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“Unconditional.” It Means Something Else.

“Unconditional” has a very simple definition.  “Without condition.  Absolute.” It’s pretty rare as English words go.  We love getting our money’s worth, so we generally stack words with multiple meanings.  The OED says that “set”  has the biggest load to carry at 192 different meanings!  But not so with “unconditional.”  It means “without condition.” And that’s it.

Or… is it?

[I]t is possible for God to love us unconditionally from his side of the equation. And yet, from our side of the equation it may still be necessary that some conditions be fulfilled before we can receive this love unconditionally offered.


This isn’t some hole in the wall Christian blogger speaking.  It’s straight from the Archdiocese of Washington. God’s love is unconditional, but there are conditions. It’s right there in black and white.

To be fair, I don’t want to quote the holy messenger of God unfairly.  He does give an example of how it can be unconditional AND conditional at the same time:

Let’s say I walk up to you and you are carrying two large boxes filled with books you value. I am holding two other boxes filled with cash amounting to $50 million in large bills. I offer these boxes to you freely, without charge. No strings attached. My offer to you is unconditional. Take them, they are yours. So, my offer is unconditional. However, from your perspective there is a condition. You must first put down the boxes filled with books you value and then take up the boxes filled with money that I offer. Hence there is  a condition you must meet to receive my unconditional offer.

Ok.  It sounds compelling enough on the face of it, but the solution is really quite simple.  If your offer is truly unconditional, you don’t care a whit whether I put the boxes down first or not. If your offer is truly unconditional, you DO NOT DICTATE THE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH I ACCEPT.  Because that’s a condition.  You leave it up to me to take the money boxes in any way I desire.  Any way at all.  I could stack them on top of my boxes.  I could have my buddy hold my boxes.  I could have my buddy take them from you and put them on top of my boxes.

To make it clear, imagine this exchange:

Priest: Here’s fifty million dollars.  You can have it without condition.

Me: Oooh… Thanks.  Just set it here on top of these books I’m carrying.

Priest: NOPE!!!  You can only have it if you take it from my hands and you’re not carrying the books.

Get it?  The priest is saying, “You can have this money.  My CONDITIONS (terms) are that you must have free hands, and I will not allow you to take it in any other STATE (condition). If the offer was without terms, ANY form of taking possession would do.

“Condition” — unlike “unconditional” — has multiple meanings.  Go figure.  Luckily, “unconditional” only refers to one of the meanings.  (Think about it:  You don’t say that your hair is “unconditional” when you only used shampoo.)  A condition in this sense is a set of terms.  It’s NOT a state of existence.  (If someone asks how you’re doing, you don’t say “I’m unconditional.” )

When you offer boxes of money unconditionally, you are doing so without terms.  When I say that my current condition will not allow me to take the money, I am telling you about my physical state of being.  These are two different meanings.  They are two completely different words that just sound the same and are spelled the same.  They are not interchangeable.

So we’re back to the original question.  Are you offering me the money without terms?  If so, then you don’t care how I take possession.  If you care how I take possession, then there are terms, and it is not unconditional.

Friar Pope continues:  (No.. his name’s really Pope.  Freaky, eh?)

I would further like to propose to you that God’s love never fails. I will go so far as to say that even the souls in hell are loved by God. How could they continue to exist if He did not love them, sustatin them and provide for them? God loves because God IS love and that is what Love does, it loves.

I Love You. Now get your ass in there, and I'll watch!

Well, this is all very interesting, but it’s not relevant.  It’s akin to saying, “God offers us unconditional conditionality, and it will always be that way.”  It doesn’t address the core question of whether a thing can be both conditional and unconditional.

And also, it’s really scary and awful.

There was a man who had two sons (cf Luke 15). And one of those sons sinned horribly against him but then returned with repentance and received the embrace of his Father’s love. The other son was resentful and refused to enter the celebration with his Father and his brother. And the Father pleaded with him to enter the celebration and, I suspect, offered him too the embrace of love. Did the son enter the celebration? We do not know for the biblical story ends.

Well, that’s fine.  If the father truly made the celebration available unconditionally, then the son was free to go in or not.  But if the father said, “Son, you must change your behavior before you come in,” that’s conditional.  So… it’s not really relevant to the core question.

Don’t let the distractions fool you.  The Church’s version of unconditional love is nonsense.  They’re using the word “condition” to mean two different things, and then apply “unconditional” to both.  And it doesn’t work like that.  Not for you.  Not for God.  Not for anybody.



One thought on ““Unconditional.” It Means Something Else.

  1. And clearly there’s a very, very funky and amorphous definition of the “love” part of “unconditional love” too, if the good friar thinks God loves those souls he condemns to eternal torment for horrible crimes such as not believing He exists even though He went to the trouble of concealing His existence so thoroughly. Uhm, what? I think I missed a few steps somewhere in there.

    Posted by thephilosophicalprimate | February 18, 2011, 6:07 pm

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