|Path Home: Empathy, Altruism and Agape | Presenters or Itinerary
Desmond Tutu and Abraham Joshua Heschel prophets of justice, Gandhi and Martin Luther King nonviolent liberators, Bonhoeffer opponent of Hitler, Dorothy Day feeder of hungry laborers, Eugene Rivers bringer of peace to inner cities, Dame Cicely Saunders giver of new hope to the dying, Jean Vanier founder of LArche, Dag Hammarskjold seeker of peace in the Congo, and the Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism-these are a few examples of modern leaders with deep religious convictions and intelligent faith that shape or shaped their contributions to public life, political change, and human progress. All of them disprove Alfred North Whiteheads definition: Religion is what a man does with his solitude.
All of these figures perceived a relationship with a Supreme Being, whatever their religious traditions, and were moved to do good works. Malcolm Jeeves, among many others, tell us that such exceptions can be appreciated with regard to neurological correlates (in contrast to causes). This frees religious experience from the confines of Platonic or Cartesian substance dualisms. It is unnecessary, then, to accept. E.O. Wilsonıs argument (or Francis Crickıs, for that matter) that if religion can be explained as a product of the brainıs evolution, its validity is undermined. Wilson does acknowledge that the predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature. This suggests elements of evolution and of co-evolution. Donıt capacities usually evolve as selectively valuable in relation to some objective referent?
All of these figures act in profound love because they feel that their work in society (³polis) is in concert with the nature of unlimited love at the heart of the anthropic universe (³cosmos). They are then spiritual cosmopolitans. We are sometimes exclusively interested in what they do rather than in why they do it, but the what depends on the why. Their acts emerge from an empowering form of love. They do just happen to be deeply spiritual persons. The more we can understand about them, scientifically and otherwise, the more effectively we can educate and encourage future generations to emulate them.
The Nature of Love: What is at the very core of the holistic experience of human love? I say holistic because love involves cognition (e.g., imagination, judgment, and memory), affectivity or an abiding attunement of the emotions, and freedom (e.g., in affirming or negating affective responses). As for the core of love, it is, as phenomenologist Jules Toner described, affirmative affection. It is closely linked to care (cura or cure in the Latin), which is love in the context of the other in need. But if all need in the loved one were fulfilled in care-giving, love would not cease. As Toner argues, Care is only the form love takes when the lover is attentive to the belovedıs need. Love is to care as the person is to the person in need. Love is expressed as much in consonant being with as in doing for. Both joy or sorrow can increase or decrease in inverse proportion to one another, but this does not modify the underlying affective affirmation that is love.
Love is first a response to the present actuality of another as he or she is in irrevocable worth, and it is secondarily an encouragement toward fullness of being. Newborn infants are loved for what they are in their present actuality amidst demands of immense care, and then for their potentiality. Reciprocal radical affective affirmation of present actuality is the beginning of mutuality or community, but affective affirmation is not contingent on reciprocity.
If, for the moment however, we include cura within love and set aside fine distinctions, love is: an uniquely human, prevailing, free, and personal affective affirmation of another, and it is a correlative tendency or disposition to act in response to genuine need. It transcends sensual, acquisitive, reciprocal, and eudaemonistic interests, although it does not erase them. In all the moments of love that we remember, this core of affective affirmation has been seemingly palpable.
Agape Love: Agape love is the Christian language for a form of love that certainly has its rough equivalents in Judaism, Buddhism, and other great religious traditions. Agape love is love as defined above, but coupled with an overwhelming sense of equal-regard derived from a spiritual belief in the love of the Supreme Being for all humanity. Agape love, when manifest, expands the scope of love to the enemy (although what action this implies, especially when the lives of innocent others are imperiled, is an exceedingly complex matter), makes all strangers into neighbors, and even extends affective presence and care to persons with severe derangement, dementia, or retardation. Some agapists have written of agape love as a matter of rather mechanical impersonal bestowal upon those who have no desirable attributes or worth, but a countervailing personalist view of agape is that in every human person there is an intrinsic and unique worth that love insists on discovering even when it has been obscured by abuse, hatred, or illness.
In this presentation, I will quickly develop definitions of love and of agape love. On the basis of said definitions, I will suggestively (but briefly) interweave my thoughts with the work of the biologists, social scientists, philosophers, theologians, and practitioners who have given their valuable time to this conference. I will conclude with several suggestions for future scientific study of the constituent parts of love and of agape love, and for the phenomena of such loves considered nonreductively.
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