What exactly is agape love?

WHAT EXACTLY IS LOVE?

Ozodi Osuji

       Love is an especially important subject; don’t you think so? If so, how come they do not teach it at schools? Maybe, they now teach it at school but when I was at school, they certainly did not teach it. Schools should teach the art of loving and parenting, I think.

     Each of us had to learn from his experience to know what love is or is not.

     In the New Testament part of the Christian Bible, Jesus Christ said: love you one another as your father who is in heaven loves you. Do unto other people as you want them to do to you; the man said that the teachings of the old prophets of his Judaic religion can be summarized as love you one another; if you love people some of those you love will do what is harmful to you; therefore, forgive people the wrongs that they did to you.

     Jesus and his Christianity can be summarized in three words: God, love and forgiveness. Love God, love your neighbor as you love yourself, forgive your neighbor the wrongs he did to you. The old boy emphasized love but that did not exactly spell out what love is.

      Like most people, I tried to educate me on the nature of love. Erich Fromm (1956/2006). The Art of loving. New York: Harper, was a useful read on the subject. In this book, Dr Fromm, a sociologist turned psychoanalyst, talked about the diverse types of loving, such as brotherly love, erotic love, self-love, love for God, love for parents, love for children. His 180 pages book was a classic on love. He spelled it out in as plain language as is possible; to him love means caring for other people as much as one care for oneself; love is giving to other people; love is concern for other people’s welfare.

      In some pages Fromm waxed metaphysical; here, we learn that love is union with the loved one; in the context of marriage, love means two people unifying as one person and henceforth caring for each other as if they are caring for themselves.

     In God we are supposed to be all in union with God and with one another and love and care for one another. Fromm’s book was a helpful read.

     Before I got married, my wife to be and I, both graduate students, took classes on Alfred Adler’s psychology on loving and parenting. Adler defined mental health as the ability to transcend self-centeredness and work for our collective good; in marriage the partners must place the other’s interests at the same level as his own interests. Contrary to this ideal, Adler talked about what he called the neurotic constitution (about his self).

    In neurosis, the child grows up with his self-esteem impaired; he came to see his self as inferior, maybe due to inherited biological issues, as was the case with Adler, or through social rejection, as is the case with rejected children and African Americans whose dominant white society rejected them, and compensated with drive to seem superior to other people; he devotes most of his activities to working to attain his desired superior self; he acts “As If” he is superior to other people. Such a person works hard and often gets to the top of his profession, but his social relationships are impaired.

      Adler devoted his psychotherapy to helping people to work for what he called our social interests.

     Karen Horney, my favorite psychoanalyst, talked what struck me as particularly true in my case. She said that the neurotic to be child was put in a situation where he felt that what Harry Stack Sullivan called his significant others did not accept him as he is, rejected his real self, and expected him to live up to their false, ideal self before they accepted him; the child now sees his real self as not good enough and used his mind to create an ideal self and strive to attain the idealized self-image. He becomes anxious when he feels that he is not approximating his imaginary ideal self-image.

     The neurotic adult (Horney was such a person, she worked extremely hard to become a medical doctor) is filled with what she called basic anxiety; he is afraid of failing at school, work and play and not being his or her imaginary ideal self-image; to fail is to disappoint his significant others and they would reject him; he is afraid of their rejection. Her psychotherapy was geared towards attaining what Carl Rogers called unconditional positive self-love, self-acceptance; just accept who you are and do not posit any conditions that you must meet before you accept you.

     Sigmund Freud defined the adjusted adult as a person who can love people and works for our public good. Freud did not live in America; in America self-centeredness is the gospel; the typical American has narcissistic personality; he fancies his self-special, better than the rest of the world and works hard to make it and lives his drugs and alcohol addled existence and calls it making it; he could be a millionaire, but he is emotionally no more than ten years old.

