Throughout human history, culture has been grounded upon religious systems. The more civilizations clung to religion as its cultural manna, the more these respective civilizations would be, well, civilized. On the other hand, as these civilizations began to part ways with their religious heritage they inevitably began their journey toward extinction. Without a foundation, no structure can ever last!
No great civilization has been left unscathed by what we would call secularization today and the West is no exception. With our foundation uprooted, we have been forced to replace it with something less “foundational.” Media or what others may call “pop culture” has become the new foundation by which we interpret reality and instill values. It is a feeble foundation but it is a foundation nonetheless.
This “new” worldview offers us a message that is contrary to the “old regime.” The religious ideologies of yesterday appeared to squelch our freedom and particularly our freedom to love. This new ideology broke the shackles of “religious oppression” by offering a new freedom called radical autonomy. No longer was man called to deny his passions but rather was “empowered” to have unrestricted access to them. In the end, love was reduced to a human experience or an outlet for erotic compulsions. In other words, the transmission of love went from inward out to outward in; getting rather than giving.
Unsurprisingly, the new ideology’s greatest advocate has been Hollywood. Autonomy is the new virtue whereby all things are subservient. Murder can look “cool” as long as it is in the name of autonomy. If a character was forced to kill someone then we look at is as sad but in the name of autonomy it is acceptable. Love is the same way. As long as there are no responsibilities placed upon the relationship then it is a love story. If responsibility is called for it must be a self-induced responsibility since radical autonomy is the foundation for “true love.”
The influential power of the Hollywood love story has led to the demise of real love. The movies say “love just happens to you” but this simply is not so. Love “happens to you” in the same way weight loss does. Weight loss is not primarily an experience but rather an action. Similarly, love is not primarily an experience but rather an action. In other words, love must be educated.
The call for love to be educated can be seen through the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle. Each person enters a relationship with a number of puzzle pieces. Just like a real puzzle, each piece contains both “tabs” and “recesses.” These reflect our unique needs (recesses) and our unique gifts (tabs). Childish love reflects that of actual children with puzzles in that they often believe that any piece will join together with another as long as you pound hard enough. Others may even go as far as to trim their favorite piece so as to properly lock into a random piece. Mature love or educated love on the other hand recognizes that not any “tab” will lock with any “recess” and that compromising the integrity of a piece will only lead to an unstable and unrecognizable picture.
Like the child’s puzzle composed of loosely locked pieces, childish love will not survive long. Such love hangs on by a thread with only the slightest agitation needed for its demise. This love is the “gospel” of our culture. It is a love that says, “I’ll determine what you need. How dare you tell me to love you this way! You are never grateful for all I ever do for you!” This love is based on radical autonomy which ignores the unique needs of the other which ultimately denies the value of the person before you.
Slightly more mature but nonetheless incredibly irrational is the approach to trim one’s own pieces to lock into random pieces. While slightly more stable, it is nonetheless very fragile. This love is not as immediately unstable but is ultimately a time bomb waiting to explode. It is a life of complaint love which is not so much love as it is assimilation (i.e. doormat syndrome). In the end, one person is full of resentment due to a life full of compromises and self-neglect. In the same way the pieces lose their original value, so to does the compliant person. When the make-shift puzzle is finally finished the reality overwhelms them with the fact that the picture looks nothing like what was promised before the puzzle was opened. One must be cautious not to place the sole blame on the complaint person in the relationship as it take two for the compliant behavior: One who is the compliant and the other who is the enabler.
Finally, mature love recognizes that not any tab will lock with any recess. This is a difficult truth to put into practice. It requires a deep self-awareness so that one can distinguish between what is actually a gift/solution (tab) to another and what is really a need (recess) cloaked in the form of a gift/solution. Countless are the times where I have tried to fulfill a need by offering what I think is a “solution” only to find myself pounding a solution that does not fit the contours of the need. I have been accused of “not listening” when I could recall the exact conversation AND give one heck of a solution. It is only now that I realize the statement behind the statement. I was not listening to the particular need, which did NOT need a logical solution but rather a hug and a sympathetic ear.
Love must be educated. When we are acutely aware of the contours of the other’s puzzle pieces we are offered the opportunity to love in truth, the truth of the person before us. We are then empowered to fulfill needs according to the deepest needs of the other. Piece by piece we slowly contribute to the picture by maintaining our own integrity as well us upholding the genuine integrity of the other. Only in this particular pursuit of love (i.e. Christian love) will we come away with a picture that defies logic in that the total will always surpass the sum of its individual parts in truth and beauty. May God be Praised!