A point of clarity before you begin reading this essay. This essay’s “origin story” is important to understanding the point, trajectory, and intent of this essay. Along with the Facebook comments I allude to, I am also considering the reactions and messages I received after an op-ed published in The Courier-Journal. The explicit messages of hate were more often than not from Christians. It is to these (predominantly white) Christians that I am addressing, and it is a White Catholic perspective from which I am speaking. At the heart of the Catholic faith is a profound understanding that love is the very foundation of our being; it is that truth to which I am addressing. Speaking from a position of intersecting privileges (White, Male, Catholic), there are systems of oppression from which I have benefited. Moreover, I cannot fully speak to the experience of those who have felt that burden of oppression. However, I can speak to my fellow Christians, challenge them to love more fully, challenge them to love like Christ, and challenge them to embody a radical love of acceptance. For it is only when people embody this radical agapic love that all people will live in peace.
Recently, I wrote a note on my Facebook wall and was shocked by the response it received. In the post, I wrote the following: “In this election, we have a major decision: Will we love one another—especially those who didn’t vote for the same person as us—after the results?”
I thought this was going to be a banal, innocuous statement. Yet, both publicly and privately, the responses revealed a visceral schism that exists in our political climate. We have lost the ability to love one another.
Many comments spoke about “loving the person, but not their actions” or “I will love them, but not respect them” or “I will respect them as a person, but I cannot waste my energy on loving them.” This is terribly problematic. Have we forgotten what love is? Have we forgotten that loving others is at the core of all world religions and that it is a fundamental message of many secular and humanist philosophies?
Love is not something that occurs after another person has checked-off the appropriate boxes. Love is alive at the very core of our essence. Love is the spark that keeps our internal flame ignited. Love places no judgment. Love has no boundaries. Love has no requirements. To love is to breathe. To love is to be.
In 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote this about love:
In speaking of love at this point, we are not referring to some sentimental or affectionate emotion. It would be nonsense to urge people to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. Love in this connection means understanding, redemptive good will. When we speak of loving those who oppose us, we refer to neither eros nor philia; we speak of a love which is expressed in the Greek word agape. Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all people. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function or its object. It is the love of God operating in the human heart.
Agape is disinterested love. It is a love in which the individual seeks not their own good, but the good of their neighbor (1 Cor. 10:24). Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is an entirely “neighbor-regarding concerns for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every person it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friends and enemy; it is directed toward both. If one loves an individual merely on account of their friendliness, they love them for the sake of the benefits to be gained from the friendship, rather than for the friend’s own sake. Consequently, the best way to assure oneself that love is disinterested is to have love for the enemy-neighbor for who you can expect no good in return, but only hostility and persecution. (King, 19)
We must discover how to incorporate this love into our lives today.
Like rivers and streams, love flows endlessly. It flows unceasingly from a seemingly invisible source. The cycle of love happens without thought. Love evaporates from our lips when we express our feelings towards others. Love condenses whenever people gather in union. Love precipitates around our eyes when we witness something beautiful and can no longer contain ourselves. Love never runs out. Love only generates more love.
The cyclical nature of love also reveals the underbelly of its weakness.
Love has been damned. Love has been damned, polluted, and misdirected. Philosophical, political, and social barriers have risen that block, filter, and taint our ability to love. This polluted love stains our hearts and has made it nearly impossible to accept the presence of “the other.” A “Make America Great Again” hat or a “Black Lives Matter” shirt instantly deems another person unlovable. Our inability to love others reveals our inability to love ourselves. Our hatred and attacks on “the other” is a projection of our own failures and insecurities. In damning our ability to love others, we damned our ability to love ourselves.
What has happened to us? How did we get here? It is not the fault of Trump or Biden. It is not the fault of the media. It is not the fault of social media. It is all of our faults. It is our own fault. We are all complicit in damning love.
We are complicit in damning love, but we are also capable of liberating love. In a letter to Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton wrote, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” Our job, our task, our obligation is to love. In loving others without questioning their politics, choices, nor lifestyle, we recognize the sacredness of every life. This must be what we are about: to love unquestioning and unendingly.
This love is not easy. But this love is necessary. To love unendingly means we must love even those we cannot stand. To love unquestioningly means to love those who spit and yell in our faces. Love seeps into the cracks of hatred, bigotry, violence, ignorance, and difference. Love is a compelling force that converts hearts and minds. Love heals those that feel broken, beaten, shut out, and turned off.
We need to learn to love again. If we have any hope of healing the divisions and schisms that affect our world, then we must embody a radical, unending, all-inclusive love. When faced with those “we cannot stand” or “those we cannot accept” or “those we cannot respect,” we must love them. We must learn to love them. There is no difference between a friend and an enemy. Every person we meet is a teacher, a guide, an inspiration to love more boldly and bravely.
We must learn to love again. We must love past our difference. We must love past our agendas. We must love past the rhetoric. We must learn to love anew. We must learn to love again. We must love.
King, Martin Luther. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.. United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 1991.