Cosmic Love: The Gift that Keeps Giving (and Receiving)
It reminds me of where we left off yesterday: You might say that love causes God to be in time. In order to flesh out and incarnate this lovely idea, we must investigate the cosmic dimension of love. As Pieper says, "we are basically asking what is the 'function' of love within the whole of existence; what is it supposed to do and accomplish in the world?" (emphasis mine).
From a Darwinian perspective, the whole question is absurd, since what we call "love" is just an illusion designed to fool us into reproducing. All other animals accomplish the mission without the illusion of love -- and also manage to raise their children without it.
But again, one of the first principles of the Raccoon is that the human being is the most significant fact of the cosmos, not some sort of irrelevant fluke of no metaphysical significance. Furthermore, we take seriously the idea that man is made in the image of the Absolute -- perhaps a bit more seriously than the average believer, since we also believe that it is not only knowledge of God that informs us of the nature of man, but real principial knowledge of man as such that can inform us of the nature of God.
In resembling his parents, the child is dependent upon their archeytpe; in other words, when you see a baby, you say "he looks just like you!," not "you look just like him!" Still, the child can convey a lot about the parent, and in a way, cannot avoid doing so. Just so, we don't say of man, "God looks just like you!," even though there is a certain family resemblance.
For example, since love is so central to human existence -- indeed, a human being is impossible without it -- I think it's safe to say that it must be central to God. In other words, for the human being, love is not accidental but essential. Without it we will die, if not physically, then mentally and spiritually.
We touched on this idea a few posts ago: "What matters to us, beyond mere existence, is an explicit confirmation: It is good that you exist; how wonderful you are!" We come into the world not just needing milk, warmth, and oxygen, but human love. "Being created by God does not suffice." Rather, "the fact of creation needs continuation and perfection by the creative power of human love" (Pieper).
Pieper reviews the heartbreaking orphan studies of René Spitz. It seems common sense to us now, but he observed that children raised by their mothers in prison did much better than motherless children raised "in well-equipped, hygienically impeccable Amaerican infants' and children's homes by excellently trained nurses." Not only were the latter more susceptible to mental illness, but to disease and mortality.
For a human being, meeting his physical needs is never enough. And the one thing the nurses could not give the children was maternal love and devotion. As Pieper says, they can give the milk, but not the honey. He quotes the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who said that he could always distinguish between patients who had received only the milk, vs. those who had received both milk and honey. I believe I can too. There is a palpable sense of interpersonal "deadness" in the former, which comes out in a variety of ways. For example, in order to truly be passionate in life, -- in all areas, not just interpersonally -- one must have been passionately loved.
Recall again our hypothesis that love causes God to be in time. Pieper suggests that "In human love the creative act of the Deity in establishing existence is continued -- so that the one who is consciously experiencing love can say, 'I need you in order to be myself... In loving me you give me myself, you let me be." More succinctly, "What being loved makes being do is precisely: be." Love causes both God and man to "be in time."
But of course, the preverbal infant cannot consciously say or think any of this. Rather, in loving the infant, you are confirming in them their very existence, to such an extent that their deepest sense of existence will be literally indistinguishable from love -- or, if things go wrong in attachment, other emotions and states of being. The infant who is rejected or doesn't bond for whatever reason may have anger, or depression, or emptiness, or alienation, or ravenous envy at its core, so that later development will involve transformations of these instead of love.
This is all covered in more detail in chapter 3.2 of my book, but even there we had to breeze over details and focus more on the principles. For those interested in deeper study, there are a number of hand-selected psychology titles in the Raccoon Store.
I remember a wise crack by Mouravieff, to the effect that we all must find that person without whom our being is not real. This is an arresting phrase, for it implies that it is possible for humans to be, but in an unreal way. Think about that for a moment. On the one hand, it is a truism, but the implications are quite astonishing. Of all the things in existence, only a human being can be false. But this is only an unfortunate but necessary corollary to the fact that only the human being may conform himself to truth.
But various forms of the "false self" are the stock in trade of the clinical psychologist, including the "as-if" personality, narcissism, the schizoid personality, and other permutations. The false self is developed in order to cope with the fact that the deeper self was never confirmed in infancy and childhood (think of the narcissist who craves being "seen" by the camera as a replacement for being seen by the beloved, and who feels dead without it -- call it the "Norma Desmond syndrome").
The false self is not just a persona or mask that is presented to the world, but a kind of substitute mother that protects the core from being hurt, rejected, and retraumatized. Thus, the false self can neither express nor receive love (although there are degrees; it would be more accurate to say that there is a deficit in the ability to give/receive love, i.e., to be an open system on a deeply emotional level).
Peiper makes the subtle point that in creating the cosmos, God confers both the milk and the honey, for after doing so, he confirms its being by declaring it to be "good, very good." Without God blessing his creation in this manner, it would just be "nothing," similar to the subjective sense of the infant who is not blessed by the love that proclaims how good it is that it is that you exist!
Pieper refers back to those studies of Spitz, which demonstrate that "mothers' love, no matter how heartfelt, would be no help at all to the small children if they could not be reached in some way, if they did not 'know' that they were loved."
And "in the same way, of course, the Creator's approval can only really affect and change man's life when he 'realizes' it believingly, that is, when he also 'accepts' it." I would say when we metabolize and assimilate it into our substance, just like honey. For love is "the 'prime gift' that makes all other gifts possible." Recall the beautiful passage by our unKnown Friend:
There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things -- even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God.
Or, you could say that our parents give birth to us so that we might give birth to God. See Eckhart for details.