“There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.”
What’s God Got to Do With It?
I try not to get angry with people. I might allow myself to show frustration at times. But not anger. Not anymore. Nowadays I try to just shake my head and get on with things. You see, I’m old and really don’t have time for the foolishness of judging other people. Or for trying to impose my unsolicited opinion on them. Or for bickering with them about politics or some other nonsense. I don’t do those things because there’s God to consider.
And so you’ve just re-read the last sentence and are asking, “What the hell does that mean? What’s God got to do with it?” Well, if you believe in love, then God’s got to do with everything. “Whoa! What kind of shit it that? I thought this is a blog about Ceara Lynch.” It is. And I’m going to get to there. Just bear with me a bit and I’ll explain.
Love is the Answer
One of the most influential books of my life is The Art of Loving by American psychologist Erich Fromm. Fromm starts with the assumption that man’s most basic need in life is to escape from the prison of aloneness; to find union or togetherness and avoid the anxiety and despair that separateness brings. As Fromm puts it, “The unity achieved in productive work is not interpersonal; the unity achieved in orgiastic fusion is transitory; the unity achieved by conformity is only pseudo-unity. Hence, they are only partial answers to the problem of existence. The full answer lies in the achievement of interpersonal union, of fusion with another person, in love. This desire for interpersonal fusion is the most powerful striving in man. It is the most fundamental passion, it is the force which keeps the human race together, the clan, the family, society. The failure to achieve it means insanity or destruction — self-destruction or destruction of others. Without love, humanity could not exist for a day.”
The Semantics of Love
Fromm goes on. “Yet, if we call the achievement of interpersonal union ‘love’, we find ourselves in a serious difficulty. Fusion can be achieved in different ways — and the differences are not less significant than what is common to the various forms of love. Should they all be called love? Or should we reserve the word “love” only for a specific kind of union, one which has been the ideal virtue in all great humanistic religions and philosophical systems of the last four thousand years of Western and Eastern history?”
“As with all semantic difficulties, the answer can only be arbitrary. What matters is that we know what kind of union we are talking about when we speak of love. Do we refer to love as the mature answer to the problem of existence, or do we speak of those immature forms of love which may be called symbiotic union? I shall call love only the former. I shall begin the discussion of love’ with the latter.”
“Symbiotic union has its biological pattern in the relationship between the pregnant mother and the fetus. They are two, and yet one. They live “together” (symbiosis), they need each other. The fetus is a part of the mother, it receives everything it needs from her; mother is its world, as it were, she feeds it, she protects it, but also her own life is enhanced by it. In the psychic symbiotic union, the two bodies are independent, but the same kind of attachment exists psychologically.”
“The passive form of the symbiotic union is that of submission, or if we use a clinical term, of masochism. The masochistic person escapes from the unbearable feeling of isolation and separateness by making himself part and parcel of another person who directs him, guides him, protects him; who is his life and his oxygen, as it were. The power of the one to whom one submits is inflated, may she be a person or a god; she is everything, I am nothing, except inasmuch as I am part of her. As a part, I am part of greatness, of power, of certainty. The masochistic person does not have to make decisions, does not have to take any risks; he is never alone — but he is not independent; he has no integrity; he is not yet fully born. In a religious context the object of worship is called an idol; in a secular context of a masochistic love relationship the essential mechanism, that of idolatry, is the same. The masochistic relationship can be blended with physical, sexual desire; in this case it is not only a submission in which one’s mind participates, but also one’s whole body. There can be masochistic submission to fate, to sickness, to rhythmic music, to the orgiastic state produced by drugs or under hypnotic trance — in all these instances the person renounces his integrity, makes himself the instrument of somebody or something outside of himself; he need not solve the problem of living by productive activity.”
“The active form of symbiotic fusion is domination or, to use the psychological term corresponding to masochism, sadism. The sadistic person wants to escape from her aloneness and her sense of imprisonment by making another person part and parcel of herself. She inflates and enhances herself by incorporating another person, who worships her.”
“The sadistic person is as dependent on the submissive person as the latter is on the former; neither can live without the other. The difference is only that the sadistic person commands, exploits, hurts, humiliates, and that the masochistic person is commanded, exploited, hurt, humiliated. This is a considerable difference in a realistic sense; in a deeper emotional sense, the difference is not so great as that which they both have in common: fusion without integrity.”
“In contrast to symbiotic union, mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow-men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.”
