"The whole spiritual journey might be summed up as humble hope." Thomas Keating

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Love and the Fourth Step

There is a fascinating article, The Rigor of Love, by Simon Critchley in the August 9 New York Times. The essay is about the question of whether non-believers in a transcendent God can have faith. I will probably deal with his central concern in a later post but for today I'd like to think about one of the stepping stones he uses to get to his conclusion: Soren Kierkegaard's (Danish philosopher, 1813 - 1855) concept of Christian Love.

In Critchley's version (derived from Kierkegaard's Works of Love), Kierkegaard begins by rejecting two false notions of Love. First he throws out the touchy - feely love that makes no demand on the believer and amounts to a second childhood resting on an infantile faith. I think of this as the 'lets all hold hands and sing Kumbayah' version of Love -- all good feeling and no duty. It's fruitless and beyond that it's schmaltzy -- and I, for one, loathe schmaltz.

The second notion Kierkegaard rejects is "the “worldly” conception of love where you do unto others what others do unto you and no more." Love as a two way equal exchange, person to person. The dark side of this view is, of course, "an eye for an eye". I think this one is pretty easy to toss -- the universe is not some kind of spiritual swap meet.

For Kierkegaard Love is in fact a three-way relationship of person-God-person.
Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between man and man. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between: man-God-man, that is, that God is the middle term.
Love for another is always mediated through a person's relation to God. To put it a bit crudely, you can't get to the other person without going through God. Any encounter with another is a gift; even the very possibility of encountering another is itself a gift. Everything we have and experience is a gift. If, as Critchley quotes Kierkegaard, Love “makes every relationship to other human beings into a God-relationship”, then you are no longer in anything like an equal exchange since you must encounter the source of all, that to which you are infinitely indebted.

Every relationship with another is necessarily a part of your relationship with the Divine.
The rigor of Christianity is a conception of love based on radical inequality, namely the absolute difference between the human and the divine. This is how Kierkegaard interprets Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye.”(Matthew, 7:3) The log in my own eye does not permit me to judge the speck in the other’s. Rather, I should abstain from any judgment of what others might or might not do... It is arrogance and impertinence. What others owe to me is none of my business.
It is none of my business. As Kierkegaard says, “Essentially, you have only to do with yourself before God.”

Any of this starting to sound familiar? Aren't we looking at a connection between surrender to a Higher Power and the need to "sweep off our side of the street"? This is a very, very basic connection between the Third and Fourth Steps that I had never come close to thinking of. The Big Book gives us a negative reason to avoid discussing the faults of another -- we know that it will lead to resentments and ultimately to drinking. Maybe we also have a positive reason -- refraining from looking at the other guy's faults corresponds to the spiritual reality of Love and therefore our spiritual growth.

Thoughts, anyone?

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