A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What Is Love?

What is love? We often speak of love - among family, spouse, and in discussions of morality and God. Many groups teach love, and indeed, love is one of the guiding factors of most world religions. And love is often delineated, broken into different types of love based on the motivation, object, disposition, etc., such as sympathy, compassion, worshipful love of God, romance, and affection. But all of these extend from the same source, and require the same context within which they live and thrive.

It is often said that human beings are unique from animals, or anything else in Creation, in that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Many explanations have been given for this term throughout history: our identity and individuality, reason and intellect, emotion, and free will/moral conscience. And while many of these may be true in defining the Genesis verse, one behavior separates us from all animals: love.

Animal behavior can often appear very similar to human love, particularly that of a pet, and many argue that the attachment and comfortable disposition pets can exhibit towards their owners evidences their capacity for love, particularly in the more cerebrally developed species. But attachment is not love, nor affection which derives from the providence of necessities. While hmans share these feelings with animals, they are not love.

Many animals also exhibit behavior which resembles the romance between human lovers, and many neurologists posit that human romantic love is simply a chemical which eases us into sexual intercourse, in order to pass our genes on in an endless evolutionary chain. But the physical compellation to reproduce, while exemplifying God's desire for procreation and life inscripted into the bodies of all living things as he commanded in Genesis, is a physical urge and emotional attachment based in the brain. Sexual urges are not romance, nor is romance only an attachment to another individual. But romance is a type of love.

Duty is a key motivation in the attachment many parents have to their children, including the decision to have them originally. Believing it is socially important to have children, or simply wishing to have the experience and the "visionary" life of a "normal family", young couples have children. But over time, as they must raise, support and care for their children, they often desire freedom from it, particularly to pursue one another and their career. This leads to frequent neglect of children, and an irreparable distance between child and parent. True love between parent and child derives from the love between the parents themselves, as does the pure desire to procreate. But many couples are attached and sexually attracted to one another, or simply comfortable with one another - not in love. This lack of love leads to neglect of the child, and frequent eventual divorce of the couple.

Love is affirmation - the great "yes" all are called to make by our loving Father. God is the good, and the life, and the truth - we are called to affirm these things by giving ourselves, our comfort, our pleasures, our possessions, for these things, so that they may be proclaimed and fulfilled throughout the world. By the Redemption of Christ, even that which disparages God can affirm Him by conversion, a flip of the coin so to speak, being burned into purification by the Spirit of Love which Christ ushered into the human soul. By sharing this love with the world, we are the light of God, baptizing the world in the fire of love which brings all to the glory it is destined and intended for by its Father in Heaven. Made by the Divine Intention of God, all the universe bears the purposefulness of His Creativity - especially the soul of man, made in His image as alive, unique, and capable of loving things outside ourselves, despite ourselves, by the offering of ourselves on the altar of the Cross, bringing our impurities into the hearth of His Most Sacred Heart.

We give ourselves in love to others by the delineated forms of love, within their purest context - that is, within the context of the love of God. His Love is our comfort, our solace, and our light. But He is not exclusive - God simultaneously works love in everyone, individually, distinctly, by their own unique needs and situations, always with an omniscient, omnipotent kindness. We share this love in poverty, by expecting nothing of others, but wanting all the best for them, attempting to live as an example for them of God's loving plan for human life and the world. Love is not compliant, or complacent; love is not pleasure or satiation; love is not monetary or possessive. Yet, love can involve all these things, or anything, if done for the good of the person, to further the loving, redemptive work which God is doing everyday, in everyone. By ignoring ourselves, our preferences, biases and comforts in our treatment of others, placing ourselves empathetically and sympathetically in their shoes, we suffer with them in com-passion, loving them as ourselves. By seeing them within God's love, we recognize their inherent dignity as human person and creations of God, in the image of God, deserving the highest respect and love in moral treatment and personal concern.

What is love? Love is poverty, giving all which we are for the glorious affirmation of all which He Is, Loves, Creates and Purposes. The poverty of love is vulnerable; we must open ourselves to hurt, always expecting the best of others, trusting them, never deceiving them or hating them or desiring retribution against them. Love is affirming, not disparaging. Even when an evil is done, the evildoer should receive justice, not revenge, the justice deriving from a love which desires the best for the person, that they may be made to realize their mistakes, repent of them in prayer with God, but retaining their freedom, dignity and life till the end.