“If we say love is an activity, we face a difficulty which lies in the ambiguous meaning of the word “activity”. By “activity”, in the modern usage of the word, is usually meant an action which brings about a change in an existing situation by means of an expenditure of energy. Thus a man is considered active if he does business, studies medicine, works on an endless belt, builds a table, or is engaged in sports. Common to all these activities is that they are directed toward an outside goal to be achieved. What is not taken into account is the motivation of activity. Take for instance a man driven to incessant work by a sense of deep insecurity and loneliness; or another one driven by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases the person is the slave of a passion, and his activity is in reality a “passivity” because he is driven; he is the sufferer, not the “actor”. On the other hand, a man sitting quiet and contemplating, with no purpose or aim except that of experiencing himself and his oneness with the world, is considered to be “passive”, because he is not “doing” anything. In reality, this attitude of concentrated meditation is the highest activity there is, an activity of the soul, which is possible only under the condition of inner freedom and independence. One concept of activity, the modern one, refers to the use of energy for the achievement of external aims; the other concept of activity refers to the use of man’s inherent powers, regardless of whether any external change is brought about.” Here Fromm differentiates between “actions” and “passions.” “In the exercise of an active affect, man is free, he is the master of this affect; in the exercise of a passive affect, man is driven, the object of motivations of which he himself is not aware. Thus envy, jealousy, ambition, any kind of greed are passions; love is an action, the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion. Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a “standing in”, not a “falling for”. In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving.”
Love and Freedom
Fromm wrote, “Without love humanity could not exist for a day.” These are strong words, but if we think seriously about it, most of us will agree there’s truth within those words. We sometimes tend to dwell on those things with separate us such as war, hate, selfishness and greed, without realizing the underlying power of relationships. The very fact that humanity continues to exist on this planet, in spite of all the destructive forces which divide it, offers a semblance of proof for the unifying power of love.
But this is only theory. In order to determine why this is true and how it works, we must examine some of the practical aspects of love. The first of these is the fact that love demands something of us. As Fromm says when he speaks of the art of loving, loving is something which we must learn. It does not come naturally; it is not something which we do instinctively. Loving is a skill which must be learned and practiced in an active fashion. Many of us have grown up with the idea that it is our right to be loved. We therefore have a tendency to wait, passively, for someone to love us, and then we feel unjustly treated when nobody seems to care. However, in order for love to exist, someone must act; someone must do the loving. What Fromm tells us is that love demands much more than our passivity. This implies, therefore, that if we expect to receive love, we ourselves must be prepared to give love. Love is not a one-way street.
And that brings us to the second practical aspect of love which is that, since love is active rather than passive, it is also basically giving. This is a point which is often misunderstood. Many people interpret this as meaning that love is giving up,. that it means sacrificing, or being deprived of something. They also often feel that love destroys their freedom as an individual. Fromm says this is not true, for two reasons. First, love is not limited to giving in a material sense. The most important aspect of giving is that we give of ourselves, of that which is alive in us, of our joy and our sorrow, our interest and our knowledge, our understanding and our concern. Then, secondly, giving ourselves in love does not, as some people fear, mean sacrificing our freedom as an individual. This is expressed in the paradoxical Christian, and the Buddhist, concept that we must lose our self, in order to gain our self. What we must lose is our selfishness, our self-centeredness. We must lose the ego, in order gain the soul. And for those who are worried about freedom, Fromm emphasizes that to give ourselves in love proves that we are free to give. Loving is giving that enriches the giver because it heightens his sense of being a free and active individual who has something of value to give to another person. Love is active, love is giving, and love produces union which strengthens our true individuality. For myself, this is the guiding philosophy behind my play in financial domination. Giving enriches me. It strengthens me. It makes me free.
In addition to these basic aspects of love, Fromm also discusses other elements of love which are care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. Care is the active concern for the life and growth of the person we love. Responsibility is the effort to respond to the needs of another, a sense of openness to the person we love. Respect means that we respect the other person as an individual, that we accept him as he is and do not try to change him or turn him into an object for our own needs. Knowledge means that we must try to know the other person, both on a rational and on an intuitive or emotional level. To care, to respect, to respond responsibly, to know … these things enable faith
In order to give ourselves in love to another person, we must have faith in that person. To love means to open ourselves, and to be open means to be vulnerable. Some of us hesitate to do this because in the past we have been hurt or disappointed. But without this sense of openness, which is based on faith, there can be no love. Love is therefore an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.
Types of Love
Fromm differentiates between different types of love. Specifically, between brotherly love, motherly love, fatherly love, self-love and erotic love.
