nov 9 '17 at 2:34
  • Thanks Jason Fry. Edited 4. Perhaps that may have been confusing. Any changes? As for 8, well yeah what are the PRACTICAL implications exactly? I mean, if there's nothing practical, then it all seems like nitpicking or extremely theoretical. Like it doesn't really affect my work or relationships if I believe the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father and not the Son. But if I think loving myself more enables me to love others more than what's the danger there? That idea in my experience has enabled me to love others more. So I overlooked something? – BCLC Nov 9 '17 at 2:39
  • When you say love is not a quantity, do you mean something like it is binary/absolute rather than continuous/subject to gradation? If not, what do you mean? If so, I think this is precision being sacrificed for concision. We could say 'we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves' kinda like 1 John 4:20 which talks about love binary-ily (?) or 'we can only understand others as much as we accept ourselves' (I guess understanding and acceptance have gradation) – BCLC Nov 9 '17 at 2:40
  • @BCLC I have added a comment on your other post, and edited my answer in response to your comments here. – Jason Fry Nov 9 '17 at 18:22

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