In his book Disputed Questions, Thomas Merton identifies two false forms of love.
The first false love, Merton calls a “romantic” or “liberal approach” to love. This idealistic love of the “good” sacrifices persons and values that are present and actual, to other values which are always out of reach.
It refuses the obligation of entering into a real relationship which would render love at the same time possible and obligatory.
Romantic, idealistic love neglects
persons and realities which are present and actual, and which, in all their imperfections, still offer the challenge and the opportunity of genuine love. 106, 107
Merton argues that
this liberal idealism is in fact a way of defending oneself against real involvement in an interpersonal relationship. 107
It seeks the perfect person, the perfect cause, the perfect idea, the perfect experience. 108
It is always a romantic evasion to turn from the love of people to the love of love itself: to love mankind more than individual men, to love ‘brotherhood’ and ‘unity’ more than one’s brothers, neighbors, and associates.
This corruption of love can be romantic also in its love of God. It is no longer Christ Himself that is loved and sought, but perhaps an objectivized ‘experience’ of Christ, a degree of prayer, a mystical state. What is loved then ceases to be Christ, but the subjective reactions which are around in me by the supposed presence of Christ in thought or love or prayer.
The romantic tendency leads to a substitution of aestheticism, or false mysticism, or quietism, for genuine faith and love, and what it seeks in the Church is not so much reality as a protection against responsibility. 113
There is always a danger of confusing ideology with love. Ideology is driven by an agenda. Love is driven by the Spirit from Whom that love flows. Ideology is a human construct that attempts to dictate what love should look like and thus always risks doing violence to the one at whom the ideology is aimed. To love is to open to the gift of God’s Spirit which always comes with gentleness, deep listening and profound respect for the one towards the one who is the object of the love.