Friday, June 16, 2017

Hostage to the Idea of Possession

"Eros makes promises, but agape keeps them." -- The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Often we find ourselves in places which we never have dreamed of before, places which call for our complete attention, and challenge us beyond measure. Love is one of those places; yet there is no school for love, no way to read a book to easily or painlessly learn of its nature. So we come into adult life armed with the love we learned as children within our family, the love that we may have encountered in our religious experiences, the friendships we develop in our youth, the pleasures of shared activities and hobbies with family, friends, groups or clubs. All this we bring into adult life, but romantic love, eros, we have the least direct experience of as young adults. Perhaps we witnessed the many occasions of fondness and affection our parents exchanged, a friend in high school, a romantic flush that grew for a few months and then faltered.

Bringing these early experiences into the everyday world, we find that one day, we are inexplicably drawn, impelled into a connection with one who is not our family, not quite like anyone whom we've known before, and yet we are drawn to them, to a flame that seems to burn brightly when together. A relationship develops, perhaps not like one we've known before in our young life, but then a bit like every relationship we have experienced. There is friendliness, sharing, laughter, understanding, and perhaps, a quiet peacefulness when together. But what of it? Much of our social relationships are influenced and dictated not by the individuals, but by societal norms and values which seek to define and place persons into fairly rigid categories. And society, as a component of the everyday world is rigid in conforming to the established norms. Unlike the words of poets, the mystics, and philosophers, living a love story can be difficult and confusing. We, in love, suffer strongly and frequently. In adult life, is this all of love-- it is so complicated and often painful, we think.

Poets and philosophers alike have spent many words describing the almost indescribable. They write words of love, friendship, affection, brotherhood; the writer Dante said of love, "[there was] the love that moves the sun and all the stars." It is this love, all encompassing that concerns Peter Kreeft in his book, The God who Loves You. He writes in a Christian perspective of love experiences. "Everything is a gift from God," writes Kreeft. This is, he says, incredibly simple, yet our human tendency towards complexity makes it look murky and confusing. The writer, Chesterton, said "life is always confusing for one without clear principles." Yet here is, says Kreeft, simplicity itself, shining brightly if we will only look. God is Love. What he wills for me, comes from goodness, for my own good. This, "is not poetic fancy, but sober, logical fact."

We may then view love in the light of goodness. What comes in a life may be a sign, an indication pointing the way; it means something. Our suffering in love means something, in this view. Christian thought believes that like the Christ upon his cross, our suffering is for all, for the common good--ours and others. Love then, points the way back to the divine giver. The parables of the Christ do not tell us to love humanity in the abstract. We are called instead to love our neighbor as ourself. We are not called to like our neighbor, but to love as ourself. It is to individuals that this love is directed. God's love then is personal, like a mother or a father love; it is unique because it becomes us, and giving it then, becomes its expression and cause. Love means then to share the light of the world, one person at a time with our family and friends.

Here is the part which becomes difficult for us: When we share with our neighbor, love, as ourself, we sometimes confuse the love God gives with our physical, corporal self. It's as if, in love, we have given our self literally, and not spiritually; thus in ego, a sense of possession arises. You are mine and I am yours. Perhaps even ownership, a relation which gives no heed to free will, replacing loving freely.

God is a lover. God is not a businessman or a manager taking account of all his stock. Martin Luther wrote in his treatise, The Liberty of a Christian, that what God wants is not possession nor a technical performance in life, but something simple and profound. God wants our hearts. He gives and we receive through the Spirit. A heart may not be demanded or bought; it may not be contained or caged. It is freely given, and freely received. Luther was right. This is a simple truth which liberates us from the darkness and confusion of love. In love we are free.

As adults we may first try many ways to obtain and capture a heart. Some may work for a time, but ultimately the heart of love is free and flies where it wills. It cannot be possessed. This is frightening to one who feels great desire or need for that heart. Yet thinking carefully, one may discover its source is not the person who first made its presence felt, the Beloved, but the One who gave it first in the Spirit of Love. The one who loves all, who loves freely.

The chains of possession must not be; yet at times ignorance or wickedness overcomes, and possession is confused for love. It is not. Love is free and must be. This recognition of freely given love is a love that honors, respects and lasts at least as long as the One who formed us in it. Thus as adults mature, many come to the knowledge that romantic love "reveals the beloved, and is meant to point us towards union, Oneness with God."

Friday, May 19, 2017

No Simple Subject is Evil...

"The fall of the first human being from... wisdom to folly was neither wise nor foolish..."  On Free Choice of the Will by Augustine of Hippo

While it touches all of us at one time
or another, evil is no simple subject. Most of us have many questions and much confusion when confronted with an evil face, sometimes our very own face. Today many are squeamish about the subject itself.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, evil necessarily encompasses the notion of wrong doers and sin, failings we all are many times confronted with. Writing perhaps his most influential thoughts for the posterity of the Western mind, philosopher and theologian Augustine of Hippo writes in his treatise On Free Choice of the Will, that there are many forms of evil both great and small.
There is no single evil that can be pointed to in the world of men.

"Moral truths are no different. Belief is required
for understanding. If you are brought up among people who think morality is just a matter of opinion, it is highly improbable that you will ever be able to see that morals teach us a lot of true and interesting things about the intelligible world..." Your prior beliefs, and  prejudices will prevent your understanding. Without belief you then will not understand...
All that Augustine writes may be viewed as an effort to awaken the reader to a fresh view, previously unexamined... In his view, 'moral uprightness consists in submission to the eternal and immutable truths which are not of our own, individual making. Freedom moreover consists of submission to Truth.' Freedom is to cleave to truth, the essence of freedom. How so? Augustine writes that it is only truth and goodness which cannot be taken from the soul against its will... 

Everything that exists, he posits, has a degree of order, measure or value. In other words, in keeping with ancient Greek thought, every nature has a form.
A form that may be characterized as to its extent, measure and motivations in nature. For example it is the nature of a plow to plow land, so the more evenly and cleanly it plows, the better a plow it is. A good plow plows well. "
So the more form a nature has, the more goodness it possesses. Also true is that the more form a nature possesses, the more being it has." Evil, as Augustine of Hippo understood it, is a simple, complete deficiency.
Evil is a void or lack of form, and yet every nature in this view comes from the Creator, G-d. This One is the source of all being and goodness. Therein lies the paradox and darkness of evil. In the act of condemning something or some one, we acknowledge this fact.

Thus for human beings the only ultimately satisfying thing, as created beings with form, is to live up to their nature. "When the will turns away from the higher goods to the lower goods, it frustrates the rule of nature, reversing a natural order and subjecting itself to the un-natural rule of a master.
The being is thus enslaved and without genuine freedom because the only genuine freedom is submission to truth. Truth here is likened to an apple falling from a tree. It has no choice but to fall downward; it has no option to frustrate the rule of gravity.

On the contrary the human will is free, having a choice about when to obey the natural rule. And try it does for good and for ill. Airplanes may fly upward, but in thunderstorms they often crash. This sadly does not prevent men from trying to fly them at that time anyway with deadly consequences for themselves and their passengers.
"Human beings can voluntarily wreck their lives by running afoul of the rules that govern their nature. Yet a soul with that kind of will is free, free to choose what is either hopeless struggle against itself, or what is ultimate freedom to become what one most truly is.