As he begins to discuss brotherly love, Fromm makes a rather startling statement. He says that unless we love everybody, we don’t really love anybody. Real love is based on an attitude, a way of thinking or feeling, which is directed toward the entire world and everything in it. If I have developed the capacity for love, then I can’t help loving my brother. If a person says that he loves just one other person, or one group of persons, and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow-men, this is not real love. On the contrary, it is a form of selfishness, or what Fromm calls egotism for two. In order for love to really be love, and not a form of selfishness, it must be this all-inclusive, unselfish love which Fromm calls brotherly love and which is the basic attitude underlying all other types of love. As an addendum to this point, I would like add that perfect brotherly love does not mean one must love everything another person may do. That person may perform an act which you feel is wrong, so that it is all too easy to condemn the person for this act. What love demands, however, is that we separate the person from the act. This may not be easy to do, of course, but no one can say that love is easy. It is much easier to hate or be indifferent, which requires no effort at all. But love always requires effort on our part
Unlike brotherly love, motherly love is unconditional. There are no strings attached. The mother loves the child regardless of what he does, simply because he is her child. On the other hand, fatherly love is conditional. That means that father’s love is not always there, that it depends on the conduct of the child, on whether the child obeys and fulfills the expectations of the father. Fromm is quick to point out, however, that just as we all have within us a mixture of so-called masculine and feminine characteristics, each person also has ability to express both motherly and fatherly love. In fact, mature love results from the ability to balance these two different types of love. When either type of love is exaggerated, there is a negative effect. Motherly love, if it is too strong, tends to become possessive and limits development by making the child too dependent on mother. Fatherly love, when it is exaggerated, tends to be harsh and authoritarian. Therefore, it is important that each person learn to achieve a balance between these two forms of love. As Fromm says, in this balance lies the only basis for mature love, not only for our children, but for all other people as well
Speaking of motherly and fatherly love from the point of view of the child, Fromm says that in the beginning the child loves primarily in response to being loved. He senses that he is the object of unconditional mother love. This need for the mother’s unconditional love is obviously something which nature has given the child to protect him in his early period of development. But although it is good for the child, this kind of self-centered attachment, which is based only on need, is not good for the adult. Unfortunately, some people never outgrow this form of childish, immature love which only expects to receive, and not to give. Fromm puts it very succinctly when he observes that the immature person says .I love you because I need you,. while the mature person says, .I need you because I love you.. The immature person always puts his need first, while for the mature person love is most important
Another important type of love is self-love. It may seem strange to talk about self-love, since it appears to contradict much of what has been said about love being open and all-inclusive. Fromm points out, however, that this is not the case. This is because first of all, we must distinguish between self-love, and selfishness. Selfishness is a form of egotism which has nothing to do with love. In fact, Fromm feels that the selfish person doesn’t even really love himself because his selfishness cuts him off from others and makes him suffer aloneness. On the other hand, a loving person who loves all people also loves himself. If it is a good thing to love my neighbor, then it must also be good to love myself. Love for one’s self cannot be separated from love for another person. One can even go so far as to say that unless I first love myself, I am incapable of loving another person. Unless I love myself, that is, unless I have confidence in myself as a person who is worthy of being loved, I will always feel insecure and dependent on my relation with another person. This results in an immature relationship which is based on need, and the need to find protection for my insecurity will inevitably destroy my ability to open myself in love.
Finally, erotic love, or physical love, is often greatly misunderstood. People often make the mistake of thinking that, because they are attracted to another person physically, they also feel love for that person. If the relation is only physical, however, it never satisfies the basic need for togetherness except in a brief, transitory sense. In fact, if the relation is only physical, it can make people feel even farther apart than before. It can actually make them dislike, or even hate each other since it emphasizes their basic aloneness. If, on the other hand, physical love is accompanied by a loving attitude, if it is also brotherly love, it can be a form of mature love. And in this way it can also be the means of achieving union in more than a transitory sense.
Love and God
The basis for our need to love lies in need to overcome the anxiety of separateness. The religious form of love, that which is called the love of God, is, psychologically speaking, not different.
Fromm provides a lengthy analysis of how the idea of God and, in particular, how love of God has evolved through motherly love, fatherly love and finally to love of oneself. (See Appendix A at the end of this post for that discussion.) It’s an insightful analysis that juxtapose Western religious systems with that of Eastern religion and mysticism. Relying on Aristotelian logic, Western religions love of God becomes essentially the same as the belief in God, in God’s existence, in God’s justice, in God’s love. Here, the love of God is essentially a thought experience. By contrast, Eastern religions and mysticism rely on paradoxical logic. The love of God is an intense feeling experience of oneness, inseparably linked with the expression of this love in every act of living. The East’s paradoxical logic led to tolerance and an effort toward self-transformation. The Western Aristotelian logic led to dogma and science, to the Catholic Church, and to the discovery of atomic energy.
For myself, I’ve adopted a more Eastern perspective of God, a perspective best expressed by the 13th Century theologian, Meister Eckhart: “If therefore I am changed into God and He makes me one with Himself, then, by the living God, there is no distinction between us. . . . Some people imagine that they are going to see God, that they are going to see God as if he were standing yonder, and they here, but it is not to be so. God and I: we are one. By knowing God I take him to myself. By loving God, I penetrate him.”
Ceara is God
If God and I are one, then God and Ceara Lynch are one as well.
And if love of God (as expressed by Eastern paradoxical logic) is an intense feeling experience of oneness, then to see God within others is to experience oneness with them. To see God in others is to love them; to love another person, is to see God within them. There is a communion of spirit, a oneness of souls, experienced in that sort of love. And to see the Godliness within her is to feel a profound experience of oneness expressed in act of living; an expression overlaid and compounded by feelings of erotic love and, for the submissive, motherly love.
