Pluralism and Love

Posted: May 2, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pluralism and Love’

For Progressive Congregations today is ‘Pluralism Sunday’ the Sunday we make plain the non-exclusivity of Christianity. For us religious pluralism is an attitude that claims that one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions. It is also a claim that ecumenism, is the promotion of some level of unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or different denominations within a single religion. It is also a claim that there exists a condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations as a social norm and not merely a synonym for religious diversity. We call this aspect Cultural pluralism as a term used when smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, and their values and practices are accepted by the wider culture provided they are consistent with the laws and values of the wider society. Simply put we might say we all believe in the same God and that a pluralistic attitude enables this belief to manifest a sacred loving.

Our title suggests pluralism is an attitude and that it can be seen as a metaphor of Love. But what do I mean by making this claim? What In think I am saying is that conceptions of love can provide a useful metaphor to argue for balanced pluralism. In his seminal work “The Art of Loving”, Erich Fromm defines motherly and fatherly love. In his words: “Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved… Motherly love by its very nature is unconditional.” On fatherly love, Fromm suggests it is quite different, based on the principle: “I love you because you fulfill my expectation, because you do your duty…” Fromm recognized, by the way, that motherly and fatherly principles were not necessarily related to people’s gender and it is with this assumption that I want to make my claims today. I want to suggest that both attitudes are about love. Love as peace, that which is always out ahead unconditionally waiting to be found and Love as a result of the human action of caring for one another within the reality of human life. But what do these conceptions of love have to do with pluralism? Well, perhaps nothing. But perhaps, we can use them as a metaphor to see our differences in views and attitudes in a more constructive way.

One Love is unconditional and pure, just like the Christian Love we talk about in theology. It demands nothing in return; it’s not always practical; and it may break your heart – but it is pure and gives us a safe haven. The other love expects good behaviour. It demands, provides rules, is more-strict, and love is only forthcoming if the potential recipient performs adequately. This is quite pragmatic, and there are important lessons we can learn from this love: accept and find an approach to live with the harsh realities of life, and you will succeed. This has parallels with conserving nature for its utilitarian values: we will preserve the wetlands, if (and only if) it provides us with clean water.

I want to suggest that both approaches to love are essential if pluralism has any credibility and essential if we are to understand love in its fullness. Gregory J Kerr in ‘A Pluralism Within’ makes it clear that Love is an indispensable condition. He quotes G K Chesterton in ‘What’s Wrong with The World when claiming the need for Love; Chesterton writes;

I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.

He also suggests that we are in a time in the history of humanity when there never been a greater need for an emphasis on pluralism, diversity, multiculturalism, and difference. And just as assuredly, there has never been a time when we needed a greater generic and homogenized similarity. Without a love that welcomes difference and a homogenized unity we will struggle in our future.

We are without a doubt shocked at the quote above and we are shocked at the idea of other people being incompatible with us, but equally certain, on the other hand, people in our modem world are very wary of affecting the lives of others for fear of appearing intolerant. We are both so different and unique that we fear that we will impose our personal preferences upon others and that our differences will limit them. We will inhibit their personal growth as unique human beings. Who are we, we ask, to affect their lives? Just think about the changes to marriage liturgy as we see this struggle.

Today’s candidates for marriage would rather say “I love you,” than, “I’ll always love you.” Their dreams about the future with a partner, are conditional and avoid impose a rigid, authoritarian pattern on expectations of the future …. A serious person today does not want to force the feelings of others.

The same goes for possessiveness. When we hear such things, we find them sensible and in harmony with a liberal post-modern society but the sad part of this is that we, struggle with the temporary, conditioned contemporary liberal vision of pluralism. We are tolerant, yes! And we wish to be pluralists but with one caveat: no one’s view of reality can really be true. No one’s view can be better than the others. This means that while we are affirmed in our right to come up with our own theory or believe our own religion, we can never claim it to be true.

The result, of course, is that we never feel free to think or believe anything. It is not surprising that for Allan Bloom, in ‘The Closing of the American Mind, students no longer say “I love you” for they do not want to impose themselves on others. According to their view, they are all too biased and limited in their views. Only God would have the knowledge required!

And the popular contemporary writer on love, M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, believes that to tell others what is good for them is indeed like playing God. For Peck, if we are going to be genuinely loving, that is exactly what we have to do! We need to play God. Pope John Paul II said that no one can think for us and no one can will for us but still we can show, without claiming divine inspiration, that it is meaningful to talk about loving human beings and assisting their growth in a positive way. His claim is that there are truths in this area and through an analysis of the necessary elements involved in human discourse we can arrive at certain central truths about our humanity and about how to love others.

First, all human beings desire to communicate with one another. Second, as Jacques Maritain observes, this desire can only be accomplished when our words and ideas comply with the transcendental principles of the one, the true, the good, and the beautiful. I would say here, regardless of its status. The latest thinking in science is that there is a finiteness in the field of infinity. Maritain writes: “The moment one touches a transcendental, one touches being itself …. It is remarkable that men really communicate with one another only by passing through being or one of its properties.” This is true because people cannot communicate with one another if their ideas and words are logically incoherent (in other words our conversation lacks unity if we do not understand each other), we cannot communicate if we do intend there is a relationship to reality (it remains not true), nor do we communicate if we do not intend that our conversation has value (or we intend no worth to the other), nor is their communication if we do not address the beauty of the existentially unique and concrete situation that they are in.

