Hating Love: The Legacy of the ’60s Generation

To an alien traveler just saucered in from a far distant part of the universe, it would be quite clear that our two speakers above were not talking about the same thing. In fact, it would be quite reasonable for our peripatetic alien to believe that Mr. Lightfoot and St. Paul were talking about two completely opposite things. He will be surprised to find that Mr. Lightfoot, in singing a tale of feelings lost, is talking about love also, but of a love that does end, as all feelings do. On this contradiction, between the feeling-based love of Mr. Lightfoot and the never-ending love of St. Paul, hangs the future of true love.

Two generations past, the sixties seduced old and young alike with a cry of “free love.” I am a member of that generation. We thought we could change reality by re-defining words. We were a generation that thought we could “diss” our parents, their parents and every parent past as archaic, repressed and downright boring. High on hubris, we thought we could re-define love itself. We thought we only had to make love to not make war. And we changed our lives to conform to our new definition of love.

The new “love” was certainly well intended. We meant no harm. Our love centered on simple good feelings. We wanted our love compatible with our drugs. Love was a feeling we got “hooked” on. And when we became unhooked, we simply moved on and didn’t look back at the damage in our wake, because, after all, that would not have made us feel good. We equated love with validating the desires and feelings of our fellow man or fellow woman. That was a twofer. It made us feel good. Where these feelings and desires led and who they might hurt was not worth considering. As we pursued good feelings we found that love is here today, gone tomorrow, and off on another quest the day after tomorrow. Our quest for a love that made us feel good took us from one bedroom to another, from one marriage to another, and from one jumbled family of mixed relationships to another. We became “love” addicts, looking for one high after another. When one “love” ended we simply looked for another. We clearly crossed over the line from St. Paul’s love that never ends to Gordon Lightfoot’s feeling that won’t come back.

Sadly, in crossing this line, not only did we seldom make real love, we made war on the very meaning of love itself. We turned the meaning of love from something that began with consideration of the other to absorption with ourselves. We converted love from something exceptional and permanent to something ordinary and unstable and, for many, to something vulgar and pornographic that leads from moment to moment on a journey without end. Our quest for non-violence through so called “love” led to violence unprecedented, only this time it was on children not yet born whose cries we would not hear. We rendered the word “love” meaningless while using it more and more in our art, music, movies, and public discourse to put our hearts on our sleeves for all to see and to justify ourselves as a people who cared, because caring felt good.

When we changed the meaning of love, we divorced it from the creation of new life, because we no longer saw children as the natural outcome of a love between a man and woman. We now saw children not as a gift we received but as a gift we gave ourselves to fulfill ourselves at a time of our choosing and not before. Whether this was best for the children involved was not our concern. When we took the child out of sex, we took the love out of sex, and that took the meaning out of marriage. When marriage ceased to mean the life-giving creative union of the marital act, it then meant…. Well, it meant nothing at all. When we took the meaning out of marriage we also lost the definition of parent. A parent was no longer part of an unbroken trinity of love with spouse and child but merely an interchangeable member in an arrangement of convenience between any two or more well meaning adults and any combination of children.

When we lost the meaning of parent, we also lost the very meaning of sex as a simple scientific term to define the means by which living things procreate. We redefined sex as something that everybody needs and as anything involving our sex organs that even remotely felt good. Its procreative potential did not matter, nor did the hazards sex imposed on us. We redefined sex to include actions that people in an earlier day would never do to someone they loved. Sex no longer was a choice we made but background noise that merely happened in the day in and day out of our lives. The consequences were not our fault, but simply the way life was. There was no longer any reason to see our moments of physical “love” as a love that never ends, because with new life discounted, “love” could simply end when the morning came and be picked up anew at another time. Our “love” pushed the love of St. Paul into its grave and on it, with our ever-sandaled sixties feet, we kicked dirt.

If we are to bridle and reverse from the fast-approaching cliff before us, my generation must acknowledge its legacy. Those who do see the wreckage find themselves fighting a losing battle over the words love, marriage, parent, and sex. The very words we now need to defend ourselves, we have rendered meaningless because, in our moment of hubris, we thought love was ours to define. We have become dogs barking at roaring lions. Neither side knows what the other is talking about, because every single person can now associate the words, love, marriage, parent, and sex with any passing fancy.

Though the battle lines are drawn between the old love St. Paul describes and the new love Mr. Lightfoot sings of, those who defend St. Paul stand on undefined ground. On Mr. Lightfoot’s side, Hollywood and Madison Avenue saturate our senses with an endlessly alluring and seductive “love” that usually ends with two very attractive people of very brief acquaintance in a bedroom. On St. Paul’s side we gather in our churches, talk of a fuzzy, undefined “love” and go home undisturbed and unchallenged, except for the feeling that we should smile a bit more at our evermore broadly defined neighbors. We are left to further define “love” as we see fit. A battle so waged can only be lost to advocates of the new love.