Love and Present Day Western Society
Before I wrap things up, I’d like to mention a few points Fromm made regarding the importance of love in present-day society. Fromm felt that the position of love in our world today is not a favorable one. He felt that, in fact, the basic principles on which our society are based are often not compatible with the principle of love. In modern society, the so-called free enterprise system is based on the idea of competition, on the idea of getting ahead at the expense of someone else. Material values are all too often emphasized at the expense of spiritual ones. Fromm does not feel that it is impossible to love in today’s world, but he does feel that it is difficult, and that sooner or later some radical changes must be made in order for love to survive. Perhaps the first change is to recognize that love is an informed practice rather than an unmerited grace.
“The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. What are the necessary steps in learning any art? The process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice. If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body, and about various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one — my intuition, the essence of the mastery of any art. But, aside from learning the theory and practice, there is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art — the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. This holds true for music, for medicine, for carpentry — and for love. And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.”
Appendix: Religion and God (Excerpts from “The Art of Loving”)
In all theistic religions, whether they are polytheistic or monotheistic, God stands for the highest value, the most desirable good. Hence, the specific meaning of God depends on what is the most desirable good for a person. The understanding of the concept of God must, therefore, start with an analysis of the character structure of the person who worships God.
The development of the human race as far as we have any knowledge of it can be characterized as the emergence of man from nature, from mother, from the bonds of blood and soil. In the beginning of human history man, though thrown out of the original unity with nature, still clings to these primary bonds. He finds his security by going back, or holding on to these primary bonds. He still feels identified with the world of animals and trees, and tries to find unity by remaining one with the natural world. Many primitive religions bear witness to this stage of development. An animal is transformed into a totem; one wears animal masks in the most solemn religious acts, or in war; one worships an animal as God. At a later stage of development, when human skill has developed to the point of artisan and artistic skill, when man is not dependent any more exclusively on the gifts of nature—the fruit he finds and the animal he kills—man transforms the product of his own hand into a god. This is the stage of the worship of idols made of clay, silver or gold. Man projects his own powers and skills into the things he makes, and thus in an alienated fashion worships his prowess, his possessions. At a still later stage man gives his gods the form of human beings. It seems that this can happen only when he has become still more aware of himself, and when he has discovered man as the highest and most dignified “thing” in the world. In this phase of anthropomorphic god worship we find a development in two dimensions. The one refers to the female or male nature of the gods, the other to the degree of maturity which man has achieved, and which determines the nature of his gods and the nature of his love of them.
Let us first speak of the development from mother-centered to father-centered religions. According to the great and decisive discoveries of Bachofen and Morgan in the middle of the nineteenth century, and in spite of the rejection their findings have found in most academic circles, there can be little doubt that there was a matriarchal phase of religion preceding the patriarchal one, at least in many cultures. In the matriarchal phase, the highest being is the mother. She is the goddess, she is also the authority in family and society. In order to understand the essence of matriarchal religion, we have only to remember what has been said about the essence of motherly love. Mother’s love is unconditional, it is all-protective, all-enveloping; because it is unconditional it can also not be controlled or acquired. Its presence gives the loved person a sense of bliss; its absence produces a sense of lostness and utter despair. Since mother loves her children because they are her children, and not because they are “good,” obedient, or fulfill her wishes and commands, mother’s love is based on equality. All men are equal, because they all are children of a mother, because they all are children of Mother Earth.
The next stage of human evolution, the only one of which we have thorough knowledge and do not need to rely on inferences and reconstruction, is the patriarchal phase. In this phase the mother is dethroned from her supreme position, and the father becomes the Supreme Being, in religion as well as in society. The nature of fatherly love is that he makes demands, establishes principles and laws, and that his love for the son depends on the obedience of the latter to these demands. He likes best the son who is most like him, who is most obedient and who is best fitted to become his successor, as the inheritor of his possessions. (The development of patriarchal society goes together with the development of private property.) As a consequence, patriarchal society is hierarchical; the equality of the brothers gives way to competition and mutual strife. Whether we think of the Indian, Egyptian or Greek cultures, or of the Jewish-Christian, or Islamic religions, we are in the middle of a patriarchal world, with its male gods, over whom one chief god reigns, or where all gods have been eliminated with the exception of the One, the God. However, since the wish for mother’s love cannot be eradicated from the hearts of man, it is not surprising that the figure of the loving mother could never be fully driven out from the pantheon. In the Jewish religion, the mother aspects of God are reintroduced especially in the various currents of mysticism. In the Catholic religion, Mother is symbolized by the Church, and by the Virgin. Even in Protestantism, the figure of Mother has not been entirely eradicated, although she remains hidden. Luther established as his main principle that nothing that man does can procure God’s love. God’s love is Grace, the religious attitude is to have faith in this grace, and to make oneself small and helpless; no good works can influence God—or make God love us, as Catholic doctrines postulated. We can recognize here that the Catholic doctrine of good works is part of the patriarchal picture; I can procure father’s love by obedience and by fulfilling his demands. The Lutheran doctrine, on the other hand, in spite of its manifest patriarchal character carries within it a hidden matriarchal element. Mother’s love cannot be acquired; it is there, or it is not there; all I can do is to have faith (as the Psalmist says, “Thou hadst let me have faith into my mother’s breasts.” and to transform myself into the helpless, powerless child. But it is the peculiarity of Luther’s faith that the figure of the mother has been eliminated from the manifest picture, and replaced by that of the father; instead of the certainty of being loved by mother, intense doubt, hoping against hope for unconditional love by father, has become the paramount feature.
