Householders Prayers; Oxymoronic Love; Words Matter
Two Prayers for Family Households, by George Townshend
"UNTO Thee, O God, we dedicate this home. Cleanse it from all that is alien to Thee that it may become fit for Thy acceptance, and may be to friend and stranger as to ourselves a place of peace, a refuge from materialism, a herald of Thy Kingdom."
"O GOD, make Thou this home of ours the garden of affection, a ripening place of love, where the hidden powers of our hearts may unfold, expand and bear the fruit of an abiding joy."
from George Townshend, The Mission of Baha'u'llah, Meditations and Devotions, 49, 50, p. 148
The following meditation was prompted by the householder's psalm that Comenius gives prominence to in his study of family reform in the Panorthosia. Here the psalm depicts a God Who "love(s) the truthful, he that walketh in a perfect way," but He is determined at the same time not to "tolerate the wicked."
Is Unconditional Love An Oxymoron?
Unconditional love is surely the most preposterous idea imaginable, yet it is ubiquitous. You cannot escape it. People uncritically accept that such a love is possible. But just think: how can love ever be unconditional? How can I love you if you are not you? Or if you never existed? Or, conversely, if I am not me, or if I never existed? How about if I have never come into contact with you, or you with me? And what if we were something other than what we are, say if you are an intestinal worm wriggling in my belly? It can even be something common. If I lose my memory and cease to recognize you standing in front of me, as happens when the slightest thing goes wrong with our brains, what then happens to our love?
Or, take it even further. How can even the most powerful love of all, the love of God, be unconditional? Okay, maybe the love of God for God, the love of the Perfect Being for the Perfect Being, the love that stokes the fires of all other loves, maybe that is unconditional.
But everything else is contingent, conditioned, by definition. We cannot even squeeze into our head that the ultimate love, the love that does not mention its name, the love that goes on behind the closed doors of the Godhead, God-on-God action as it were, as anything but conditional. That is, would God still love Himself if He were less than Perfect? No, in that case He would not be God. So even the ultimate, meta-love seems conditional to the imagination of mortal minds.
Conditional beings have to be loved conditionally, even when it is God Who is doing the loving. Does God not say: "Love me that I may love thee. If thou lovest me not, my love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant." Surely as soon as I breathe the words "unconditional love" I am instantly demonstrating that I am a servant who does not know that. So, even the greatest love we can possibly know, the love of God for man, is totally conditional.
In fact, the only place that "unconditional love" can exist is in my imagination, the same place where I can imagine round triangles, square globes, or indeed any other oxymoron. Oxymorons, self-contradictory black holes of meaning that they are, have their uses. Many have entered the language and we use them without thinking. Some examples are: "now then," "only choice," "definite maybe," "good grief," "deafening silence," "old news," "pretty ugly," "act naturally," "open secret," and "same difference." Dozens more can be found at:
This site even mentions another love oxymoron, "free love," as well as "free trade." Both totally contradictory, yet both commonly understood misconceptions (that is another oxymoron, isn't it?). But this site does not mention "unconditional love" as an oxymoron, and I would contend that it should.
As you can see with the above examples, oxymorons seem to become useful when the second, third or fourth meanings of the words connect, in spite of the first meanings repelling one another as do the like poles of two magnets.
What then am I describing when I say the words "unconditional love?" Why is the expression so common if its components are so obversely inclined?
I would submit that unconditional love is a description of an idol. A false god. Only a demon or imagined being could love "better" than God Himself loves. Take superman, an imaginary fellow who regularly forms with his bare hands globular triangles and who regularly spouts absurdities like, "Good grief!" Could he love unconditionally? Not in reality, but we can still imagine him doing so. Sort of.
I often mention my unbiased opinion that unconditional love is an oxymoron, and people always bring up the example of a mother's love for her baby. That, surely, is an example of unconditional love. Without grossing anybody out, there are many examples in nature where mothers, conditions being right, do all sorts of harm to their babies, including eating or being eaten by them. How can you continue loving something in your belly, or in whose belly you end up?
A mother's love is highly conditional, just like every other love that actually takes place in reality, including the love of a God who is utterly intolerant of wickedness. Indeed, from an evolutionary point of view, the more conditional the mother's love is, the better off that species is. Love that approaches the unconditional is just another word for injustice.
So when the expression "unconditional love" comes up, watch out. Unreasonable expectations, unjust demands, demonic superstitions, are just around the corner ready to jump out. Unconditional love is a Golden Calf, the idol that the Israelites in the wilderness built in order to placate their former slave masters, whom they expected soon to have to return to ignominiously, cap in hand.
So, like Moses, as soon as you see a hint of the Golden Calf, like the use of the expression, "unconditional love," smash the tablets bearing the old set of rules and start over. Write a new constitution. That is why Comenius's suggested family constitution, bill of rights or declaration of interdependence based on the householder's psalm, is so important. If we smash our present understanding of the family to bits and start over by establish the right conditions for love, we will build families vital and strong enough to bear a world civilization in their bowels.
There must be a family constitution because, I contend, words matter. Words have a powerful effect, even misused words. Sloppy language, saying things like ``artic`` instead of `arctic,` is very useful to the expert in divide and conquer tactics. With the American election coming up soon, here is an interesting political point that the world`s greatest linguist, Noam Chomsky, recently made in an interview,
"You have to vote for Bush because he is the kind of guy you would like to meet in a bar and have a beer with; he wants to go back to his Ranch in Texas and cut brush. In reality, he was a spoiled fraternity boy who went to an elite university and joined a secret society where the future rulers of the world are trained, and was able to succeed in politics because his family had wealthy friends. I am convinced, personally, that Bush was trained to mispronounce words to say things like mis-underestimate or nu-cu-ler so liberal intellectuals would make jokes about it; then the Republican propaganda machine could say: see these elitist liberals who run the world are making fun of us ordinary guys who did not go to Harvard (but he did go to Yale, but forget it). These are games run by the public relations industry, which is a huge industry. It spends enormous resources manipulating attitudes and opinions. They design and control elections so that the public in effect is marginalized." (http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N52/chomsky.html)