Friday, February 27, 2009

Three Other Ways To Say "Agape".... & Why.

Unlimited Love ~~ proposed by the theologian Thomas Oord and a number of others who are actually studying love (both theistic and non-theistic) as the one force that can save humankind. Known as the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, they propose a dialogue between spirituality, theology and science, and describe love thusly:

The essence of love is to affectively affirm as well as to unselfishly delight in the well-being of others, and to engage in acts of care and service on their behalf; unlimited love extends this love to all others without exception, in an enduring and constant way. Widely considered the highest form of virtue, unlimited love is often deemed a Creative Presence underlying and integral to all of reality: participation in unlimited love constitutes the fullest experience of spirituality.

In a paper titled “It’s Good To Be Good: Health and the Generous Heart,” Stephen Post of the Institute argues that practicing unlimited love actually improves health, both physical and psychological, and extends life.

Not all those who exemplify hints of Unlimited Love or something close to it are
religious in the sense of having an established belief system and tradition; neither are all of
them theists. They probably all share a sense of common humanity, deep human equality,
and a developed capacity for empathy and compassion

The Love Economy ~~ Hazel Henderson, evolutionary economist and futurist, writes that women and men who do the work of volunteerism and of caring for the young and old at home do not appear in the economic indexes but make it possible for those who go out and create the industrial economy. In 1995, the UN Development Report estimated that $16 trillion (about 60 to 80k per American household) is missing from the GNP. Acknowledging these services, which she calls the Love Economy, would create a more realistic and sustainable way to go forward. This form of love is often, although surely not always agape, because at its root it is Mother-Love, love for the children, the ailing, the weak and love for the future of the planet. As is said about Buddhist/Deep ecologist Joanna Macy, she has many friends, most of whom are not yet born. What could be a higher form of love?

Holistic Love ~ This is my own hypothesis, and it incorporates elements of the above-described systems. I am becoming convinced that what we have been calling agape cannot be practiced without including the earth, the air, and all of the creatures that inhabit our world. Neither can we claim to be living sustainably unless we are practicing selfless, sacrificial loving and giving to one another. There is no sense in which we can sustain human life and planetary life if we pretend that it is OK to be loving here and to disregard and dismiss over there. Generous here but selfish there. All love, like all beings and all objects, animate and inanimate, is connected.

One might argue that using love as a remedy is unrealistic given human nature. This may be one of liberalism’s greatest blind spots. All love is not license.

Rather shockingly, the young Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer decided that the only loving thing to do in Nazi Germany was to participate in failed the “officer’s plot” to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis in 1945 for his part in the plot. He appears from his writings to have maintained his grounding in agape love throughout these years of difficulty. It is remarkable that for Bonheoffer tough love meant doing the only thing that he felt could benefit Hitler, which was to free him from his demonic evil. (Post)

One might argue that it’s too late for unlimited love, an economy of love, or holistic love to address a world filled with violence and hatred and greed. That may be true, but it does not erase our obligation to do what we can to make it possible; indeed, that is really the only reason we are here.

Holistic Love ~~ a vision. Of course, we’d need to live it. Here, now.

It’s a tall order, but one I propose that we, Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely poised to tackle. Straddling as we do our historic connections to Christianity and our principles that include inherent worth and interdependent web, we might be just the agents to claim that we are the Church of Love, Holistic Love, true agape