I had to discuss this difference between the matriarchal and the patriarchal elements in religion in order to show that the character of the love of God depends on the respective weight of the matriarchal and the patriarchal aspects of religion. The patriarchal aspect makes me love God like a father; I assume he is just and strict, that he punishes and rewards; and eventually that he will elect me as his favorite son; as God elected Abraham-Israel, as Isaac elected Jacob, as God elects his favorite nation. In the matriarchal aspect of religion, I love God as an all-embracing mother. I have faith in her love, that no matter whether I am poor and powerless, no matter whether I have sinned, she will love me, she will not prefer any other of her children to me; whatever happens to me, she will rescue me, will save me, will forgive me. Needless to say, my love for God and God’s love for me cannot be separated. If God is a father, he loves me like a son and I love him like a father. If God is mother, her and my love are determined by this fact.
This difference between the motherly and the fatherly aspects of the love of God is, however, only one factor in determining the nature of this love; the other factor is the degree of maturity reached by the individual, hence in his concept of God and in his love for God.
Since the evolution of the human race shifted from a mother-centered to a father-centered structure of society, as well as of religion, we can trace the development of a maturing love mainly in the development of patriarchal religion. In the beginning of this development we find a despotic, jealous God, who considers man, whom he created, as his property, and is entitled to do with him whatever he pleases. This is the phase of religion in which God drives man out of paradise, lest he eat from the tree of knowledge and thus could become God himself; this is the phase in which God decides to destroy the human race by the flood, because none of them pleases him, with the exception of the favorite son, Noah; this is the phase in which God demands from Abraham that he kill his only, his beloved son, Isaac, to prove his love for God by the act of ultimate obedience. But simultaneously a new phase begins; God makes a covenant with Noah, in which he promises never to destroy the human race again, a covenant by which he is bound himself. Not only is he bound by his promises, he is also bound by his own principle, that of justice, and on this basis God must yield to Abraham’s demand to spare Sodom if there are at least ten just men. But the development goes further than transforming God from the figure of a despotic tribal chief into a loving father, into a father who himself is bound by the principles which he has postulated; it goes in the direction of transforming God from the figure of a father into a symbol of his principles, those of justice, truth and love. God is truth, God is justice. In this development God ceases to be a person, a man, a father; he becomes the symbol of the principle of unity behind the manifoldness of phenomena, of the vision of the flower which will grow from the spiritual seed within man. God cannot have a name. A name always denotes a thing, or a person, something finite. How can God have a name, if he is not a person, not a thing?
The most striking incident of this change lies in the Biblical story of God’s revelation to Moses. When Moses tells him that the Hebrews will not believe that God has sent him, unless he can tell them God’s name (how could idol worshipers comprehend a nameless God, since the very essence of an idol is to have a name?), God makes a concession. He tells Moses that his name is “I am becoming that which I am becoming.” “I-am-becoming is my name.” The “I-am-becoming” means that God is not finite, not a person, not a “being.” The most adequate translation of the sentence would be : tell them that “my name is nameless.” The prohibition to make any image of God, to pronounce his name in vain, eventually to pronounce his name at all, aims at the same goal, that of freeing man from the idea that God is a father, that he is a person. In the subsequent theological development, the idea is carried further in the principle that one must not even give God any positive attribute. To say of God that he is wise, strong, good implies again that he is a person; the most I can do is to say what God is not, to state negative attributes, to postulate that he is not limited, not unkind, not unjust. The more I know what God is not, the more knowledge I have of God.
Following the maturing idea of monotheism in its further consequences can lead only to one conclusion: not to mention God’s name at all, not to speak about God. Then God becomes what he potentially is in monotheistic theology, the nameless One, an inexpressible stammer, referring to the unity underlying the phenomenal universe, the ground of all existence; God becomes truth, love, justice. God is I, in as much as I am human.
