Wednesday 4 September 2019

Passive/ static/ abstract love versus active/ dynamic/ personal love (from William Arkle)

Edited from the essay Divine Love in The Great Gift by William Arkle (1977)

We can realise for ourselves that love can be passive or active. We can know for ourselves that it is possible to sit down and simply radiate love, like a light bulb radiates light, in all directions but not directed in any particular way to any particular thing. This is passive love. 

We can feel that love becomes a more active if we begin to direct it onto an object, say a stone; but we can feel a difference if we direct this loving attention onto something more fully alive, such as a plant or a flower. 

This time we recognise a relationship which has a wider range of responses in it, and it is easier and more satisfying to love such a responsive thing. But now, if we look at how we feel if we direct our loving attention to even more living objects such as pet animals, human beings and children we realise that our love and relationship can grow again and become even more valuable. 

And if these human beings are of a more deeply beautiful and gracious order, then the activity of our love leaps into higher and higher expressions which are more valuable and delightful. Finally from the experience of our love directed actively to a most valuable human being, we can move again to a situation in which we are able to love a perfectly beautiful and gracious person, and this is our God of love. 

Because our God is the most alive and responsive being, this experience of actively directed love can be the most sublime. 

In this highest form of active love we must therefore have the one who loves and the one who is loved in order to arrive at a responsive situation. So we have two individuals, our God of love and the one who loves God. In this situations, the one who loves God enters into a Divine relationship in which both individuals are of the same order, even if God is far more mature than the individual who is loving him. 

So, at the moment that the individual really loves God as another individual who can be loved, then the two of them become friends in the Divine nature to which they both belong

This means that God no longer has to be God, but can become a friend to the one who loves Him and can love his friend back again in the way that love must if it is to express the fulfilment of its nature. 

The one who loves God also gradually realises that he is loving a real responsive individual with whom he is now a friend, and this experience is confirmed by all the other experiences of love to be different from worship. For worship is a sort of one-sided love which does not allow for a response and therefore cannot move into friendship, because in worship we do not relate to God as a living being but we idealise God in a fixed image that we have in our own understanding and thus we prevent Him coming alive. 

We do this, no doubt, out of a diminished sense of our own value and adequacy and out of a sense of modesty. But we only have to look at the nature of love for a moment to realise that the truest form of love does not have to behave in this manner. In fact it is unkind to worship others, rather than to love them, because it fixes them in a mould they do not wish to be fixed in; in fact by worshipping people we imprison them. 

But love does not wish to imprison the one it loves, above all, love longs to give expansion and enhanced beingness to the one it loves. Love longs to be in a creative and growing relationship with the one it loves. 

Love is the highest expression of life itself, and life is never static, but always wishes to be aspiring and developing towards new and untried possibilities ties. 

So what I feel the term a loving God really means, is that this God is trying to develop us to a stage where we can become His friends in this deeply loving, active, personalised way which allows the creative fruits of a friendship to arise between them which constantly keeps pace with the liveliness and creative aspiration of the living spirit of our common Divine nature. 

Note from BGC

This passage from Arkle, and some others on a similar theme, worked on me over time to create a powerful recognition of validity; that we ought not to aim to worship God, but to become 'divine friends' with God; because this is what God most wants from us, and there is an answering desire from deep within us.

God ultimately does Not want to be 'worshipped' by his grown-up children, any more than any Good Man wants to be worshipped by his grown-up children. That is, worship is accepted as a normal and necessary phase of maturation; but it is not the eventual or permanent ideal. The hope is that it will give way to a relationship of complementary, each-different, and loving, friends - both of whom are united in loving God and participating (with God and each other) in the ongoing work of creation.

Another way this passage affected me, is that there is a personal and directed love which is higher and more active, more dynamic than the 'passive' love which radiates out in all directions. This distinguishes between the personal active love idealised by Christianity - which is as strong as our strongest and most personal love; and the passive, impersonal, static state of abstract love that is the ideal of 'Eastern' religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

Such love has more recently been adopted (in a materialistic and distorted form) by the modern advocates of Leftism. In terms of the 'universalist' ethic of equal altruism - mainstream modern Leftism supposes that we love everybody and everything equally regardless of response or outcome. This kind of 'universal' love is passive and cut-off; implies a static state of being - rather than an active and developing relationship; and is as weak as our weakest affection.

