February marks another annual celebration of “African-American History Month”. This essay’s title borrows from the rock band, U2’s song, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the resounding lyrics: “One man come in the name of love…what more in the name of love? In the name of love…” Indeed, these words resonate with me in more than one way and echo in my mind. So too, I hear King himself stating the prophetic words: “…Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
Perhaps we need some Promethean light for an expansive examination of these very human thoughts on “LOVE”. As such, there are two primary directions for this essay.
In one direction, I wish to emphasize the necessity for politicians and others to be “love” directed in their thinking in order to adopt policies of “empathy” and “empathic politics” which in turn inform how to overcome some of our worst social problems. Secondly, I wish to explore ideas of “love” from Buddhist and Christian points of view, thereby allowing us to contemplate where we go from here.
Recently, I was heartened by the new Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern’s words, who was elected in 2017 at the young age of 37, and also became a new mother. No doubt “motherhood” has informed her thinking in bringing compassion, empathy, and kindness into the political realm over realpolitik and Machiavellian power games. Truly, I wish we had more un-cynical politicians like her in the United States.
Ardern articulated her view right before being sworn in as the NZ PM in 2017: “I know I need to transcend politics in the way that I govern for this next term of Parliament but I also want this government to feel different, I want people to feel that it’s open, that it’s listening and that it’s going to bring kindness back…I know that will sound curious but to me if people see they have an empathetic government I think they’ll truly understand that when we’re making hard calls that we’re doing it with the right focus in mind.” Such a view of humanity, and governance, is enlightening and enlightened and perhaps has its antecedents for her from Christianity?
Regardless of the origins of Ardern’s message, it is an important one. Why not expand it to include some Buddhist ideas about compassion and love and kindness and caring aside from Christian ones.
Why not compare how Buddhism and Christianity inform our philosophical thinking on the subject of “love”? This is not to say most other major religions are not equally important on the subject of “love” whether they be Baha’i, or Islam, or Judaism, or Jainism, or Hinduism, or Sikhism, and so on. They are all of course significant.
However, for my purposes here, my views will be informed by those of Thich Nhat Hanh on Buddhism and C. S. Lewis on Christianity and in very limited ways to elucidate this discussion.
In my mind, two very important concepts from Buddhism are: “interbeing” and “mindfulness”.
For this exposition, I turn to the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, because for many reasons he is likely a living saint, if there is such a possibility. The idea of “interbeing” is according to him that everyone and everything in the known universe is interconnected. As he explains in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ: “When we look into the heart of a flower, we see clouds, sunshine, minerals, time, the earth, and everything else in the cosmos in it.”
A biologist might say, well these are symbiotic relationships. Hanh’s Buddhist view likewise would seem to support the controversial “Gaia hypothesis”, whereby the Earth is a self-maintaining and complex interrelated system between inorganic matter and organic matter.
The lesson here is that we are all interbeings on this planet Earth and have the responsibilities of taking care of it and saving the environment as we are interrelated to it. As an example, most indigenous people did not devolve away from such an interconnected relationship of being and nature. Whereas we in the West have done so and have for millennia, in Cartesian separation, unfortunately and to our detriment.
While mindfulness is the Buddhist concept of “hyper awareness in the moment” or smrtiin Sanskrit. We are all witnesses in the present moment and we all need to elevate this awareness to solving social problems through the emphasis of kindness and wellness and caring and empathy and love.
As Thich Nhat Hanh clarifies: “When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, we can see and listen deeply, and the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy.” Further, Hahn goes on to explain all of us have the potential for these “awakened qualities” through practicing mindfulness and by being aware in the moment not only about ourselves but also our world in which we live. In so doing we will be able to touch upon the living Buddha and the living Christ.
In regard to understanding the greater love of God, I turn to the works of C. S. Lewis, who was an Oxford scholar, a Christian, friends with J. R. R. Tolkien, and famously known for his children’s novel series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Like Lewis, I have waivered in my own beliefs as have other writers. Those similarly struggling with belief and faith were such literary luminaries as Miguel de Unamuno, his personal views about faith exemplified by his famous novella, Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr, and Nikos Kazantzakis, and his personal opinions about Christ, exemplified by his novel, The Last Temptation of Christ. Interestingly, both Unamuno and Kazantzakis were good friends, the former Spanish-Basque and the latter, Cretan-Greek. Both men sharing a certain outlook on life and both questioning how best to interpret belief, faith, and Christianity.
As an intellectual, C. S. Lewis also struggled in defending Christianity and its finer philosophical points of view.
In the Gospel of Matthew 22: 39 Jesus is quoted as saying: “…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” In other words, the “Golden Rule”, treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. And in the Christian sense, it includes your enemy—treat your enemy too with love and understanding and turn the other cheek in the face of violence (Matthew 5: 39).
In his book, Mere Christianity, Lewis elaborates on the idea of “forgiveness”. “God intends us to love all selves in the same way and for the same reason…Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that is how He loves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities, we think we have, but just because we are the things called selves. For really there is nothing else in us to love: creatures like us who actually find hatred such a pleasure that to give it up is like giving up beer or tobacco…”
In other words, we need to overlook each other’s personal shortcomings and begin to see the good in everyone. We also need our politicians to create policies of “wellbeing” for society—for those suffering from mental health issues, for the homeless, for the impoverished, for the undereducated, for the uninsured—and therefore, completely rethink our domestic policies.
And so, I return to the hopeful messages of the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and her recent remarks at the World Economic Forum a couple of weeks ago in Davos, Switzerland: “I don’t think it’s the end of GDP, I think it’s the beginning of doing things differently…It’s about bringing kindness and empathy to governance…Our people are telling us that politics are not delivering and meeting their expectations. This is not woolly, it’s critical.”
And once more returning to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose words should echo for everyone for all time: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
May we all learn to love better and drive out all the hatred…