Quite evidently this evolution from the anthropomorphic to the pure monotheistic principle makes all the difference to the nature of the love of God. The God of Abraham can be loved, or feared, as a father, sometimes his forgiveness, sometimes his anger being the dominant aspect. Inasmuch as God is the father, I am the child. I have not emerged fully from the autistic wish for omniscience and omnipotence. I have not yet acquired the objectivity to realize my limitations as a human being, my ignorance, my helplessness. I still claim, like a child, that there must be a father who rescues me, who watches me, who punishes me, a father who likes me when I am obedient, who is flattered by my praise and angry because of my disobedience. Quite obviously, the majority of people have, in their personal development, not overcome this infantile stage, and hence the belief in God to most people is the belief in a helping father—a childish illusion. In spite of the fact that this concept of religion has been overcome by some of the great teachers of the human race, and by a minority of men, it is still the dominant form of religion.
Inasmuch as this is so, the criticism of the idea of God, as it was expressed by Freud, is quite correct. The error, however, was in the fact that he ignored the other aspect of monotheistic religion, and its true kernel, the logic of which leads exactly to the negation of this concept of God. The truly religious person, if he follows the essence of the monotheistic idea, does not pray for anything, does not expect anything from God; he does not love God as a child loves his father or his mother; he has acquired the humility of sensing his limitations, to the degree of knowing that he knows nothing about God. God becomes to him a symbol in which man, at an earlier stage of his evolution, has expressed the totality of that which man is striving for, the realm of the spiritual world, of love, truth and justice. He has faith in the principles which “God” represents; he thinks truth, lives love and justice, and considers all of his life only valuable inasmuch as it gives him the chance to arrive at an ever fuller unfolding of his human powers—as the only reality that matters, as the only object of “ultimate concern”; and, eventually, he does not speak about God—nor even mention his name, To love God, if he were going to use this word, would mean, then, to long for the attainment of the full capacity to love, for the realization of that which “God” stands for in oneself.
From this point of view, the logical consequence of monotheistic thought is the negation of all “theology,” of all “knowledge about God.” Yet, there remains a difference between such a radical non-theological view and a non-theistic system, as we find it, for instance in early Buddhism or in Taoism. In all theistic systems, even a non-theological, mystical one, there is the assumption of the reality of the spiritual realm, as one transcending man, giving meaning and validity to man’s spiritual powers and his striving for salvation and inner birth. In a non-theistic system, there exists no spiritual realm outside of man or transcending him. The realm of love, reason and justice exists as a reality only because, and inasmuch as, man has been able to develop these powers in himself throughout the process of his evolution. In this view there is no meaning to life, except the meaning man himself gives to it; man is utterly alone except inasmuch as he helps another.
Having spoken of the love of God, I want to make it clear that I myself do not think in terms of a theistic concept, and that to me the concept of God is only a historically conditioned one, in which man has expressed his experience of his higher powers, his longing for truth and for unity at a given historical period. But I believe also that the consequences of strict monotheism and a non-theistic ultimate concern with the spiritual reality are two views which, though different, need not fight each other.
At this point, however, another dimension of the problem of the love of God arises, which must be discussed in order to fathom the complexity of the problem. I refer to a fundamental difference in the religious attitude between the East (China and India) and the West; this difference can be expressed in terms of logical concepts. Since Aristotle, the Western world has followed the logical principles of Aristotelian philosophy. This logic is based on the law of identity which states that A is A, the law of contradiction (A is not non-A) and the law of the excluded middle (A cannot be A and non-A, neither A nor non-A). Aristotle explains his position very clearly in the following sentence: “It is impossible for the same thing at the same time to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same respect; and whatever other distinctions we might add to meet dialectical objections, let them be added. This, then, is the most certain of all principles. . . .” This axiom of Aristotelian logic has so deeply imbued our habits of thought that it is felt to be “natural” and self-evident, while on the other hand the statement that X is A and not A seems to be nonsensical. (Of course, the statement refers to the subject X at a given time, not to X now and X later, or one aspect of X as against another aspect.)
In opposition to Aristotelian logic is what one might call paradoxical logic, which assumes that A and non-A do not exclude each other as predicates of X. Paradoxical logic was predominant in Chinese and Indian thinking, in the philosophy of Heraclitus, and then again, under the name of dialectics, it became the philosophy of Hegel, and of Marx. The general principle of paradoxical logic has been clearly described by Lao-tse. “Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.” And by Chuang-tzu: “That which is one is one. That which not-one, is also one.” These formulations of paradoxical logic are positive: it is and it is not. Another formulation is negative: it is neither this nor that. The former expression of thought we find in Taoistic thought, in Heraclitus and again in Hegelian dialectics; the latter formulation is frequent in Indian philosophy.
Although it would transcend the scope of this book to give a more detailed description of the difference between Aristotelian and paradoxical logic, I shall mention a few illustrations in order to make the principle more understandable. Paradoxical logic in Western thought has its earliest philosophical expression in Heraclitus’ philosophy. He assumes the conflict between opposites is the basis of all existence. “They do not understand,” he says, “that the all-One, conflicting in itself, is identical with itself : conflicting harmony as in the bow and in the lyre.” Or still more clearly: “We go into the same river, and yet not in the same; it is we and it is not we.” Or “One and the same manifests itself in things as living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old.”
