As a man of faith, my greatest challenge is seeing selfish behavior validated in the world of things. In the extreme case, the perpetrator of psychological abuse secretly withholds resources from the victim, blames others, and then meters out sustenance while saying “You’re so worthless. Nobody will ever love you like I do.” As a result, many victims actually identify with their abusers and seek to protect them from the authorities.
How can the victim see past that trap? Typically, it’s by looking at the circumstances of their abuser. People that love us share their power with us. If we are truly loved, we should feel stronger every day.
So let’s now step back and take the long view of this process – the process of merging our souls into heaven. This is described in all of the great religious traditions. But should we seek that so eagerly? Heaven is described as a place of love, but why should it be that way?
We know that there is conflict there: Lucifer rebelled against God. So could heaven not be a place just like Earth, with different types of pain, the pain of angels struggling against each other?
Imagine the evolution of the angels. Did they have wars and battles before love ruled the heavens? If so, why did they choose, ultimately, to submit to Unconditional Love?
To understand this, we have to recognize the difference between angels and us. Angels are beings of pure spirit. They relate to each other not through the exchange of material objects, but through interpenetration of their spirits. It is impossible for an angel to destroy another angel, only for one to suborn another’s will to their own. So naturally, selfish angels would want to establish boundaries that kept their captives from having the opportunity to join another personality.
Then along comes Unconditional Love. Love says, as I explained above, “Let me create strength in you.” What an attractive proposition! Who could resist it? But unconditional love goes beyond that. It says “I love everything equally, and want nothing for myself.” So the selfish angel, in serving only itself, must push away unconditional love, thus losing the benefits of its power. The alternative is to be infected by Unconditional Love, and thus to submit to the re-organization and eventual liberation of its captives.
Is renouncing love that a big deal? Maybe not initially, but you see all those smaller angels now find a place of refuge inside unconditional love. It enters into them and says: “Look, if you join with this other angel, you’ll be more powerful.” Unconditional Love is a restless seeking to find strength in the other angels. As that occurs, the angels that submit to its tutelage become more and more powerful.
In the warring regions of heaven, parts are broken off from the combatants, and some turn to Unconditional Love as a refuge. The most aggressive angels, to penetrate that refuge, must allow themselves to be infected by unconditional love. If they manage to seize part of the community of Unconditional Love, the lost part immediately withers and loses its vitality. Fighting against Unconditional Love is a losing proposition all the way.
So in the realm of the angels, once Unconditional Love came into being, there was no sensible angel that would resist its ministrations, no selfish angel that would survive an assault on it, and no conflict between angels that would not liberate pieces to join Unconditional Love. In the end, the corporate personality of heaven had to be ruled by love.
As we will be here on Earth, at least once enough of us realize that the soul is what matters most.
How is God’s behavior not the same as that of the abuser in the first paragraph? I get that what you’re saying is that God’s love is actually love because it empowers people, so that’s supposed to be a difference.
But that empowerment is mostly contained within the belief system itself. Heaven, being transformed by a deity’s unconditional love, rejecting sin, loving God…all of those things are constructs of Christianity. Do you have things you can point to that don’t require a prior Christian belief?
My proposition is that the dominance of love occurs naturally as a consequence of evolution in the realm of pure spirit. It eventually holds sway because of the nature of existence in that realm. I am offering a model of that realm that supports Christian belief. I am not responsible for your assertion that I am arguing in the opposite direction, which I take as analogous to the claim “the existence of light bulbs (Christianity) doesn’t prove the theory of radiative emission (the existence of a loving God).” Of course it doesn’t – the theory of radiative emission was used to stimulate the design of light bulbs – much as the theory of spiritual existence was use to stimulate the design of our physical reality, which seems in my teleology to serve the purpose of healing souls of the pathology of selfishness.
Your point that God withholds power from us is relevant. I have characterized that in the past as a matter of conditioning.
Properly understood, love is the desire to invest our power in the manifestation of another’s will. As parents often observe in children, that investment is often abused. God is not responsible for our other-abuse. Rather, as I understand it, God does not withhold power in order to create fear in us, he withholds power to prevent us from creating fear in each other. I do tend to find that many arguments advanced by atheists against faith reflect human abuse of love – they tend to blame love for things done in its name. It seems perverse to then turn around and suggest that withholding power from humanity is abusive – kind of “God is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.”
What Jesus tells us is that where two or more are gathered in loving relation, there God is with them (this is actually a tautology of sorts, God being love). It is through the surrender of self-concern that we become conduits for the power of love, as St. Francis celebrated. All the philosophy and theology aside, it is this Christian experience that gives me hope for the world that our fear has broken. I’ll hold on to that, thank you, because the alternative is either nihilism or incurable depression.
“…your assertion that I am arguing in the opposite direction[.]”
I’m sorry, could you quote my comment where I asserted that?
If I may, please allow me to simplify what I’m getting at. Essentially your assertions rely on the assumption that there is a deity out there with the qualities you’re assuming it has. To be fair, you’re not going to get that shared assumption from atheists or even some Christians (depending upon the circumstances of what you’re asserting).
“I’ll hold on to that, thank you, because the alternative is either nihilism or incurable depression.”
I would say that this is not exactly the only alternative. Atheists are just as varied in their outlooks as other groups of people are. You can find plenty of atheists out there who do not need a deity to feel like they can pursue a secular morality or optimism.
Making such an assertion would be just as incorrect as someone asserting that all Christians must hate themselves if they really believe in their deity.
I think that my characterization of your first comment is fair. I’m not asserting that there is only one deity – I’m offering a rationale that suggests that a deity that offers love must inevitably be more powerful than any other deity. You may not find that to be compelling, because you don’t buy into the axioms of my reasoning. That’s fair. But I think that I’m not doing anything different than any humanist does when arguing for democracy over fascism, for example. The humanist argues from his experience of human outcomes; I argue from my perception of spiritual outcomes. I am aware that many don’t share my perceptions, which has made my life pretty lonely. I don’t have a home in any camp.
I should clarify that my statement regarding the alternatives is a personal reflection. What I wrote does suggest that I believe that my difficulty applies to others, and that is not justified. Thank you for pointing that out.
BTW: In my post The Indications of Atheism (see https://everdeepening.com/2015/01/29/the-indications-of-atheism/) I wrote:
…there are a good number of [atheists] – in my experience a majority – that seem honestly to feel that Christians aren’t upholding the ideals expounded by Jesus of Nazareth. We should not take their witness as an attack, but as an exhortation to do better.