Love and the Will to Power: Between Nietzsche and Jung

Carl Jung writes, though I have been unable to locate precisely where, that “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking.” It is immensely difficult for any interpreter to attempt to accurately convey the hermeneutical or exegetical meaning of an isolated passage that has been ripped from its full context. Endeavors to do so are far more likely to be examples of eisegesis, positing one’s own meaning into or upon the text, rather than an actual example of exegesis, that is, a “critical interpretation” of the text (Merriam-Webster, my emphasis added). This is not to say that each and every act of ‘interpretation’ is utterly objective, unbiased, and free of agenda and personal view. Indeed, every exegetical escapade contains within it the seed or kernel of eisegesis. This is to say that when one seeks to interpret the thought permeating behind a single passage outside of its context, one’s interpretive and hermeneutical resources are limited almost only to one’s subjectively biased view of its meaning. So it is that this paper proceeds with caution, hesitancy, and trepidation at the analysis of Jung’s statement. This paper must advance in a manner that is phenomenlogically provisional. It will progress as-if it’s current understanding of Jung’s quote is correct. In this regard, the thesis of this paper surmises to show that what Nietzsche and Jung each respectively mean by ‘power’ is diametrically opposed.

Jung seems to be suggesting that love and power are absolutely antithetical forces, polar opposites, and ends that can never meet. The acceptance of one is immediately and necessarily the rejection, the negation, and the subversion of the other. To love is to forego power and to attain power is to vanquish love. Here, Jung seems to equate ‘power’ with domination, specifically the domination of another. This is the active subordination of another into the position of subservience, i.e. a master and a slave. Jung implies that this is the “will to power”. Yet, is this what Nietzsche has in mind when he speaks of power? Is this the kind of power that is being sought at the heart of Nietzsche’s Will to Power? Is love nothing more than powerlessness? Is power only representative of dominion? This essay aims to show that Jung’s interpretation of the ‘will to power’ could not be more of a misinterpretation.

Nietzsche’s work is unavoidably shrouded in mystery, ambivalence, and ambiguity. Travis Elborough states plainly that Nietzsche’s writing “resists literal readings” (7). As such, his thought is marked by an elusive impenetrability. His meaning and aims will not be found at the surface. One must probe deeply, beyond the appearance or the peripheral understanding of the words themselves. A cursory reading will simply not do.

Many have interpreted Nietzsche’s Will to Power as being congruent with what Jung alludes to as the will to dominate. This seems especially so in that Nietzsche seems to propose that what gives apt expression to the Will to Power is found within his categorizations of Master and Slave Morality. Although this would appear to give testimony to Nietzsche’s supposed adherence to a suppressive supremacy and although it is a common conception to view Nietzsche’s Will to Power as a kind of tyrannical oppression, it is above all a common mis-conception. So what is it that Nietzsche means by Will to Power? What does he mean by Master and Slave morality? How do these conceptions diverge from what Jung implies? To understand this more lucidly one must turn to what is in entailed within Nietzsche’s propositions of Master and Slave morality.

It seems obvious that Master morality is indicative of “the powerful and strong willed” (Oaklander, 85). It also seems to go without saying that Slave morality is representative of “those people who are weak willed, uncertain of themselves, oppressed, and abused” (85). While such an understanding is easily discernible what seems less obvious is what exactly the ‘master’ has mastered and what the enslaved is enslaved to. While the natural conclusion or assumption would be that the master is master over a slave and that a slave is enslaved to a master, and although this would seem to be the relationship Jung is describing, this would not be entirely conducive to what Nietzsche is aiming towards.

In Nietzsche’s mind a master is not necessarily the master of a slave and a slave is not necessarily one who is enslaved or subservient to a master. Nietzsche’s classifications are not representing a socioeconomic framework but rather the orientation of a psychological internality. In this regard, one need not be a master of a slave to exhibit master morality and one need not be a slave to someone to demonstrate slave morality. A captive can be the epitome of master morality and a lord can all too easily exemplify slave morality. In fact, Nietzsche would specify that one whose status as a master defined only by one’s dominance over another is not actually a master, as this would actually be an indication of weakness rather than power. In this scenario the master is truly a slave to the slave. Here, the master’s ‘power’ is absolutely externalized and completely contingent upon the presence of the slave. The slave is the necessary predicate of not only the master’s power but, also the master’s standing as a master. This kind of power is nothing more than a disguised impotency lusting after power through the use of control, manipulation, and resentment. Nietzsche himself writes that “the state in which we hurt others…is a sign that we are still lacking power” (108). This would then be slave morality.

