Thursday, November 1, 2007

Reflections: You Don't Know What Love Is

Luke 10:27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

Love is central to the Christian religion. We say "God is Love." Jesus Christ charged us to love God, neighbor, and self, as the supreme commandment. Yet what do we really know of love? Love is sometimes seen as that which temporarily manipulates the mutual activities of a Kid Rock and a Pamela Anderson, for the titillation of the public. It is seen by some as the relationships that they have with their golden retrievers. Love is experienced by nearly every contemporary person as the jealous, competitive, co-dependent possessiveness which entangles mates and family members in nets of anxiety-ridden, yet voluntary, emotional slavery. So who knows what love is?

In her essay “The ‘Symposium’ of Plato” from the anthology Imitations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, Simone Weil quotes the following, from the discourse of the tragic poet, Agathon:

196b. The most important is that Love neither causes nor submits to injustice, be it among the gods or among men. For, when suffering happens to him he does not suffer by force, for force cannot reach Love. And when he acts, he does not proceed by force, for each one consents to obey Love in everything. That agreement which is made by mutual consent is righteous, according to the laws of the ‘City royal’.

Weil herself next comments:

“These lines are perhaps the most beautiful in Plato. Here is the very center of all Greek thought, its perfectly pure and luminous core. The recognition of might as an absolutely sovereign thing in all of nature, including the natural part of the human soul, with all the thoughts and all the feelings the soul contains, and at the same time as an absolutely detestable thing; this is the innate grandeur of Greece.”

Does this not speak directly to the power-plays at the heart of every domestic drama, or “family romance”—a stuggle between affinity and repulsion—the initial desire to be as one, which gradually morphs into a struggle to be oneself?

Weil continues:

“Today one sees many people who honor might above all, whether they give it that name or other names possessed of a more agreeable sound.”

Right, a more agreeable sound--such as “democratization” or “nation-building.”

“One also sees many, however, in rapidly decreasing number, who despise might. This is because they are ignorant of its powerful effects. They lie to themselves, if need be, in order not to learn about it.”

Here, I believe, Weil has her finger on the pulse of that evidently numerous variety of “religious conservative,” whose moral cognitive dissonance renders him at the same time hawkish, and, in his own mind, pious. He is unable to see the conflict between the coercive use of force against his neighbor, in pursuit of his creature comforts and personal security, and the commandment to love his neighbor.

“But who knows the whole extent of the empire of might and at the same time despises it? ...perhaps some Christians very near to saintliness, but seemingly few.”

Amen, sister. You got that right.