Whereas the love St. Paul described truly embraced all, the new love cannot tolerate the old. Love that ends on a cross cannot be understood by those hooked on a feeling. The love of Jesus that St. Paul understood, the love that endures and suffers, will be called hate, and those who rally to it will be called haters. A love that places the other first cannot be first concerned with whether it will feel good. A love that places the other first can always love any other, but a love that seeks good feelings can only see as an enemy a love that subordinates feelings to choices that lead others to ultimate good. The advocates of the new love have turned the very word “love” against us. Through our own actions, we have recreated the confusion of Babel, where one man could no longer understand another. Our space alien visitor was right. The love St. Paul describes and the love Gordon Lightfoot describes are opposites.  One cannot be the other.

My generation made a mess of love. We lost its very meaning to an emotionally appealing ersatz replacement based on a self-congratulatory “I’m okay, you’re okay” mentality, even as the growing debris of dying human relationships proved otherwise.  We have left our children so deep in the muck that they no longer see a sky blue but accept a dull overcast gray as the normal light of day. The beauty of love based on subordinating our desires for the good of another, the beauty of the love of Jesus, we lost in a morass of sexuality that actually has nothing to do with sex properly understood.   We must somehow reclaim the meaning of love as a gift of self, a gift we give always and not only when it feels good, a gift that sometimes leads to a cross. When John the Evangelist spoke of God as love, he spoke of a love that is larger than us, is constant and is eternal. It never was nor ever will be ours to mold to our times.

Pete Jermann


Pete Jermann is a self-employed craftsman and former homeschooling father.

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  • Sharon Craine

    This is so very true.  I am ashamed to admit that I see myself.  Once divorced and, although it has gone smoother than most, I will always see it as a huge failure on my part and an injury to my two children.  I plan to share this article widely and often.

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  • poetcomic1

    How ugly it was. The splendor of countless generations lay trampled underfoot in the march to an illusory ‘freedom’.  Are we there yet?  No, as long as there is is some transgendered Eskimo somewhere sulking, none of us are ‘free’. 

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    What always captures that era for me was a slogan I saw written on the wall of the Sorbonne, during the events of May 1968

    « Le futur n’a plus d’avenir » – The future has no future.

    It was the maxim of a generation.

    • newguy40

      What a terrible expression of nihilism!

      I was born in 1960 and that world view has no appeal for me or mine.

      (It’s also a bit trite!)

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  • Gradivus

    This essay contains a lot of truth which would be valuable for Americans of all religions. It’s unfortunate the author tied the argument before its conclusion to the theology and religious symbology (e.g., “love that ends on a cross”) of a particular religious dogma. But of course, it was written for a Catholic magazine. I’d like to see a more generalized version of the essay if that’s possible.

    • Stephen Phelan

      Much of the truth of it could be translated for reasonable people of no faith – that shrinking but valuable number. But a person of reason, unless he has deep ideological commitments to the contrary, can acknowledge that there might be something to this whole “cross” thing that is more essential to the argument than he realizes.

      This person of reason might then reasonably conclude that it is worth looking into traditions that acknowledge the sacrificial element of love as much more central than it is ever portrayed in arts and entertainment today. Like some other brilliant people I know, this person might during his investigation learn that he never before understood the central claims of the tradition he thought he had understood and rejected.

  • Mark

    “We thought we could change reality by re-defining words.”

    Exactly. And it has only multiplied over time. Every modern attempt at “progress” has involved re-defining terminology to advance a rather naive agenda floundering in moral adolescence. Looking across the culture, we see terms wrongly defined in order to procure change — love, sex, fairness, equality, justice, tolerance, liberty, family, marriage… . Progressive transformation demands altering the fundamental truth of things. Abandoning truth can only end in falsehood. Falsehood has spiraled the culture into moral and intellectual chaos. If truth (and thereby, sanity) is ever going to be reclaimed, we must insist that people define their terms, and then correct them when necessary.
    Modern day skeptics or progressives have some inexplicable need to undo or knock down anything done by anyone less ‘enlightened’ than themselves. As someone said, they do not know what they are doing, because they do not know what they are undoing. “High on hubris” is exactly right. 

    “Latter-day scepticism is fond of calling itself progressive; but scepticism is really reactionary. Scepticism goes back; it attempts to unsettle what has already been settled. Instead of trying to break up new fields with its plough, it simply tries to break up the plough.”  –GKC

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    First, this is a valuable, rational examination of two very opposite understandings and experiences of the meaning of love. We need to be able to do the same in our own words when we interface with those who have different viewpoints and experiences.

    Secondly, words are not enough. Lives of sacrificial love are needed to give witness to words.  Love in action confirms the reality of our words. It is only then that true love will bear fruit and “speak” without words.  “By their fruits you will know them.”

  • Al_Kilo

    The false dogma of “Free Love” became quickly a commodity for sale by a trillion dollar industrial complex. A whole food chain of industries feeds on this false dogma, every thing from cable channels, Hollywood, fashion, apparel, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, “reproductive health”, STI treatment, STI infertility induced treatment/IVF, abortion, “mental health” therapy for inability for form relations, divorce legal industry, “embryonic stem cell” venture capitalist, “academics” paid to justify all the above, lobbyist to support corrupted politicians, etc..etc..
    But the biggest price is the over 1 billion children in utero killed since the ‘60s because of “Free Love”. In our Orwellian world “Fee Love” mean that adults can dispense of the lives of smaller voiceless humans (babies in utero), if they are inconvenienced. “Fee Love” is be biggest single cause of death in the history of humanity, over 14% of the current world population, or about 1% of all humans that ever existed.