If this is true then human beings are communicators who must rely upon the transcendental principles, and these principles must be fundamental aspects of human nature itself. If to be human is to know and communicate through the transcendentals, then love will be those thoughts, feelings, and actions that contribute to the growth of our or another’s abilities to do this better. To love others is to help them develop their ability to learn about the true and to have a unified vision of the whole of reality, to help them to become more-free to respond to what is truly good and valuable, and to help them to be able to appropriate themselves aesthetically and existentially as unique human beings. I was making this claim of serendipitous creativity two weeks ago.

Paul J. Wadell, says “A human being is a creature of appetites, of powerful, perduring tendencies. A human being is one whose very nature is appetite, whose whole being is a turning toward all those goods which promise fullness of life. We are hungry for completion … ” To do this, however, we must love the right things in the right way. In part, this can be translated into saying that the human being has a natural appetite for truth, goodness, and beauty, and, to truly love is to nurture one’s own or another’s intellectual and moral virtues that regulate these appetites towards the true, the good, and the beautiful. Contrary to an educational theory that heralds only cognitive development, the growth of these abilities is not automatic. These abilities, like muscles, do not flourish but atrophy when left alone. People-parents, friends, and lovers-don’t help the beloved when they only leave them alone to decide and learn for themselves all the time. To develop virtue, according to Aristotle, we must endure some degree of pain or discomfort in attempting to repeatedly hit the mean between two extremes by aiming away from the extreme that hitherto has brought us inappropriate pleasure. People love when they, through time, effort, and guidance, help themselves or others build virtues or good habits along these transcendental lines. But there is a catch, a problem: these lines often are in tension with each other. Each appetite, each aspiration, each type of knowing has a blind spot towards the value of the others. There can even be fighting among them. As Maritain wrote in his essay “Concerning Poetic Knowledge:”

The fact is that all these [human] energies, insofar as they pertain to the transcendental

universe, aspire like poetry to surpass their nature and to infinitize themselves …. Art, poetry, metaphysics, prayer, contemplation, each one is wounded, struck traitorously in the best of itself, and that is the very condition of its living. Each one of these has a desire to be finite, concrete and the exclusive true and Man unites them by force.”

It can be shown Plato, and M. Scott Peck, who focus upon the good and practical nature of love are blind to the bodily truth about human nature and of the guidelines it provides. Just as those like C.S. Lewis who focus upon the truth about friendships and provide brilliant insight into genuine friendship diminish its moral element. There are others, like Montaigne, Kierkegaard, and Marcel, who take an existential or aesthetic approach but then leave no possibilities for any natural guidelines or principles at all. All of these theorists want to preserve and value something that is truly worthwhile, but they neglect other valuable aspects of love in doing so ..

Gregory claims that the solution to this difficulty involves a kind of pluralism . . . not a pluralism concerning truth, but a pluralism within. It involves affirming that while there is indeed one reality, there are different and incommensurable ways of accessing it. To love ourselves and others means to affirm these important but conflicting aspirations within all human beings. It means to affirm the unity of reality with the plurality of the ways of knowing it. To love, then, is at least this: to nurture the growth of these natural but conflicting, and yet interdependent, aspirations and appetites within us all. Notwithstanding certain interpretations of Plato, no one can be at ease with the speed with which he guides our minds to love that which is invisible, eternal, form-like, and divine. Even in the earthy Symposium, where there is much talk of bodily love, Socrates’ major contribution is to provide us with a ladder out of that. He goads us on to ascend to the form of beauty! Thus, the ultimate love is not that of other persons but that of a reality that is out of this world and impersonal. I would suggest this might be called the true Creativity. For Plato, the true is fused into the good and, as with Augustine, there is an impatience with the material aspects of truth in reality. Here we have the Serendipitous. The great insight of the Platonic view lies in the highlighting of the special nature and dignity of the human soul as it rises in its partial freedom from matter. The error is the identification of the soul with the real self and the forgetting our bodies and the spirit-incarnate whole that we really are.

Having given us a necessary condition of love, Peck, tells us that feeling, romantic love, and affection are not genuine forms of love. In doing so, he clearly wants to steer his patients away from unhealthy, delusional, codependent, and abusive relationships. He, like life management theorist Stephen R. Covey, wants to assert the importance of the idea that “love is a verb.”

Perhaps as a conclusion for today we can reflect upon what Kierkegaard said,

The true is no higher than the good and the beautiful, but the true and the good and the beautiful belong essentially to every human existence and are unified for an existing individual not in thought but in existence.

 And to repeat what Maritain has said,

Art, poetry, metaphysics, prayer, contemplation, each one is wounded, struck

traitorously in the best of itself, and that is the very condition of its living. Man

unites them by force.”

Pluralism and love. Amen.

 

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