L. Nathan Oaklander explains that “The strong willed are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (85). A master is a creative force, one who is ultimately “value-creating” and one who has the ‘powerful’ determination to direct their lives in a manner consistent with the values they have created (Nietzsche, 115). Master morality is the full acceptance of one’s responsibility for their existence as an individual. A true master is marked by their ability to ‘conquer’ themselves, to transcend themselves, to determine themselves, to master themselves (Hayman, 35). This is the master’s Will to Power, “a will to perfection, a striving for distinction” (Oaklander, 82).

In this regard, the slave is the antithesis of the master. The slave is one who lacks self-mastery and the strength of will to be creative and self-determinative. The slave is enslaved to normativity, convention, society, tradition, conformity, and mediocrity. The slave lives in complete compliance to external dictates, resenting those who have striven for excellence and attained freedom. The slave exercises their will to power through implicit domination and forced coercion, vilifying those who have achieved power and individuality and branding them as ‘evil’ (Oaklander, 86). This, then, is an “inversion” of the Will to Power, which “directs one’s view outward instead of back to oneself” (Nietzsche, 117). This is not an expression of true power but, only the desirous drive for the feeling of power which arises from an impotent lack of power. In this sense, it is true that “where [this kind of] power predominates, love is lacking”.

But, what does all this have to do with love? What does it say about the compatibility of love and the Will to Power? Love is a dangerous endeavor. Love, as an event, entails a “radical break with the existing state of affairs” (Van Onzen). Love is marked by risk. Alain Badiou explains that “love involves a separation or disjuncture based on the simple difference between the two people and their infinite subjectivities” (27). Love, too, itself, is a ‘value-creating’ force. Love requires a “commitment to create something unique that does not rely on…social conventions” and persevering determination to live in accordance with what has been created (Van Onzen). Love is not for the faint of heart but, the strong-willed, those who have the strength to be self-transcendent. Perhaps, then, not only can love exist alongside the Will to Power; perhaps love is the Will to Power.

There may be many who will see the proposals of this paper as obtuse and incoherent. Some may suggest that the thesis here within grossly and inaccurately misinterprets not only Nietzsche and Jung but, also Love and the Will to Power. This is certainly plausible as the writer of this essay is neither a Nietzschean scholar nor a Jungian scholar. This written work may be little more than the personal view of the author’s subjective bias. This writing took place without the proper context of Jung’s citation and remains primarily unlearned of the entirety of Nietzsche’s corpus. However, what this paper has demonstrated is that the reading of Nietzsche’s Will to Power as presented here is readily available within Nietzsche’s work and within the work of Nietzsche’s most adherent interpreters.

As far as Jung is concerned, this writer cannot counter the objection that the quote presented is taken out of context. It is true that it is. However, in this point some may still persist that there is nothing but incongruence between love and power. The simple rebuttal that this author can offer is the brute fact that love is, in fact, a ‘powerful’ force. This is undeniably seen throughout the pages of history. Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr., self-empowered, strong-willed self-determined people, marked by self-mastery who through great acts of love had the power to impact the world. They are individuals who have not only directed themselves but, who directed the course of history itself. These are people of supreme courage, able to transcend themselves, overcoming and withstanding the abusive violence of societal norms and conventions, carving out and creating whole new ways of understanding what it means to be human. These figures demonstrate that love is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. They reveal that it takes great power to bear the weighted risk of love and there is great power gained in taking the risk of loving.