     Donald Trump is a billionaire, a man in his mid-seventies; how old would you say that he emotionally is? To me he is no more than a nine-year-old boy seeking his father’s attention through making money and talking infantile politics that appeal to his fellow racists; racists, as Gordon Allport wrote in his fantastic book, the Nature of Prejudice, want to put some people down as a condition for accepting their selves as good.

      All said, the average person learns from observing people, especially his significant others (parents, siblings, religious teachers) what love is all about. If he happened to be lucky and his parents loved each other and loved him he grows up with sound education on love but if they were always fighting, putting each other down and putting him down, assaulting his self-esteem and undermining his self-confidence every day,  and not meeting his material needs for food, medications, shelter, training through, at least, secondary school, well, he does not learn self-love and since people give to others what they have first given to themselves, such a person is not likely to love other people.

     Most people have a working definition of what love means to them. To me, love means caring for other people as I care for me. But suppose that I do not know how to care for me? Then I would not know how to care for other people.

     Many people were not socialized to internalize self-care and, therefore, do not care for other people. Those who do excessive alcohol drinking and drugs certainly do not have good self-care and, therefore, do not have diligent care for other people. Let us just say that many people’s self-love is impaired and therefore they do not really know how to love other people.

     My idea of love, at least, when I was young, was to sacrifice myself for other people. Jesus was said to have so loved the world that he sacrificed his self for all people’s salvation. That was my idea of love, to sacrifice me for people.

    I used to give all the money I had to other people, especially to those around me. They came to take it for granted that that is who I am and took advantage of it; interestingly, none of those close to me did to me as I did to them. I do not recall any of them giving me money, not once, but I gave them most of my money; they took it for granted that it is for Tom to give to them and not for them to give to him and when I did not give to them they felt angry at me, but they forget that they had not given me anything; interesting isn’t that?

     Obviously, this is not love. Let us then say that I do not know exactly what love is; do you know what exactly love is?

      Not knowing what love is obviously affected my marriage. I would say that I did not meet my ex-wife’s need for love and therefore was a poor husband; I also believe that she too did not love me. It was therefore nice that our marriage ended in divorce. I had to learn more about love.

    After my divorce, I met this lady. She talked and behaved like a flaming feminist, ready to castrate any man in sight. In fact, it was because of her feisty talking that I decided to get to know her. I would go to her office (at a community college) and talk to her. Occasionally, she dropped by my office, and we talked.

     We graduated to going to movies on weekends. The type of movies that she liked to go to did not interest me. She liked lesbian themed movies. I am sorry to say it, whereas I do not ask any one to change his or her lifestyle to please me, I live and let live, but watching women kissing each other and making out is not my idea of a good movie! If truth is told, they make me want to vomit (just as male lovers also make me vomit).

     Please do not ask me why, I am just telling you about my feeling; I have a right to my feeling, do not I, in this age of political correctness one is supposed not to have a socially inappropriate feeling; and please do not go talking psychobabble to me, for if you go there, well, be ready to finish what you start.

      I allowed myself to go to these lesbian movies twice and thereafter put my feet down the next time that she invited me; I told her that such movies make me sick. She asked me why; I told her that while I tolerate defiant behaviors, that I do not celebrate them.

     Nature made people male and female; I can accept that a few persons, following the standard 3% deviation from the norm, do not like heterosexual relationships, but I do not feel it my duty to celebrate what seems to me unnatural. She excoriated me and I allowed her to have her way and decided to stop seeing her.

      Thus, gradually, I kept away from her; I am not interested in being socialized to approve what seems obscene to me; Adolf Hitler got Germans to see killing non-Germans as correct behavior; I keep to my own counsel, not what external others told me is correct behavior.

     One day she called me and invited me to dinner at her house. I had a tough time making up my mind for I had assumed that she is living with another woman, and I honestly did not want to be in such environment. I told her that I need to think about it. A couple of weeks later I relented and went to her house.

