The Enduring Fragility of Love

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Christian love is not romance, affection, and sentimentality.  It is transgressive, a love that disturbs and destabilizes as much as it binds and connects. Slavoj Zizek calls Christian love an unplugging or uncoupling [1] Love unplugs us from our original organic communities (families, circles of chosen intimate friends) in order to inscribe us within a larger community. Not that it severs all familial ties, but that it severs us from the belief that there must only be familial ties, or better: That familial ties must increase and expand, and do so exponentially. Love does this through re-orienting the ways in which we value and interact with knowledge.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Kierkegaard wrote, “Love believes all things—and yet is never deceived.” [2] He contrasts this belief with mistrust, which believes nothing and yet is nevertheless deceived.  People act upon knowledge, he says, but they do so out of either faith or mistrust. Inevitably, this initial negotiation usually degenerates into mistrust; it’s the safer bet. Better to wait until all the facts are in, until I can see that I’m not being deceived. Then I act. But this move is itself deceptive because it assumes that from a vantage point of skepticism (and only from this vantage point) can one act upon knowledge.  Skepticism and pessimism are thus seen as essential in order to both appropriately know and to act on that knowledge.  This move, however, makes knowledge into mistrust, insisting that one can only know something through disbelief, and therefore that everyone must come to the same conclusions about our world through a process that relies on skepticism and disbelief. It assumes everyone mistrusts and everyone gains knowledge in this way.  But, Kierkegaard argues, by virtue of belief one can arrive at opposite conclusions based on the same knowledge, meaning that such knowledge need not be gained mistrustfully, and further, that certain things simply cannot be seen or known through skepticism. He insists that love is just as knowledgeable as mistrust.  Love is a way of knowing. The one who believes through love sees goodness where others cannot.  She sees many things that the loveless, or the deceptively loving do not see. Indeed, one can be deceived that one is loving.  False love blinds itself to the other, ignoring weakness and faults in order to project a fantastical image of itself on the blank screen that the other becomes.  True love loves the other because the other is other.  The loving believer (the one who believes all things through love) no longer sees opposition between appearance and reality and thus no longer makes idols of that which she knows.

Importantly, a love that believes all things does not produce certainty. (Or if it does produce a certainty it is a certainty that I can never be certain). Just as love is meant to unplug us from our original organic communities, it also unplugs knowledge from absolute certainty. It does not make things easy; on the contrary, it makes things more difficult.  Christian charity, says Zizek, is “rare and fragile, to be fought for and regained again and again.” Both Kierkegaard and Zizek refer to love as the work of love: “Love is the work of love—the hard and arduous work of repeated ‘uncoupling’ in which, again and again, we have to disengage ourselves from the inertia that constrains us to identify with the particular order we were born into…Christian unplugging is not an inner contemplative stance, but the active work of love which necessarily leads to the creation of an alternative community.” [3] Pauline Christianity is after the creation of an erotic community of lovers instead of an epistemic community of knowers. This doesn’t mean that knowledge becomes worthless or even relegated to second-class status within the community. It means that it no longer occupies the position of the sole crown and prize of religious life, the gateway for community acceptance and legitimacy, a crown that is worn and a prize that is won when knowledge is inextricably tied to certainty. Instead, the most important knowledge becomes knowledge gained in an through love. What we know and how we know it are amorously transformed.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 
Whether knowledge is complete or incomplete, love endures.  Zizek insists that love is there only for incomplete beings, those who possess incomplete knowledge.  “Faith, hope, and love” only abide when I am incomplete, when I am uncertain.  Paul insists, after all, that without love I am nothing.  But it is not that with love I then become something, but that, in love, I am also nothing but a nothing humbly aware of myself, a nothing made richer by awareness of my lack, and an awareness of the infinite creative complexity of the world, which I could never fully comprehend. Humbled and uncoupled from certainty and familiarity, I am therefore able to plug myself into more and more other realities and communities as my love becomes deeper, more vulnerable, and more capable of intimacy.
Love is fragile; it appears, and then is gone, the sublime object eluding our grasp again and again. Love, the agape that Christianity describes so well, must be fought for and regained again and again. It eludes our grasp, so we must constantly seek after it.  At the same time, however, love endures because it ultimately outlasts all knowledge and all mysteries.  It is the vehicle through which we disclose ourselves within our vulnerability, through which we can believe all things because in it and through it all things are revealed, allowing us to see what the loveless are forever blind to.  Love knows things which cannot be known in any other way. It allows us to relate to one another as lovers first and in that way become knowers as believers.
[1] Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? (Verso, 2008), 119.
[2] Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 226.
[3] Zizek, 120.


