Friday, January 25, 2013

Love Is Not My Answer

"He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37 KJV).

This scripture is an interesting one, about which I have had occasion to think quite a bit over the past few years.  Here are some insights that have come to me, as a result of my personal experience with religion, family, and the community at large. 

The family is a problematic institution, historically. The love that it produces turns easily into hatred. The peace that it cultivates often produces seeds of war. Saints and ascetics have been trying to tame the wild human family for years (castrating it, chaining it, smothering it, attacking it with violent hatred or seducing it with sweet love). It is a myth that religion and the family are peaceful companions on the road to heaven. A nice myth. But reality shows that they are enemies more than friends, and the family doesn't always fight on the right side (any more than religion does: we all fight dirty eventually).

Read in a positive light, I think anti-family Jesus is appealing to people to step outside their tribalism (outside the mafia that is "the family" so often in history), recognizing that the other guy out there has a family just as real and worth preserving as yours. (Hector has a family as real, human, and valuable as the family of Achilles.) I support this kind of reasoning, up to a certain point: there is a limit to the pain I am willing to cause my own family in order to avoid hurting yours.

This limit is part of what holds me back from embracing "pure compassion" as preached in some Buddhist sects, or "the pure love of Christ" as it often appears historically (usually in contexts like the monastery, where the family is something dangerous and suspicious that we would do better to avoid). I don't have an equal love for all beings. I care about the things close to me (that I am conscious of) more. I love my people more than the people I have never met. I don't see this distinction as completely overcomable (and I actually embrace it, within certain limits: I accept that there are and must be limits to the lengths I am willing to go to defend my private love; I see that love is not equal, fair, or nice all the time, and I strive to keep my love as docile as possible).

For me, part of the process of growing up has been sorting out explicitly where I stand vis-a-vis my family, myself, and the community at large. I cannot help loving myself. But I can doubt my self-love as something useful when it causes me to do others obvious, unnecessary harm. I cannot help loving my family. But I can doubt my family-love when it causes me to do others obvious, unnecessary harm. I cannot help loving my community (less than I love myself or my family--that's simply how I roll). But I can doubt my community-love when it causes me to do others (including myself) obvious, unnecessary harm.  I cannot help loving.  But I can stop loving blindly, reflexively, unconditionally.

I have realized that love is not the answer. It is the question, often, but as an answer it is very dangerous (precisely because it has an historical tendency to turn into vicious, violent hatred: the worst crimes in history are those that come from love, with the worst love being the love for community that loses sight of the individual utterly out of an awfully pure desire to save and exalt the collective).

If I had to respond to anti-family Jesus, who invites me to follow him, giving up my love for family in order to replace it with love for God, this is what I would say.  "In my experience, the best answer for one love is not another one. A better answer than love is indifference, doubt, hesitation, inaction. 'Do unto others as you would that they did unto you,' you say? Better not to do unto them, say I.  Let them be, and keep out of it until you see an obvious need that you can meet--because somebody needs it, not because you love them. Leave love out of it!  She is too wild and dangerous.  Her remedies are worse than the diseases they pretend to cure."

The more experience I accumulate, the more important it seems to me to notice that there is no such thing as life without death, success without failure, love without hatred.  Another way to put this: the nature of life is to die; the nature of success is to fail; the nature of love is to hate.  I think life makes its own morals, and these are inevitably mortal (causing death as well as survival: we live by making other things die, then prolong the life of organisms around us by dying ourselves) and parochial (favoring one party or parties at the expense of others: my love for life necessarily means that I long for the death of other things, and eventually for my own death).  In brief, I don't see any possibility for a world in which love (or life) is an unqualified good, something to be embraced without any reserve.  I cannot love God with all my heart, might, mind, and strength, because such love creates a hatred of the Devil that is too powerful.  My unconditional love of God becomes unconditional hatred for all that is Not God, and the danger threatened by this hatred is greater than the safety offered by love, in my experience. 

I do not renounce love, for that is impossible.  But I do renounce unconditional love, reluctantly but firmly.  Such strong brews are not for man (or this man, at any rate: I do not presume to dictate to others; this much love I can offer them!).  

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