  • LostMom

    I was educated first by the Cisturcians at a “Catholic” college (not so Catholic in reality) then the secularists at a major liberal college. I bought into the “big lie” for most of my life. Yes there was a divorce, an annulment, and horrible damage done to my two children. I see the sadness in their faces, now grown up.  They are emotionally distant and failures in their relationships too. The lie of the sixties lives still. I see it in them, even as I endeavor to bring them back to the faith. Confirmation in a major “conservative” diocese included making felt doves and placing them on a felt board to symbolize their new growth in the Spirit. Their religious formation in Catholic schools was so poor, I put them in public schools (was single and couldn’t home school, as I was working full-time. Now I struggle to inculcate them with the classics, but they are so steeped in the modern culture they don’t believe in God at all. Everything they see confirms them in this lie. I can only bombard them with emails of snippets of arguments that might draw them back. And pray. The false “love” of the sixties is alive and thriving, leaving the feckless destroyed in its wake….

  • Marie

    I know a woman who has recently divorced her husband.  She has three school age children.  She also has a beautiful voice and wanted to persue a singing career.  However, this would require her to go out most weekends to sing in bars.  Her husband was against this abandonment of the family on weekends.  Shortly after the divorce she took the kids bowling as they often did as a family.  Her response to the evening was, “It just wasn’t as much fun without Dad.” 

    As “children of the sixties” my husband and I also came very close to abandoning our marriage for very selfish reasons.  Through the grace of God we were able to return to our faith and put the pieces together again.  It took a lot of work a sacrifice, but thirty years later we often thank that very God for the love we have and the children who have the model of an intact family. 

    • John200

      Of course it wasn’t as much fun. Especially for the three kids. Mommy did this for a singing career? In bars?

      I suppose it would be impolitic to inform your friend that she is an idiot. Perhaps she has a good blues song in her experience? I am trying to see something positive. Truth is, I can’t think of anything useful at this point. She has done the harm and now must live with the consequences.


  • murfdog

    There is Hope.  I am a tweener (cross between a Boomer and Gen-Xer) and I have seen the damage done.  I have been teaching JPII’s Theology of the Body to high school freshmen.  TOB is the antidote to our culture of death, and the next generation, our kids and grandkids need a huge dose of TOB if we are to turn this thing around.

    PS, the kids are gobbling it up.  They are starving for the Truth and they know the culture will not give it to them.

  • Snerticus

    I’ve felt this way for years but have never been able to articulate it adequately so others would understand it.  I’m grateful that you could! 

  • Micha Elyi

    “The ’60s Generation” – ha ha, how misleading that phrase is!

    Sober up.  Not everyone in the 1960’s – even young people – were hippies and protesters against U.S. involvement in Vietnam.  Most weren’t.

    Unfortunately, those who have seized the commanding heights of the culture have sold a Big Lie of ’60s Generation romanticism.

    • TommyD6of11

      Unfortunately, its not a lie.

      Yes, most people were not hippies, though lots of people were protesters of some kind.
      But, nearly everyone bought into the new morality to some degree.
      Micha, you’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

      • msmischief

        Actually, most of that was the 1970s.

  • Stergeye

    As one of the walking wounded from the Sexual Revolution, the reality of Paul’s declaration stands as a rock amid the flotsam of the receding flood of ‘Luv’. 
    We are back in the situation of early Christians who emerged from the Greco-Roman world where sex was all about power.  Love IS eternal; that Truth will withstand any and all currents.

  • Paumaguy

    If you would like to read about the values folks cherished in the early and mid 20th century read “American Grandfather” available on Amazon. Then have your teenage children read ot.

  • Heidi Bratton

    Thank you for keeping your words compassionate and your call to realization and truth, also then, compassionate.  There are too many articles on this topic that are perhaps understandabley, but really unnecessarily filled with venom.  I am saving this one to share!

  • Sally June

    “La la la la-la-la, live for today” — hated that song then, hate it still.

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  • DL

    I must disagree with your main premise… that somehow the love St. Paul espouses and the love often spoken of in the 1960s is (or was) inherently different. We can easily point out examples of “love” falling short in both the love generation and in 2000 years of Christian history.

    The evil done in the name of the Church, compared to the harm done in the name of FREE LOVE during the 60s, is exponentially greater. But that is not the issue.

    As a CathoIic, I still recall the strong, positive mood of the 60s among young people I grew up with. I also am sickened by the cold, mean-spirited mood in this country that now passes for right-wing Christian righteousness.

    We used to asked a question to the adults of that time: What would happen if Jesus walked into a church today leading poor, homeless folks to seek solace in the building.

    Unfortunately, the reaction among most so called Jesus loving folk would be the same today as it was back then.

    No amount of FOX News millionaires posing as Christians can hide the hypocrisy that pollutes our current culture.