Nietzsche’s master morality enables one to see that within the Will to Power there is the active creation of strength, excellence, determination, and value, as well as the commitment, responsibility, and courage to live in alignment with the constructions of one’s creation. In this regard, contrary to what Jung seems to suggest, the Will to Power does not close out the possibility of love but, rather widely throws open the doors to welcome love in. Love is power. Where love rules, there is the true Will to Power, and where this power predominates, love is never lacking.

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain. In Praise of Love. New York: Serpent’s Tail, 2012. Print.

Elborough, Travis. The Pocket Essential Nietzsche. North Promfret: Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2001. Print.

“exegesis.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Oaklander, L. Nathan. Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 115-116. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From On the Genealogy of Morals. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 117-121. Print.

Van Onzen, Fabian. Review of In Praise of Love. Marx & Philosophy Review of Books. Marx & Philosophy Society, 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

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The Womb of the Social: Nurturing the Birth of ‘Mothering’ Contractions

Gustavo Guiterrez writes that “Human history has been written by a white hand, a male hand, from the dominating social class” (1976, 6). Guiterrez goes on to say explain that “Attempts have been made to wipe from their minds the memories of their struggles” but, “This is to deprive them of a source of energy, of an historical will to rebellion” (1976, 6). Likewise, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza shows that “Historians, philosophers, and anthropologists have emphasized that current scholarly theory and research are deficient because they neglect women’s lives and contributions and construe humanity and human history as male” (1984, xvi). These sentiments exhibit the imperative behind the work of Virginia Held and why the perspective she offers is so elucidating and so integrally vital, especially in regards to political and social thought and theory.

Indeed, Held, herself, makes these precise distinctions in her assessment of societal organization and corresponding social contracts stating that
Actual societies are the results of war, exploitation, racism, far more than of social contracts. Economic and political realities are the outcomes of economic strength triumphing over economic weakness more than of a free market. And rather than a free market of ideas, we have a culture in which the loudspeakers that are the mass media drown out the soft voices of free expression (2011, 782).

In this way, Held is both critical and skeptical of social contract theory’s validity and premises, explicitly questioning its framing narratives. If we look back to our Paleolithic ancestry we will find that our ‘Original Position’ in regards to social formation and interaction is perhaps nothing resembling the civilization of independent contractors supposed necessary by social contract theorists. The necessitation of the social contract proposed by such contract theorists as Rawls, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc,.., seems to be rather ahistorical, in that,they are something of a Westernized reflection of post-agricultural revolution societies posited upon pre-Neolithic civilizations, cultures, and contexts. Held concludes that “To see contractual relations between self-interested or mutually disinterested individuals as constituting a paradigm of human relations is to take a certain historically specific conception of ‘economic man’ as representative of humanity” (2011, 782). From an evolutionary perspective such a posturing would lead to a diminishment rather than an advancement of a species’ evolutionary fitness, that is, it’s ability to succeed in passing it’s genes on to the next generation. What is displayed in the assessments of many social contract theorists is perhaps a fetishization of the predominating structures and institutions as an idealization (perhaps even an idol-ization) set as a welcomed alternative to a fallaciously conceived ‘state of nature’, which is far more representative of the bias implicit within the ‘contractual’ framework rather than anything historically or anthropologically sound.