In Lao-tse’s philosophy the same idea is expressed in a more poetic form. A characteristic example of Taoist paradoxical thinking is the following statement : “Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness the ruler of movement.” Or “The Tao in its regular course does nothing and so there is nothing which he does not do.” Or “My words are very easy to know, and very easy to practice; but there is no one in the world who is able to know and able to practice them.” In Taoist thinking, just as in Indian and Socratic thinking, the highest step to which thought can lead is to know that we do not know. “To know and yet [think] we do not know is the highest [attainment] ; not to know [and yet think] we do know is a disease.” It is only a consequence of this philosophy that the highest God cannot be named. The ultimate reality, the ultimate One cannot be caught in words or in thoughts. As Lao-tse puts it, “The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.” Or, in a different formulation, “We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it the ‘Equable.’ We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it the ‘Inaudible.’ We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we name it ‘the Subtle.’ With these three qualities, it can not be made the subject of description; and hence we blend them together and obtain The One.” And still another formulation of the same idea: “He who knows [the Tao] does not [care to] speak [about it] ; he who is [however ready to] speak about it does not know it.” Brahmanic philosophy was concerned with the relationship between manifoldness (of phenomena) and unity (Brahman). But paradoxical philosophy is neither in India nor in China to be confused with a dualistic standpoint. The harmony (unity) consists in the conflicting position from which it is made up. “Brahmanical thinking was centered from the beginning around the paradox of the simultaneous antagonisms—yet—identity of the manifest forces and forms of the phenomenal world. .. .” The ultimate power in the Universe as well as in man transcends both the conceptual and the sensual sphere. It is therefore “neither this nor thus.” But, as Zimmer remarks, “there is no antagonism between ‘real and unreal’ in this strictly non-dualistic realization.” In their search for unity behind manifoldness, the Brahman thinkers came to the conclusion that the perceived pair of opposites reflects the nature not of things but of the perceiving mind. The perceiving thought must transcend itself if it is to attain true reality. Opposition is a category of man’s mind, not in itself an element of reality. In the Rig-Veda the principle is expressed in this form: “I am the two, the life force and the life material, the two at once.” The ultimate consequence of the idea that thought can only perceive in contradictions has found an even more drastic sequence in Vedantic thinking, which postulates that thought —with all its fine distinction—was “only a more subtle horizon of ignorance, in fact the most subtle of all the deluding devices of maya.” Paradoxical logic has a significant bearing on the concept of God. Inasmuch as God represents the ultimate reality, and inasmuch as the human mind perceives reality in contradictions, no positive statement can be made of God. In the Vedantas the idea of an omniscient and omnipotent God is considered the ultimate form of ignorance.” We see here the connection with the namelessness of the Tao, the nameless name of the God who reveals himself to Moses, of the “absolute Nothing” of Meister Eckhart. Man can only know the negation, never the position of ultimate reality. “Meanwhile man can not know what God is, even though he be ever so well aware of what God is not. .. . Thus contented with nothing, the mind clamors for the highest good of all. For Meister Eckhart, “The Divine One is a negation of negations, and a denial of denials. . . . Every creature contains a negation: one denies that it is the other. It is only a further consequence that God becomes for Meister Eckhart “The absolute Nothing,” just as the ultimate reality is the “En Sof,” the Endless One, for the Kabalah.
I have discussed the difference between Aristotelian and paradoxical logic in order to prepare the ground for an important difference in the concept of the love of God. The teachers of paradoxical logic say that man can perceive reality only in contradictions, and can never perceive in thought the ultimate reality-unity, the One itself. This led to the consequence that one did not seek as the ultimate aim to find the answer in thought. Thought can only lead us to the knowledge that it cannot give us the ultimate answer. The world of thought remains caught in the paradox. The only way in which the world can be grasped ultimately lies, not in thought, but in the act, in the experience of oneness. Thus paradoxical logic leads to the conclusion that the love of God is neither the knowledge of God in thought, nor the thought of one’s love of God, but the act of experiencing the oneness with God.
This leads to the emphasis on the right way of living. All of life, every little and every important action, is devoted to the knowledge of God, but a knowledge not in right thought, but in right action. This can be clearly seen in Oriental religions. In Brahmanism as well as in Buddhism and Taoism, the ultimate aim of religion is not the right belief, but the right action. We find the same emphasis in the Jewish religion. There was hardly ever a schism over belief in the Jewish tradition (the one great exception, the difference between Pharisees and Sadducees, was essentially one of two opposite social classes). The emphasis of the Jewish religion was (especially from the beginning of our era on) on the right way of living, the Halacha (this word actually having the same meaning as the Tao.