Comments

  1. It’s an outside possibility that I’ll write on something other than love at some point. Maybe.

  2. Very thought provoking. I don’t think I’m totally on board, but possibly won’t be able to dedicate the time necessary to discovering and expressing why. Wanted you to know that I read it with interest and attention, all the same.

    Consider this saying by wives and girlfriends in all times and all places, “you don’t love me, you don’t even know me.” I’m not sure that love is part of a mode of observation so much as the end result of true observation. Or, better, that love becomes part of one’s mode of operation only after experience handled truthfully. Possibly truth is higher than love, because truth enables love whereas love doesn’t enable truth. You can say that love that fails to see truthfully is not really love, as per one’s former wife, but I think you go a long way towards depriving love of its real charge in the world by saying so. The distinction between love that has seen truthfully and love that has not may be a distinguishing characteristic of _charity_.

    Hope I get a chance to give this more time, Jacob. It’s certainly worth whatever time we have to give it.

  3. This form of love speaks of a vulnerability, not born of naïveté, but instead born of sight. If I am to have my heart knit together with another I cannot close myself off in fear nor elevate myself above the other with a false sense of superiority. To be knit together I must be open to the contamination that may come from the other, realizing they are at all times vulnerable to the same from me. Love, however, is the great metabolizer and allows us to experience one another fully, allows the other to flow through us and us through them, without risk of poisoning. Again, I am reminded of Brad’s post wherein he points out that when the woman with an issue of blood touched the robe of Jesus He felt virtue flow out of Him. Instead of her sickness (both physical and social) poisoning Him, his love was sufficient to heal. In this way, we need not fear the sickness that is in others (as we hope they will not fear the sickness that is in us), realizing that love is sufficient to cleanse and heal the broken blood we share with one another.

  4. “Or, better, that love becomes part of one’s mode of operation only after experience handled truthfully.”

    operation here s/b observation. Gimme drugs. And I’m late!

  5. Also, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us once again.

  6. “It is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul be loved, even if that soul know him not, bringing him inwardly close to that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the power which springs therefrom dies. Yet all love will, one day, meet with its return. ” ― George MacDonald, Phantastes

  7. I have a growing conviction that the only thing that is really real in this universe is love–pure, divine, unconditional love–simply because in the end, it is love that endures above all else. And everything that we see, hear, touch, smell, taste and feel, and everything that we are, have been, or will possibly be is ulimately and fundamentally an expression of love. Peace and Merry Christmas.

  8. Excellent post.

    “Not that it severs all familial ties, but that it severs us from the belief that there must only be familial ties, or better: That familial ties must increase and expand, and do so exponentially”

    This seems to me to be the idea behind Joseph Smith’s ideas of the sealing power and eternal increase.

  9. StillConfused says:

    As long as this type of love you describe is not abusive, I am okay with it. My issue is with abusive people who behave horribly to someone but then say that they “love” the person. That is not love; that is abuse.

  10. Pauline Christianity is after the creation of an erotic community of lovers instead of an epistemic community of knowers.
    Just thinking about how different our testimony meetings would be if Mormons had the same ideal.

  11. I loved this. Anyone else hear the Zbigniew piece from Three Colors:Blue everytime they read Corinthians now?
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBcwcMFNvsA&w=420&h=315%5D

  12. #9-Amen to that!

    I remember my mother’s comment once about:”I would love you even more if you did the dishes”, making me wonder if love can be predicated on trivial accomplishments.

  13. Love Zizek. More to think about.
    Thanks.

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