Friday, March 8, 2013

Why Love Wins

My reading list is insane.

Here, I'm not complaining about how many books are in the holding pattern.  I'm saying, "It's insane," as in, DSM-certifiable.   Having just dispatched statistician Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise, I'm now most of the way through Blaise Pascal's Pensees.  Pascal is flawed but undeniably delicious, a delightful mind whose prose shimmers with a salon-sharpened wit.

The next book in the rotation?  A pastel-covered book by popular bestselling Christian author Stormie Omartian.  It's titled The Power of a Praying Cat, or something like that.   And yes, that's her real name, although I'm invariably tempted to write that surname O'Martian.

And then?  Then on to Rob Bell's Love Wins.  See?  Totally crazy.  Wild!  Wanton!  Utter chaos!

That last one I've been meaning to read for a while, particularly as my little church handed Bell's book out to our graduating seniors as they went off to college.  It seemed useful, a gracious and rational counterbalance to the callow dorm-room anti-theism they're likely to encounter.  But I hadn't read it.  Mostly, I've read reviews, some fluffy support, some raging bile, others more measured and balanced.

What intrigues me from my pre-reading, though, is that while Bell makes the theological case for the victory of God's love over all things, he doesn't appear to make the leap into the created order.

Of course we want love to win.  It's love, dammit.  But does it?  If we look out at the world, it often doesn't appear to be the case.  Love is for the weak and the bleeding hearts.   Love gets its [butt] kicked after school.  Love is cut down by AR15 fire as it puts itself between the children and the shooter.  And the kids still die.

Look out at the world.  It's red in tooth and claw, savagely Darwinian and seemingly loveless.  Partisanship wins.  Snark wins.  Hate wins.   But love?  Is there a rational case for the victory of the compassion that is at the heart of what Jesus taught?

Here, my wildly profligate reading has stirred a thought, one I'm chewing over in my mind.   Love wins because love is stronger.   Love is much, much stronger.  Why?

Because love can adapt, and hate cannot.   Love can change, and hate cannot.

A sentient being governed by love as a defining principle will approach another being as having something to offer.  It will encounter a new reality as a new opportunity.   If you love another, you can see from their perspective, moving beyond the confines of your subjectivity into a place in between.  We don't do that perfectly.  The existential walls between us are high.   But we can, nonetheless, get there.  With a little help, sure, but we can get there.

The individual governed by love does not exist wholly within themselves.   They may not embrace everything they encounter, but they're open to new things in every encounter.  That means that when the [poop] hits the fan, they're smart enough to duck, or to at least to close their mouths for a moment.

Love learns.  It grows.  It adapts.  It does not cling to biases.   That means that when the world changes, Love is ready.

Hate?  Hate doesn't do that so well.  Hate only knows one thing: itself.  A being governed by hatred is a being ruled by the self it already knows.  Difference and the Other are to be destroyed or subjugated.  Hate defines itself by rigidly clinging to what it is.  Hate wants power.  Hate wants control.  It seeks to dominate the world, to force the entire universe into the narrative of itself that is the only thing it is willing to hear.

And when it encounters the deep complexity of God's creation, hate rails and snarls and lashes out.  But what hate does not do, because it can't do it, is change.

Eventually, that means that hate is either destroyed by the change to which it cannot adapt or devoured by itself.

Love is what it looks like when sentient beings succeed.  Hate?  Hate is the defining feature of failed individuals, and doomed cultures, and species that have flirted with sentience and then regressed.

Lord help us.