This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.

Conceptions of God and Conceptions of Love

In his book The Art of Loving, Fromm went beyond discussions of romantic love to consider the attitude of love in all its aspects. He even developed a theory about historical depictions of God and the different sorts of love they embodied.

How did Fromm extend his discussion of love into religious philosophy?

What progression did Fromm see in human conceptions of God?

Fromm believed that in the earliest human cultures, most of which occurred before the invention of writing, God was seen as a power that gave Motherly love. This is the Garden of Eden stage, so to speak. God loved humanity unconditionally, as a mother loves her children. The love is seen as benevolent and protective.

In the next stage, Fromm says, God is seen as a threatening, paternalistic figure—a punishing, demanding father. This coincides with the appearance of written culture, codified laws, and a class of priests to enforce written rules. It resembles the Old Testament image of a wrathful God who makes commandments, demands painful sacrifices, and destroys the disobedient.

The third stage occurs, Fromm says, when the father-image God is mellowed into a loving, protective father. This is the image of God evoked by references to God the Father that imply a benevolent, protective role. However, it is not unconditional love like a mother's; it is a love that implies maturity and responsibility.

What did Fromm see as the highest evolution of the "love of God"?

The fourth stage, in Fromm's view the highest evolution of the God concept, occurs when people see God as "everything, as reality." In this stage, you love God by loving existence—by loving all God's creatures and manifestations.

As you can see, Fromm took the idea of love far beyond the narrow confines of romantic involvements between couples. He felt love was the solution to existence not just because it made our hearts throb for a special person, but because the pattern of love could extend into everything we do.

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