The secular 'Right' (which is actually just a subset of the Left) may modify and restrict the universalism of love to some category as nation, race, party - but are also abstract and passive in terms of the nature of this love.

Religions other than Christianity (and Christians who have missed the point) fail to recognise the primacy of love in God's nature; and develop theologies that may include love but - again - love of the universal, abstract, static and passive type. 

For Christians, only love that is personal and active/dynamic will suffice; and this love is spread only as far and as fast as networks of personal love may link us; that is, person by person within families (including especially our divine family) and among real (divine) friends.


William Wildblood said...

I actually think the difference between what you are calling here active and passive love is between love and not love!

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I agree that passive love is not what jesus intended, and is not truly Christian; although many Christians, esepcially monks and intellectuals, have hade a passive/ static view of love - often related to their philosophical Platonism and general abstraction.

But such Christians, and people of other religions who insist that 'love' is an important element in their faith - are referring to this kind of abstract love. I agree that it should not really be regarded as the same kind-of-thing as Christian love; perhaps it is more of a kind of 'benign' (rather than truly loving) feeling; that God/ the universe is not hostile - but wants us to be comfortable, free of suffering, enjoying existence, perhaps even blissful.

I also think that Arke is correct when he says (elsewhere) that God will 'do his best to' accomodate people who want this from life; want to be alone, unselfconscious - in a kind of static comfortable sleep, or maybe bliss... Why not? It is not what God wants us to choose - but if we do choose it, and God can provide it, I think he would do so.

But that is different from trying to persuade other people Not to aspire to a personal/ active/ dynamic love of God (and fellow men). So those who teach against the Christian, who mock it, subvert it, try to silence it etc. That would be (and is) a sin - and evil (although sin can be repented) - because it works against God, the Good and creation.

Francis Berger said...

Great post. I agree with William's comment. Maybe another way of framing it could be through the lens of quality /quantity?

Active love seems to be primarily about quality. Depending on a person's capacity to love, this active love could expand over time to include much, but this increase in quantity could never be at the expense of quality.

Conversely, passive love seems to value quantity over quality. It is a mass-produced, faux-altruistic, and mostly abstract notion of love. The more it spreads itself out, the more its quality decreases until it becomes nothing more than a word/signal, assuming it was anything more to begin with.

Lucinda said...

I really like the message about responsiveness. I’ve made a lot of progress as a parent as I’ve thought on this philosophy. I’m much better able to delight in my family relationships, with all the difficulties of daily living. I’m less frustrated with necessities. I’m less impatient for some future deliverance, though I still look forward to things, like kids advancing in capability.

I’m a more responsive mom and I delight in their particular responses. It’s really great because this goodness used to be more elusive and I tried to force it, but my problem was in trying to effect the more abstract kind of love, which ends up being more showy and vain rather than really loving.

Anyway, so I’ve really appreciated this distinction.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - That's wonderful to hear. Arkle has been such a help to me, and now to some others.

I shall soon, I hope, be letting readers know that some of his work is going to be newly re-published for the first time.

Nancy Pfaff said...

Thanks for this article. The idea of moving to be a "friend" of God is certaninly my experience and is initiated by God. It's not a goal we achieve in our own power and intention, although we can align ourselves with God in such a way as to make ourselve ready.

I have recently learned a powerful reason to worship however. If worship is an acknowdgement of a power greater than ourseves, it reminds the ego to relax, let go, and more union with God as Love becomes possible. When this happens, one can enter into a union with God not possible before. (Of course there are other ways to keep the ego from being Master of the house.) I'm using "ego" as defined in depth psychology as the center of consciousness. The more union with God in love, the more we experience our true self freed to be who we were born to be.