Instead, what we will see in humanity’s early stages are loose confederations of close-knit, kin-based hunter/gatherer societies that are familial in orientation. Humanity, then, is primarily relational rather than contractual. This seems to give added precedence to Held’s notion of ‘mothering’. Contracts create ‘obligations’, they do not create bonds, kinship, or relationships. Within the social contract individuals are incentivized or coerced to do only their duty, that is, to do only what is required of them, pursuing self-interest above all else with the exclusion of only that which causes harm to another. In this regard, contracts thrive upon ‘volunteerism’, ‘noninterference’ and ‘inaction’. Where as, Held’s focus upon the mother/child relationship centers upon “relationships that are nonvoluntary” and responsibilities that are “noncontractual…where the primary motive is concern for another’s welfare” (Calhoun 2011, 780). Even Rawls,himself, recognizes that “No society can…be a scheme of cooperation which men enter voluntarily in a literal sense; each person finds himself placed at birth in some particular position in some particular society, and the nature of this position materially affects his life prospects” (2011, 695). Kant, too, falls short here. Kant declares the universal imperative to treat others as ends in themselves yet, even his categorical imperative is implicitly self-centered, still treating others as means to an end, in that, one only treats others a certain way as a means to achieving their own preferred treatment. In other words, one’s self remains the ultimate end. Maternality or ‘Mothering’, instead, is responsive to needs, emphasizing care, “fostering transformative growth,” leading to “trust, cooperation, loyalty, and moral concern” (Calhoun 2011, 780). Held seems to make clear that the flourishing (blooming, blossoming, growth, development) of the individual and the flourishing of the community/society will require a ‘nurturing’ cultivation. Nothing short of a mother’s love will do.
Calhoun, Cheshire. “Virginia Held: Introduction.” In Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts, 2nd ed, edited by Steven M. Cahn, 778-781. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Gutierrez, Gustavo. “Where Hunger is, God is Not.” The Witness . April 1976.
Held, Virginia. “From Non-contractual Society: A Feminist View.” In Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts 2nd ed, edited by Steve M. Cahn, 782-795. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York: Crossroad Publishing co., 1984.

A Few Further Notes on Rob Bell ‘After Magic’

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled “Rob Bell After Magic.” The focus of the piece wasn’t so much upon Bell himself but, rather upon exemplifying what I found to be some of the most profound and powerful ideas within Kester Brewin’s latest book After Magic. To re-cap the book examines several key culturally recognizable films and works of literature to draw attention to the move ‘beyond-magic’. That is, each of the stories synchronistically display the protagonist laying down ‘magic’, rejecting and abandoning ‘super-nature’ in order to bring about a resolution that breaks the addictive cycle of power and violence, there-by strengthening the bonds and ties to humanity itself.

Rob Bell has recently spoken out in regards to his affirmative support of  marriage equality. This story has certainly been making the rounds on news sites and the blogosphere. While, I normally try to avoid jumping on these kind of topical band wagons, after reading Brewin’s book I couldn’t help but see an illustration of Brewin’s theme within Bell’s statements.
When Bell was asked to convey his thoughts on whether the Christian knowledge of “Truth” has ultimacy, Bell had this to say:
“I would say that the powerful, revolutionary thing about Jesus’ message is that he says, ‘What do you do with the people that aren’t like you? What do you do with the Other? What do you do with the person that’s hardest to love?’ . . . That’s the measure of a good religion, is – you can love the people who are just like you; that’s kind of easy. So what Jesus does is takes the question and talks about fruit. He’s interested in what you actually produce. And that’s a different discussion. How do we love the people in the world that are least like us?”

This seems to illustrate another key point made in Brewin’s After MagicBrewin writes that “The love we see ‘after magic’ is a love that prefers others to the self.” After magic “ultimacy” is not known or given to ‘Truth’ in and of itself. The Ultimacy of ‘Truth’ is only known in the ‘Truth’ of the other. The other is the only ultimate truth which  we must know. This represents a dramatic within the sphere of religion. When religion moves beyond ‘super-nature’, as Brewin proposes, “in place of the sermon on ‘how should you live?’ escaping from under the demand to worship and defer to commandments of super-nature, faith ‘after magic’ asks simply this: ‘how should you love?’” Yet, this ‘love’ that finds expression within religion after magic and beyond super-nature is not to be confused for romance, sentimentality, charity, or simple compassion. This would be an objectivization of the other, in effect, a transformation of the ‘other’ into another ‘Big Other,’ a new ‘magical’ fixation, a ‘super-naturalizing’ of the other. This prevents one from actually engaging and encountering the other. Perhaps, ‘love’ after-magic entails a kind of reflexive subjectivization, a cold naivety, a cruel ethicality, and an utter confrontation of ugliness and monstrosity. Perhaps, ‘love’ after-magic is a call to love dangerously…

Here’s a great post a read not too long ago from one of the blogs I follow called “Living the Kingdom.” This was a striking piece for me as it seemed to hit very close to home and greatly mirrors not only much of my own thoughts and feelings on the subject of religious institutions and particularly Christianity but, is also very similar to the writings and reflections of my own work, especially in pieces I’ve written such as such as “Religionless?” and “Authentic Christianity?” both of which are written as polemical reflections of the origins and current state of Christianity. Also, on similar grounds are two posts I wrote regarding the observance of Pentecost in the Christian liturgical calender, where I seek to sketch out historical degradation of the degradation of the early Christian movement.  You can find them here and here. Enjoy!

