by L Clarissa Turnbull
Humanity can set aside predispositions, fear, misguided beliefs, and greed, and realize a world of agape, a world that lives as one. Imagine. Think about it enough, and you’re bound to end up singing a John Lennon song.
C.S. Lewis examined the various natures of love in his book The Four Loves. He identified four predominate classifications based on ancient Greek understanding: There’s affection (storge) or a fondness that stems from familiarity. There’s friendship (philia) which marks the bond that exists because of mutual interest in something else. There’s romantic love (eros) which is less a sexual thing, and more the state of “being in love,” rose petals falling from the sky and all. And then there’s caritas (agape), the end-all, be-all, unconditional love. Storge, philia, and eros, and often qualified by a reflexive nature—you give, you receive. Only agape exists eternally, regardless of reciprocity.
But love is tricky, because it can stop being love before we notice. Lewis warned, “Low beings to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” And isn’t that the problem with today’s world? Most of the time, love is a commodity we feel is freely given, but eventually we come to find that it’s more costly than we ever knew. And so we became misers with our love, doling it out in piteous portions to only a few, to the ones who should love us back, in some feeble hope that we won’t deplete our stores. That’s hardly something to sing from the rooftops.
Exclusive Love, the love for one, or few, is an inborn necessity for survival. Daddy’s gotta love mommy to carry on the family lineage. And mama’s gotta love her baby, or who would ever expect her to put up with the incessant wailing? But like with all things, too much of a good thing goes bad. There’s a fine line between exclusive love and selfishness or obsession, and it’s getting harder and harder to see. All too often, we love a person in expectation of the love we’ll get in return. Or we bypass that person altogether and commercialize love. Rock on hand, check. Two-car garage, check. Hot hubby to bring home to high school reunion, check. Or perhaps worst of all, we surrender to the complete objectification of love, and we just love being in love, subject be damned. It’s all rather degrading, isn’t it? So when can we chuck our materialistic self-serving obsessive adoration of our own egos (love me, love me) and stop being so damn selfish?
You’d think that the more we look out at this great green earth and it’s magnitudes of beautiful, individual, special people, that we would be overwhelmed with some serious agape. The world and its people are amazing. Civilization and its accomplishments are inspiring. The great diversity commingled with the unification of desires for life, for health, for peace, for Love in all its forms has got to inspire us to open our hearts, our hands, and just—love. Right? It’s a small world, globalized and shrunk by exploration, by trade, by the cyber world. It’s easier to know our neighbors. But is it easier to love them? Ironic that our increased knowledge of the world incites so many people to be more insular, succumbing to xenophobia and avarice. Where is the love?
What’s so hard about Universal Love? Why can’t we extend a little agape to Hondurans who don’t have clean water to drink, to the Sudanese who are twisted in anger? Why can’t the world Free Tibet, and why does Philadelphia seem more and more like a misnomer? We have the capacity love. But it’s so easy to be misdirected. John Lennon, who wrote or collaborated on so many anthems of all types of love, was shot to death by a psychotic man with a selfish desire for fame. We won’t mention his name. This man skulked outside the Dakota clutching a copy of The Catcher in the Rye; he was obsessed with the classic work of fiction. What’s remarkable is that the story of Holden Caulfield’s coming of age illustrates a frightened teenager, unable to trust others, or open himself, to recognize the power of love. The child experiences the rigors of waning adolescence with impending adulthood without connecting with another human being.
How strange that modern society creates and sustain two very different impulses: Love for all and hope for peace vs. narcissistic isolation and homicidal acts. But one can’t exist without the other. In order for remarkable acts of selflessness and love to resound in this world, they have to be offset by acts of selfishness and hatred. And when you think about it, Mother Theresa, Hitler, Princess Di, Mao Zedong, and JFK dedicated their lives to an ideal for the people they loved, but the manifestations of that love went in wildly different directions. There’s a delicate axis that tips in the wrong direction when love becomes selfish, when it loses site of humanity. At the same time, love that targets unity, open-mindedness, open-heartedness, and affirmation, agape, tends to outlast the test of time. Aspiration for this type of love by the few is inspiration for the many.
It’s not impossible. All you need is the right kind of love. The selfless vision of a pro-active, unconditional, Universal Love has been achieved in small but enduring measure. Humanity can set aside predispositions, fear, misguided beliefs, and greed, and realize a world of agape, a world that lives as one. Imagine. Think about it enough, and you’re bound to end up singing a John Lennon song.