In modern history, the same principle is expressed in the thought of Spinoza, Marx and Freud. In Spinoza’s philosophy the emphasis is shifted from the right belief to the right conduct of life. Marx stated the same principle when he said, “The philosophers have interpreted the world in different ways—the task is to transform it.” Freud’s paradoxical logic leads him to the process of psychoanalytic therapy, the ever-deepening experience of oneself.
From the standpoint of paradoxical logic the emphasis is not on thought, but on the act. This attitude had several other consequences. First of all, it led to the tolerance which we find in Indian and Chinese religious development. If the right thought is not the ultimate truth, and not the way to salvation, there is no reason to fight others, whose thinking has arrived at different formulations. This tolerance is beautifully expressed in the story of several men who were asked to describe an elephant in the dark. One, touching his trunk, said “this animal is like a water pipe”; another, touching his ear, said “this animal is like a fan”; a third, touching his legs, described the animal as a pillar. Secondly, the paradoxical standpoint led to the emphasis on transforming man, rather than to the development of dogma on the one hand, and science on the other. From the Indian, Chinese and mystical standpoints, the religious task of man is not to think right, but to act right, and/or to become one with the One in the act of concentrated meditation.
The opposite is true for the main stream of Western thought. Since one expected to find the ultimate truth in the right thought, major emphasis was on thought, although right action was held to be important too. In religious development this led to the formulation of dogmas, endless arguments about dogmatic formulations, and intolerance of the “non-believer” or heretic. It furthermore led to the emphasis on “believing in God” as the main aim of a religious attitude. This, of course, did not mean that there was not also the concept that one ought to live right. But nevertheless, the person who believed in God—even if he did not live God—felt himself to be superior to the one who lived God, but did not “believe” in him. The emphasis on thought has also another and historically a very important consequence. The idea that one could find the truth in thought led not only to dogma, but also to science. In scientific thought, the correct thought is all that matters, both from the aspect of intellectual honesty, as well as from the aspect of the application of scientific thought to practice that is, to technique. In short, paradoxical thought led to tolerance and an effort toward self-transformation. The Aristotelian standpoint led to dogma and science, to the Catholic Church, and to the discovery of atomic energy.
The consequences of this difference between the two standpoints for the problem of the love of God have already been explained implicitly, and need only to be summarized briefly. In the dominant Western religious system, the love of God is essentially the same as the belief in God, in God’s existence, God’s justice, God’s love. The love of God is essentially a thought experience. In the Eastern religions and in mysticism, the love of God is an intense feeling experience of oneness, inseparably linked with the expression of this love in every act of living. The most radical formulation has been given to this goal by Meister Eckhart: “If therefore I am changed into God and He makes me one with Himself, then, by the living God, there is no distinction between us. . . . Some people imagine that they are going to see God, that they are going to see God as if he were standing yonder, and they here, but it is not to be so. God and I: we are one. By knowing God I take him to myself. By loving God, I penetrate him.”
We can return now to an important parallel between the love for one’s parents and the love for God. The child starts out by being attached to his mother as “the ground of all being.” He feels helpless and needs the all-enveloping love of mother. He then turns to father as the new center of his affections, father being a guiding principle for thought and action; in this stage he is motivated by the need to acquire father’s praise, and to avoid his displeasure. In the stage of full maturity he has freed himself from the person of mother and of father as protecting and commanding powers; he has established the motherly and fatherly principles in himself. He has become his own father and mother; he is father and mother. In the history of the human race we see—and can anticipate—the same development: from the beginning of the love for God as the helpless attachment to a mother Goddess, through the obedient attachment to a fatherly God, to a mature stage where God ceases to be an outside power, where man has incorporated the principles of love and justice into himself, where he has become one with God, and eventually, to a point where he speaks of God only in a poetic, symbolic sense.
From these considerations it follows that the love for God cannot be separated from the love for one’s parents. If a person does not emerge from incestuous attachment to mother, clan, nation, if he retains the childish dependence on a punishing and rewarding father, or any other authority, he cannot develop a more mature love for God; then his religion is that of the earlier phase of religion, in which God was experienced as an all-protective mother or a punishing-rewarding father.
In contemporary religion we find all the phases, from the earliest and most primitive development to the highest, still present. The word “God” denotes the tribal chief as well as the “absolute Nothing.” In the same way, each individual retains in himself, in his unconscious, as Freud has shown, all the stages from the helpless infant on. The question is to what point he has grown. One thing is certain : the nature of his love for God corresponds to the nature of his love for man, and furthermore, the real quality of his love for God and man often is unconscious—covered up and rationalized by a more mature thought of what his love is. Love for man, furthermore, while directly embedded in his relations to his family, is in the last analysis determined by the structure of the society in which he lives. If the social structure is one of submission to authority—overt authority or the anonymous authority of the market and public opinion, his concept of God must be infantile and far from the mature concept, the seeds of which are to be found in the history of monotheistic religion.