God is Love - and God is the Savior of the world.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Creativity and the Outsider

Creativity is one of the most mysterious and studied human faculties, and countless theories have been proposed as explanation, ranging from deities, muses, random chance, and even mental illness. While it is often limited to the artistic crafts, creativity affects every avenue of human expression, including art, innovation in science, invention in technology, speculation in philosophy, insight in theology, etc.

I believe there is a distinct separation between the craft and creativity, which to me seem too often combined without distinction. Every human activity requires knowledge of it, practice in it, diligence of will and effort, and the mental capacity to comprehend the specific type of task at hand. This is the method of a craft. Each craft is different: all require unique skills, techniques, and mindsets.

For example, art requires a mental affinity for visualization and hand-eye coordination to bring the illuminated, detailed image in one's mind to an aesthetic medium; it requires continuous practice, and the tools of the trade, particularly depending on which art form one chooses. On the other hand, technological invention necessitates a logical mind with prior knowledge of mathematics and physics, as well as an understanding of past technologies and their forms, while like art one must also think within the chosen field of technology.

Creativity is a completely different mode than craft, however. While craft requires learning and adhering to previous methods and information, creativity is the opposite: one must be divergent, unusual, and contrary to what would commonly be thought of. Creativity is being able to look at something, in any field or venue, perceive the preconceptions and assumptions in it, and voluntarily go against them. Creativity is inherently rebellious, actively going against the norm in order to be different, unique, and seen as such.

While anyone can do this, I believe someone who already feels like an outsider or outcast socially, who feels neglected or mistreated, whose self-perception is unusual, weird, different, and "more aware" than others around them, has a natural talent for creativity. This sort of person often becomes comfortable in their ostracism, whether real or perceived, and intentionally seeks to be different and against the assumptions or commonly-held notions of those around them, the "status quo" and "popular groups", often displayed as early as childhood. This active divergence is expressed in creativity, both in the desire to go against the perceptions of one's social environment, and as escapism, using fictitious venues to be creative and different.

Without the self-perception of social marginalizing, differentiation and outcast, coupled with the rebellious desire to be creative and abnormal, I believe it is almost impossible to be creative. At least, one must conjure these feelings to be creative, even in the more scientific or economic crafts. For example, to think of a profitable business venture, one cannot simply know the technical craft of business, investing and the market. It requires creatively thinking of or picking a product to invest in which is both risky and potentially lucrative, going against common wisdom or conservative estimates.

Often, this "creative outcast" is simply an expression of what everyone, even the most conformed, desires to be. Despite one's self-loathing or assimilation into the group, everyone is an individual, unique and distinct from all others, with the desire to express oneself and be different, with special dignity and freedom. But, with the pressures of life, the oppressive cruelty we experience socially from peer pressure throughout our lives, and our own internal desire to be approved of and accepted, we usually give up ourselves in order to "fit in". In our hearts, however, we always desire to be ourselves. This is why creativity, from artists to "geeks", is often made fun of, especially by the leaders of conformity - it is seen as "childish", because one still tries to be an individual, even in the face of social pressures. And accordingly, it can also cause anger problems in the outsider, making them feel superior or more intelligent than everyone else; and the social separation can also surface as isolationism and even social anxiety, hoarding, depression, etc.

Fundamentally, however, creativity and self-expression are wonderful gifts. The highest expression of rebellion against conformity and pressures is Christian faith. By assenting to a truth beyond this world, especially beyond the norms of society even in a Christian community, we sacrifice our own comfort and ease to follow Truth and Love, fulfilling ourselves by self-giving. The light which is revealed is truly seen. By hiding, distorting, or changing our identity, we slowly kill it. But by giving ourselves, we bring our identity into full visibility, and by enduring the scorn and pressures both external and internal, against temptations and hurt, we truly fulfill the gift of individuality as human persons, made in the image of the Personhood of God.