     She was living alone. During the evening she told me the story of her life. She was born in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. At College she fell in love with a Polish guy. They had a son. The Polish guy decided that he did not want their son raised by her and disappeared with the son. She tried to locate him and could not; after years of searching, she gave up and moved to the West coast, first, Los Angeles and later, Seattle.

     She told me that the son would be twenty-five years old then. She said that she cried every night because of her missing son (I did not ask her to explain to me why the Polish guy absconded with their son).

     Naturally, her human-interest story moved my heart. Honestly, I have a weakness, I do not like to see a woman in distress (when I was a child, the few times I was truly unhappy was when I saw my mother crying).

     I sat close to her on the couch and put my right arm around her shoulders and consoled her. It was a friendly evening.

     Later, I got to know more about her. She told me that given her negative experiences with men she tried to be a lesbian and lived with a woman for a while but learned that she is not a lesbian. Nevertheless, she supports their cause because she likes to defend the persecuted (she is French American and supports every black cause there is in the world; she even tries to talk Black folk’s Ebonics).

      I knew that she liked me and decided that I am not ready to get myself involved with another woman. I had just gotten divorced.

     She visited me a couple of times and I tried to figure out a way to stop the visitation since I did not want to encourage her interest in me.

     I married while at graduate school, a bit into my twenties and had known only one woman all my life and wanted to be free to play the field before I allowed myself to hook up with another woman. I was not going to fall in love with a woman. Thus, she would call me, and I would not pick up the phone.

     One day I got a call from a local hospital that there is a woman in there. They could not diagnose any physical disorder but clearly something is the matter with her (psychosomatic illness is real). A nurse said that she was always mumbling a name and they asked her whose name it is, and she told them hence they called me; the nurse commanded me to visit her and added that I must come with roses, and if I cannot afford them that she would pay for them.

     I went to the hospital with a bouquet of roses. That cheered her up. The following day she was discharged from the hospital, and I drove up and took her to her house in West Seattle.

      Thereafter, for a while, I would take her calls and called her. I was torn by inner cognitive conflict, to continue with the relationship or find a way to end it, regardless of the pain it would cause her. This situation lasted several months. One day, she came to my office and sat by a chair that was against the wall whereas I was grading students’ papers on my desk, so, I did not face her. Occasionally, I looked back and saw her.

     She looked like an orphan, like the entire world had abandoned her; she was in tremendous psychological pain.

      I recognized that I treated her lovelessly and cavalierly but rationalized that after twenty years of marriage that I was not going to allow myself to get seriously involved with another woman; I wanted to be free.

     To reduce my cognitive dissonance, I finally got the courage to tell her that I am not interested in a relationship and ended the relationship. I did not have the courage to try seeing her, again. So, I do not know what happened to her.

     Occasionally, I felt a need to call her but resisted it. In the back of my mind was a sense of doing wrong. Being a (apostate) Catholic, I even felt that God would punish me for not loving that woman, for my sin.

       The idea of God punishing me aroused my stored-up anger at God. I said to me, damn God, where is he as we all suffer in this world; guilt feeling from consideration of God punishing me made me to be defiant and say to hell with God and decided to harden my mind.

     The question I have had to address is what exactly is love? Why do we feel like orphans if we feel not loved by people, especially by our significant others, such as our parents, siblings, teachers and friends?

      The better part of me tells me to be a loving human being and I try to be so. I try to love every person I see, not always in an unconditionally positive manner but love as I understand it, egoistic love.

     I am very egoistic; I have a grandiose ego, an ego that wants to seem powerful. In Alfred Adler’s individual psychological categories, my inherited medical issues made me feel inferior and I compensated with a desire to seem superior. Since I am smart, I tend to feel superior to most people; I easily dismiss people as unintelligent and disregard them. This is not love.

     In love you feel equal to all people; the moment you feel superior to someone or people you cannot love them and do not love them.