Living the Kingdom

Being a good Christian sounds nice.  But to me, it  is trying to feed the ego so that I can feel better about myself.  It is trying to build up churches, ministries, fellowship, etc. in order to serve the self.  It is worshiping pastors, doctrines, denominations, and convenient interpretation of Bible verses, not serving others like Jesus taught us.  It is not even about Jesus or God, it is simply about the self.

Being a good Christian is  looking for “salvation,” waiting to go “up there” in heaven, or hoping to have some miraculous revelation from God.  Not being a good Christian, on the other hand, would be to stop looking, and simply being.  It means to stop following the church, and start following Jesus.  Now, my personal experience of being is to embrace what I have learned is good and practice it everyday.  It is not to do what…

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Dialogues of a Christian Atheist, pt.2

A few weeks ago I posted a blog entry titled “I Don’t Believe in God but, I Take Jesus Seriously,” and a few of my close friends were kind enough to push back on some of the ideas expressed there in. This is quite possibly one of the most beneficent attributes of dialogic relationships with those  who are of divergent views and perspectives. Rev. Scott Elliott, who is the pastor of Riviera United Church of Christ and the host of A God Vlog, is one such friend. He offers engaging conversation that is both probing and never content to simply allow my notions to hang in the air unquestioned. This often forces me to chase down my own thoughts further than I may have initially been prepared to. I’d to think that is reciprocal, that my own suggestions push him out of his comfort zone but, his arguments are often far more conducive then those I present. Thus, in this post below and the next few that will follow will consist of some of his thoughts in response to the aforementioned blog entry and my follow up to his appraisals. Enjoy!

Rev. Elliott: I have yet to find a way to satisfactorily convey my conviction that this love siren and loving way we are drawn to can also –if we want or choose–safely, sanely, rationally be named God. This experience of being we are in has that siren you/we hear in it, and if we go to where it is beckoning we end up loving. We don’t have to call it God; we can believe it is not God. It only matters because it means (aside from semanitics) that we are on the same page, love is the point. And love by any other name is still love. (Or as this theologian spins it, if God is experienced as love –a very Biblically sound claim– then love by any other name is still God).

 Hmmm I still didn’t get it right, but, this all depends on what the definition of God is. I’m assuming that the “God” you do not believe in, is something other than love.

Response:  I can’t confess to have the capacity to conducively convey my thoughts on this subject in a satisfying manner either. Perhaps, in some regards, it is a question of semantics. For me, the “word,” as well s the concept, “God” is problematic. It seems that in many ways, “God,” is a void of meaning word. Paul Van Buren said that the word God itself is “either meaningless or misleading.” Van Buren goes on to say that “we cannot identify anything which will count for or against the truth of our statements concerning God.”

Its here that the word operatively falls into utter subjectivity, it is filled with our own contents, meaning that “God” has meant something different to everyone. As such, Merold Westphal has said, “I’ve never prayed to a God that wasn’t an idol.” In this regard what i garner from atheism is its ability to act as a critical examination, objection, and perhaps even a rejection of all our conception of deity.

To say it another way, any God that I can conceive of is immediately a God hat should be denied or disavowed, as it is ultimately of my own construction.

Perhaps, too, it is a question of “presence” versus “absence.” Given my previous religious upbringing the “presence” of God was the most emphasized aspect of religious worship, practice, and experience. Perhaps, then, an over-exposure to the emphasization and stimulation to this heightened idea or presence is numbing. Thus, what I find more resonant is absence, not the absence of the experience of God but rather the experience of the absence of God.

For me it seems that the imperative call to the “Song” of love beckons more urgently and sings more resoundingly in the absence.

