In many Christian traditions, followers are baptized as infants or small children. In the sacrament of baptism, the baptized are welcomed into the kingdom and community of God. As children, the baptized have done nothing to earn this, they have done nothing prove their worthiness. But it is given freely by virtue of wanting to know and get closer to God. In baptism one enters the Christian community and is unconditionally loved by God.
This is very different from the love we encounter and often act out in our everyday lives. Our love is often conditional on how people speak to us, and on what they do for us. In secularism’s religion of consumption, love is often dictated by how people spend their money on each other. Now such gifts are not completely shallow, as they are often expressions of deep and sincere love. But such items are not necessary to express love as those marketers and advertisers would like to have us believe.
However, there is some exception to the secular world dealing exclusively in conditional love, mainly in the wider acceptance of universal human rights and secular humanism. Rather than unconditional love, these concepts use logic to establish basic human rights of wellbeing and respect. While I do not wish to downplay the importance of such measures, they are very different from divinely inspired, unconditional love. However, I believe they hold enough weight for those who follow no faith tradition, are atheist or agnostic.
In the interest of order and appropriate behavior, conditional love does have some purpose. As our new reverend put it on Sunday, Christian tradition gives us the ‘father god’ and the ‘mother god’: the authority figure enforcing rules and serving discipline, and the warm unconditional love of a mother for her child. These attributions can largely be seen in the differences between the old and new testaments. A God that punishes his people when they stray, like the Israelites followed out of Egypt into the land of promise. And a God that loves unconditionally, like the God Jesus described through much of his teachings. There are roots for both the conditional and the unconditional in Christian scripture.
Meanwhile humanism is making headway establishing some universal care and respect in the secular realm. But the secular world still largely runs on conditional love which is endlessly encouraged through consumerism. Given the nature of secularism, unconditional love is often sequestered to faith centers, and we live mainly in this world of conditional love. Imagine how the world would change if this principle of unconditional love was the norm. Loving one another radically to stamp out radical hate. Loving not just to be loved in return, but exuding love because it is good for everything and everyone.