     The ego’s desire for superiority is the worst obstacle to love. Love calls on all of us to be the same and coequal. Superiority opposes sameness and equality, hence opposes love. You cannot love a person from a superior perspective, you must feel equal to the person you love to be really in love with that person.

      My question is: what exactly is love and why do we find it difficult to love ourselves and love each other?

THE FOLLOSING ARE GNOSTIC METAPHORS OF CREATION, NOT FACTS.

      Upon declaring my independence from Catholicism, I tried other churches and religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Gnosticism and others. I settled on being a Christian Gnostic.

     Gnosticism posits that there is God. God is said be one and yet infinite in numbers. One God has infinite sons; if you like less anthropomorphic terms, you can say that the whole and its parts are unified as one shared whole.

    Where God ends and his sons begin is nowhere; there is no space and gap between God and his sons. They are one unified spirit self.

      Love is the glue that binds the infinite sons of God with each other and with their father. Without love the unified whole would fly apart and both God and his sons would be incomplete and die off.

      Separation implies the death of God and his sons; God and his sons cannot separate from each other if they want to stay alive.

     God created his sons; his sons did not create God or create themselves or create each other. Other than the fact that God created them, the sons of God and their father are the same and coequal.

     Nevertheless, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts; God is greater than his sons. The sons of God resented that God created them and wanted to create him. They wanted to chase God out of his creatorship throne, usurp it and create God and create themselves. This cannot be done since they were already created and cannot create themselves or create their creator.

     The wish for self-creation was so strong that the sons of God, as it were, cast a spell, what Hinduism calls Maya, on their minds and went to sleep and in their sleep dream; they invented a universe of space, time and matter (beginning with the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago) and gradually evolved the universe to the present where each of them is in a body made of matter; inside body the son of God feels separated from God and from  other sons of God.

     Each son of God invented what George Kelly called a self-concept, self-image and personality; he feels that he is apart from other beings; he feels more powerful than God, for he has invented a different self-concept to replace the unified self that God created him as.

     The universe of space, time and matter is a place where the sons of God, who are unified in eternity, come to seem separated from each other; to seem separated they had to attack love, for love is the glue that unified them in spirit.

     To live on earth, in body is to have attacked love, attacked union and seem to have destroyed it. The condition for living on earth is to separate from love, from union, hence, to be incomplete, to be lonely, to be an orphan.

     All of us separated from our unified self, separated from our father and brothers, separated from love and heaven and feel unloved, feel like orphans.

     I know that despite having both parents who were married for fifty-five years and who in their own ways loved me, I sometimes feel like an orphan, I feel all alone, abandoned in this vast universe.

     I feel like the lady in my office who looked dejected and like an orphan; you see, she is me. What I see in her I see in me; we cannot see in other people what is not in us; all perception, as Helen Schuman said in A course in miracles, is projection.

     In perception you project what you see in you outside you and see it as if it is outside you; we do this in dreams where we project out a world and see it as if it is outside us whereas it is in our dreaming minds. Our day world is also a dream that we collectively projected out but is inside our shared mind.

      To be in this world, we feel like we are not loved by our father, God, and by our siblings, each other; we feel like orphans. I feel like an orphan.

     I feel like an alien in this world. I am in a world where I feel all alone, and unloved. I try to love other people to feel loved but that does not help me much.

      I have been known to give all my money to those who have none; I have taken off my belt and given it to a homeless man whose pants were falling off his waist because he did not have a belt on. I can be sentimental in helping people but still that is not agape love.

     I know that if you push me, I am as hard hearted as anyone else; if you take my sympathy for people as sign of weakness, I will not mind cutting off your head. I would tell me, look at that God damned riff raff with the intelligence of a gnat messing with his superior; I would attack you with such ferocity that you would be suppressed that the hitherto seeming placid and civilized me could be such an aggressive person.

     You get the point, when push comes to shove, all human beings act lovelessly; this is because we came to earth to live lovelessly. I love but that is ego love, not Christ love, not the love of heaven, not unified love that sees all of us as oneself and denies separation.

