The opposite of love

When I was young, I thought the opposite of love must be hate.

This seemed obvious to my forming mind. Love is a strong emotion at one pole, and hate is an equally strong emotion at the other. But as I grew up, I started to see that the fires of love and hate need the oxygen of focus and effort, or the fire dies. While the ends are different, love and hate share a key similarity. Maybe the two aren’t so opposite after all.


Then I read Elie Weisel’s famous quote that the opposite of love is indifference

Ah! Of course! If I am indifferent to someone, I feel nothing toward that person and I will do nothing for him or her. I won’t encourage, I won’t build up, I won’t help. I just don’t care. The focus and effort love requires is absent.

Later I heard that Pope John Paul II said that the opposite of love is use.

This caused me to pause and reflect. Using or taking advantage of someone treats them like a thing and not a person, which denies their infinite worth. Things are meant to be used; people are not. Using someone takes focus and effort. It may be accompanied by feelings of indifference or hatred.

But then I read 1 John 4:18 and wondered if the opposite of love is fear.

That passage says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Every time I’m afraid, I am indifferent to the needs of others around me. I may even use someone in trying to secure my safety. In extreme cases, I may choose to hate, thinking I’m protecting myself.

Now I’m not so sure there is an opposite of love. But thinking about this surely has highlighted for me some key ways it can be distorted and blocked.

First published in July, 2011.


8 responses to “The opposite of love”

  1. Walter Czyz Avatar
    Walter Czyz

    I disagree with the quote. Just because I don’t personally love someone doesn’t mean I would help a random stranger and do something for them. If we were truly indifferent towards those which we do not love, then how would society function? Would be still be polite, hold the door open, let cars pass as we wave them through, participate in random acts of kindness which occur daily and so on…..

    I agree that we’re indifferent but not as defined by the quote. Once we realize that our actions can make a difference, then most of us step in and make a difference rather than indifference.This is a very interesting topic which makes for very interesting discussion….
    As usual, I look forward to your posts and hope you never stop, similar to your recent post about the bloggers who felt they had no more to contribute. You may not love me but you do make a difference in many peoples lives!

    1. Walter Czyz Avatar
      Walter Czyz

      Correction, the second line should read “Just because I don’t personally love someone doesn’t mean I WOULDN’T help a random stranger”……..

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      The whole point of this post was to consider how all of the “opposites” of love fall short. However, I think that basic polite behavior in society is separate from love — it is just how we all get along without slaughtering each other in the streets.

      Thanks so much for saying kind things about my blog.

  2. sobershutter Avatar

    I like this post more than most, it poses an interesting question. The idea of the opposite of love being fear rings true to me.
    I look at it this way, to me the opposite of faith is fear, the words love and faith are fairly interchangeable and have much to do with each other.
    If you want to carry this out a little farther, you can make the stretch in this direction; I dont believe in hell or the devil per se, I view it more like thermodynamics, which tells us that there is no such thing as cold, there is only an absence of heat, so with that in mind might there also be no such thing as fear, only an absence of faith?
    What does this have to do with the post?…….. I have forgotten……

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope you’re right: there’s either god (as we understand him) or the absence of god, and no eternal punishment. I remember reading a book called “On a Pale Horse,” which was a fantasy about death (the Grim Reaper) personified, taking souls at death to their next place. There was a scene in the book where a devoted atheist died. The Reaper came to take him, but when he passed, he simply ceased to exist. I liked that a lot. I hope it’s true.

  3. sobershutter Avatar

    Ceased to exist…..hmmmmmmm, that would imply that the absence of a soul, as I understand it that isnt possible unless one is a politician.

  4. Lignum Draco Avatar

    I’ve read similar before. As I see it, the opposite of ANY emotion is indifference. Maybe that’s just being too simplistic.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I dunno, it seems to fit. Well, except that indifference can’t be the opposite of indifference! :-)

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