Rev. Elliott: And yet we cannot deny we HEAR that siren call to “LOVE” and feel lured, compelled and on a quest to answer it. Which is a close to truth and identifying as as we can get. Idolizing Love is all that matters. And that I cannot deny or disavow –and empirically it seems to not be of my own construction (though I have certainly dinged, dented and re-painted it on my own, but it still runs).

Response: I would whole heartedly agree that the “idolization of love” ( I Love that by the way) is most central. It is compelling above all else. Here we are precisely on the same page, where we diverge perhaps is that I am content simply with “love,” this is a word powerful enough, that doesn’t necessarily need to be renamed. I love that you said “if we choose to” we can call it God, I can willingly admit that I “choose” to just let love be love and let love be enough.

Dialogues of a Christian Atheist, pt.1

Last week I released a post entitled “I Don’t Believe in God but, I Take Jesus Seriously.” This entry managed to stir quite a bit of dialogue, discussion, and debate between myself and a few close friends. It was nice to know that something I wrote helped to solicit and foster such an engaging discourse. As a result I thought it might be beneficial to share several portions of this conversation. Feel free to interject.

I should also preface what follows by saying that I am in no way philosophically or theologically learned enough to significantly, meaningfully, or effectively participate in the argumentation of such a rich and complex subject, so feel free to disagree and throw away anything I have to say. Nearly 80% of what I say is 95% bullshit 50% of the time. (Did I mention math really isn’t my strong suit either?)

Directly below you’ll find the comments of one of my friends to the aforementioned post, after which will be my response. Enjoy!

 Isn’t the fact of accepting the concept of a incomprehensible God still a construct of your imagination and hence putting you into the same dilemma? Seems like a paradox to me. Could it be more that we were created to look upon him with our own imaginations so that we might learn how much bigger he is than we can conceive and hence realize the magnitude and vastness of the eternal form? (God) my 2 cents…

Yes and no.To start, the idea that you present in your concluding remarks does not evade the paradoxical either, but falls neatly inside as a further example. Steeped within the very rhetoric of your expression is found the very traditional image of a creative Male/Patriarchal, omnipotent, supernatural being that has imbued humanity with wonder and imagination. This is just as much a cognitive construction as any other.

Thus, to be free of paradox is an unattainable objective. One could say that existence itself is an entangled mesh of contradiction, paradox, and that which is often found to be counter-intuitive. Paradox is inescapable. Also, in many ways the reconciliation or resolution of paradox is phenomenologically and existentially irrelevant, i.e. often it has little to no bearing in one’s lived experience of the world.

Too, I’m not sure that I’m “accepting” the concept of an incomprehensible God.What I am suggesting is not a critique of “a” conception but, a critical objection to “all” conceptions, as such that no conception is free of subjective construction. To quote Paul Van Buren once again, the word God itself is either “meaningless or misleading.” I’m not rejecting a particular idea of God but the idea of God itself. Nor am I proposing that God is utterly inconceivable of infinitely beyond conception. I’m suggesting that perhaps “God” simply isn’t there.

This is not to caste conceptions of God in a harsh light. I am not saying that one should be required to abandon their ideas of God (as would a Dawkins or a Hitchens). What I am asking for is the acknowledgement that there is no conception of the divine that is not personally posited. There is no God that “exists” (for lack of better word) that was not brought into existence by those who believe that God exists. Perhaps, then, a more accurate rendering of the opening lines of Genesis should read, “In the beginning, when man created God…”

To be clear, however, this should not be read as an attack. I’m not opposing theism. I’m not opposing religion. I don’t believe in God and here I am very intentional in my use of the word “believe.” It is just that, a belief, and one that I choose to lend ascent to in the way that a theist would “choose” to believe in God. It is a decisive move. I choose this path of “rejection” for much the same reasons that “believer” would choose affirmation. It is existentially provisional. It instills something ( I use this word loosely) within my being that is transformative to both my material reality and my engagement with the world. I am compelled to love more deeply, called to a more critical concern, if my hands are the only means by which love enters the world.