    On earth we take separation as real; each of us sees other people as not him hence while he could help other people, he places his self-interests above other people’s interests.

     I am not about to sacrifice myself for other people; sacrifice myself so that inferior people may live, that is absurd.

     I do not ask other people to sacrifice themselves for me, either; I like to live as a separate self; in Carl Jung’s terms, I live as an individuated self. This is our lives on earth; it is the opposite of love.

DISCUSSION

    Love is the perfect union of all parts of a whole, whereas on earth we live separated selves and occasionally work for our common good but while doing so we retain our right to leave whatever association we form and strike out to go look for our separated interests.

     On earth we do not love perfectly, or in sister Helen Schucman’s terms, we have special love relationships and, at best, can work it to holy relationships where we work for what Adler calls our common interests, but we seldom get to unified love, the type of love that exists in heaven, which is perfect love and its perfect peace and joy.

     If we are outside unified love, we feel alone and like orphans.

CONCLUSION

      Can anything be done to reduce our orphanhood? Yes, we must allow our sense of separated selves to die and revert to our real selves as unified spirit self.

     If we let go of our ego self-concepts and self-images, we return to the awareness of unified spirit self.

    Alas, if we did so we would exit from this world of separated selves and awaken to our true self in heaven, aka unified spirit. But are we ready to end separation, individuation and end the prodigal son’s journey away from his unified self and return to unified self and end the universe of separation and multiplicity?

    What I am really saying is that it is difficult to attain perfect love while we live in ego, self-concepts and bodies; our egos and bodies are designed to enable us to live individuated existence, not to unify with other people.

     We came to earth to live individuated selves, that is, to live as the opposite of love, for love means living unified lives; union is best attained in spirit, not in bodies; bodies are obstacles to unifying with other persons in bodies; in fact, bodies and the egos they house, were specifically designed to prevent union with other people.

     Through fortuitous experiences, some people disengage from their ego, separated selves, and temporarily experience their unified selves, have what mystics describe as unified experience (see Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism). But other than that unpredictable experience of oneness, we live selfish, separated lives; we place our interests ahead of other people’s interests.

     I know that when push comes to shove, I will serve my interests, not your interests (as I did to the lady who I know loved me) and despite your flippant and glib talk on being a loving person, you will serve your interest ahead of my interests. Let us say that I have not seen a perfectly loving person in my entire existence on planet earth.

     Are White American so-called Christians not serving their interests when they discriminate against Black people and are so-called Christian African pastors not deceiving their gullible followers, stiffing them, robbing them of their meagre money to live lavishly while their ignorant followers live in abject poverty!

     I do not really see love in this world, do you see love in this world? Are you a loving person?

     Despite my ego realism, I hope that one day I will become a perfectly loving person; I would like to experience the perfect peace and happiness that is attendant to perfect love and forgiveness.

     However, aspiration and hope are not reality; as we all know, when hope dies the man dies; so, I will keep on hoping that someday I will attain total loving hence live in perfect peace and joy. I wish for you what I wish for me.

LOVE IS THE SENSE OF UNION WITH GOD AND ALL HIS CREATION; THAT SENSE IS BEST ATTAINED IN SPIRIT; ON EARTH, IN THE UNIVERSE OF SPACE, TIME AND MATTER, WE SEE SEPARATION BETWEEN US, SO, IT IS DIFFICULT TO HAVE REAL LOVE, REAL UNION ON EARTH; WE HAVE ONLY ATTENUATED LOVE AND, AS SUCH, FEEL ALONE, LIKE ORPHANS.

     Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, so, all day long today I have been playing Handel’s Messiah on my stereo; you, too, should listen to the man’s celestial music. It is calming and prayerful; maybe, he can help us to return to our unified spirit self, to perfect love.

Ozodi Osuji Saturday, April 16, 2022

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