My stance is ultimately one of utility and pragmatism, as all such beliefs are. I am concerned with functionality. If holding a conception God lures one to love, then I will stand in affirmation of that system of belief. If it takes there being a “God” for one to love their neighbor as themselves then I will abide in solidarity that person’s belief. If a six day creation and a literal, infallible, and inspired “Word of God” causes one to love their enemy, to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, and to stand with the orphan, the widow and the stranger, then by all means cling to that but, do so with an open hand and a humble heart. For me, however, the absence of the Big Other is more alluring action. To fill the void left by the absence of the divine compels me to a deeper place of calling more so than the “presence” of any idea of deity ever could.

Perhaps tomorrow I will awaken to a renewed sense of imbibed theism. Perhaps years from now I will look upon these writings as the confused ramblings of a mixed up kid and as the confessions of a damaged mind but, for now, if I am honest with myself, with those whom I love and care for, and with those who love and care for me, this is a space in which I feel I MUST dwell, if for nothing else than for a season.

The Violence of Humility

One of the classes I’ve been taking this semester as part of my Undergraduate program in Religion is “Myth and Ritual.” This class has been positively awash with lively discussion. As part of our multicultural and multiregional exploration of the role, place, significance, and meaning of societal myth we recently read and examined an African fertility myth belonging to the Fon tribe entitled “The Quarrel between Sagbata and Sogbo.”
This myth recounts the rivalry of two sibling deities, Sagbata and Sogbo, both sons of the Great Creator Goddess Mawu. Mawu, having stepped aside from her reign, enlists her sons to be co-rulers of the Universe; yet, the relationship between the two brothers is marked by tension and tumult. As each refuses to cooperate with the other they bitterly part ways. Sagbata, the oldest brother, decides to descend to earth and live amongst humankind while Sogbo remains a tenet of the sky. Sogbo, after having gained more power and the allegiance the other sky deities and still angry with his brother, ceases all rain from falling to earth thus, inflicted a three year draught upon the land and all its inhabitants. Having seen the immense devastation caused by this draught Sagbata, decides to cede to the rule of Sogbo and Sagbata gives Sogbo his inherited portion of universal control and power, in return for rain and the restoration of life to the earth, its creatures, and its people. Sogbo accepts, sends reign, and the two brothers are then reunited in friendship.
In the classroom discussion that followed this reading I suggested that this story is illustrative of the World healing power of humility. One of my classmates rightfully refuted this claim as only one of the brothers, Sagbata, exhibited a decided enactment of humilitude.
This is an excellent point and I can certainly see where the confusion arises in the story of Sagbata and Sogbo, especially in reference to humility, being that only one of the two seems to actually learn the lesson. Yet, I think, in a way, that is part of the lesson in and of itself. Often those situations where the acts of the humble are most detrimentally necessitated, humility is neither reciprocal nor participatory. It is the willful diminishment of oneself, it is self-sacrificial. Had Sagbata waited for a mutual expression of humility the whole of the created order would have surely broken down beyond repair before either party would have budged. Thus, through the solitary act of Sagbata lowering himself, the doors to restoration, both ecologically and familial, are flung open wide, in ways that they would have never been otherwise.

This reminds me of the endeavors of figures such as Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. Each decisively “turned the other cheek” and refused to return violence with more violence. Yet, these are not acts of weakness; on the contrary, these are the most powerful acts possible. These acts do more violence to the structures of power than the most malicious acts of violence the power structures can do to others. Humility is the ultimate negating act. It turns the entire systems of power upside down.

Oppressive and vengeful acts of violence are not acts of power rather they are acts of absolute impotence. It is only through the forced subjugation of a victim that the oppressor can garner power. The oppressor is ultimately weak and displays his weakness and hunger for power through his insistence of violent pursuits, as he can only attain power by robbing the victim of power. Humility on the other hand, is the game changer; it is the wrench in the gears of this system. The would be victim denies participation in this ritual by refusing to be robbed of his power, instead he rather willfully and freely offers it to the would be oppressor. By doing this the victim refuses to play the part of the victim and the potentially oppressed does not lose his power but more fully attains and inhabits it. Thus, as there is no victim, the oppressor can no longer fulfill his role as the oppressor and is forced to more fully inhabit his weakness