Love and War, and the Soul

Charles Jeanes
By Charles Jeanes
May 27th, 2014

When I sing about love and war

I don’t really know what I’m sayin’

I’ve been in love and I’ve seen a lot of war

I’ve seen a lot of people prayin’

— and mostly they pray about love and war.

Neil Young, “Love and War


“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.                  Jesus, Gospel of John, 15:13

The Myth of Soul Mates

Plato told a tale to explain why a person may feel a sense of completion when feeling love.

His myth described a race of perfect beings called the hermaphrodites (from the god Hermes and the goddess Aphrodite, divinities dedicated to magic and love respectively). These creatures were too perfect for the jealous Olympian gods and goddesses ruled by Zeus, and so he hurled his thunderbolt to split these beings into halves, thus creating humans divided in two genders or sexes.

Ever after that event, deep in the mists of time, human beings have sought the other half of themselves. When one finds that other half, the perfection of the love between the two is compared by Plato to the completion of one Soul by the union of two.

We all search, according to the wisdom of this myth, for our Soul Mate.

In the Christian tradition, the same idea of two people in love (and marriage) becoming “one flesh” is found in the Gospels, when Jesus declares divorce is against God’s intention. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder,” is how he phrased it, telling his disciples that God made male and female for this purpose. The idea of a soul mate is not in this Christian teaching, but clearly the idea that two people become completed and are “as one” is very much part of the meaning of Jesus’ words.

War is Hell

War is murder on the mass scale, but never acknowledged by society as that. To me, it is a curiosity of our Bible that Genesis, which purports to explain origins of human phenomena, has no story describing the origin of war. Murder has an origin in the Cain and Abel tale. But not war.

War is violence perpetrated by one collective of humans — tribes, states, nations, empires or societies – upon another. This is the definition of war that makes most sense of that very complex human activity, warfare. I refer interested readers to the work of Robert O’Connell for a discussion of how human violence is either against other species, when we kill for food or defense or sport, or it is murder of our own species.

In war, we suspend all our usual moral, ethical, and religious standards that prohibit murder, and give our warriors and soldiers special dispensation from the normal consequence of committing murder. We tell them that the murder they commit in war is worthy of praise. We tell them and ourselves that the killing of the enemy is not murder. It is exempt from spiritual stain on the soul of the murderer.

The Myth of Earth as “Hell”

In war, we “demonize” the enemy. In love, the loved one becomes “our angel.”

These are broadly-accepted cliches of the human condition. Which moves me to ask, “Is the human condition mostly hellish or mostly angelic, or a tortured merging of angel and devil in one being?” Whatever your choice, no one can say being human is easy.

Religious traditions have a long history of depicting this mortal plane, our material habitat and the short life we live upon the planet, as a kind of hellish theatre.

In the New Testament, the gospel of Luke portrays Satan, the devil, telling Jesus that the earth – its powers and kingdoms — belongs to him, Satan. In a letter, Paul the Apostle calls the devil the “god of this world.”

Gnosticism, a heretical Jewish and Christian tradition, taught that materiality is depraved and the god who created it in the book of Genesis, known as YHWH, is the evil “demiurge.” Only the world of soul and spirit has true worth.

Hindu and Buddhist traditions have a similarly dismissive attitude to the importance of this material world, terming it an illusion. Getting off the wheel of life, death and rebirth on earth is the highest aim of the teachings of Buddha.

To me this mythology stresses a typical concept that life on earth as a human is ordained to be suffering (Buddha’s first noble truth). The phenomenon that is war is a most excruciating experience of life on the material plane, as love is the most joyful. Love and war are opposed.

War perverts Love

In war we are led to feelings of love for “our side” and hatred of the enemy, by messages that the other side wants to hurt the people we love. War has to pervert the most wonderful of human experiences, love, to make us act against our normal repugnance at murder. We may say “Love conquers all” – but historical events have shown that war conquers love by putting love in the service of mass murder. We kill the enemy because we love our families and our country.

The horror of war does not stop after the pain, death, destruction, and loss — it carries into the spiritual realm as well. It is a travesty of human mind that from war we can make a tale of nobility and heroism. War makes us do things we would never otherwise have to do, in defense of our country – of those others we accept as our compatriots and fellow-humans. We call our self-sacrifice “duty.” We call the warriors who fight “for us” our heroes, our martyrs, our sacrifices — their blood shed is for a noble cause.

War perverts our greatest attributes of love for our fellows into hatred for the Other who is not perceived as fully human, deserving of our compassion. Our rulers lead us to war and fan the flames of our hatred with monstrous lies and propaganda to keep us in the proper state of mind to commit violence on the mass scale and to accept sacrifices that create much pain in our lives and to those we love. To de-humanize the foe, any lie is deemed acceptable. The end justifies the means. Victory must be ours, or — it defies words to describe the alternative. Defeat is unthinkable.

An example: Canada and WWI

All this we do because we cannot face the alternative: war is nothing but an atrocity we did not avoid. We had choices, we chose war, we have to make sense of it, and we need ways to ease the feelings of responsibility for the consequences. Therefore, we make it mean something.

Canada became a nation by its sacrifice of blood on the altar of the western front in The Great War: this mode of thinking, writing, and monument-inscription is absolutely central to the legacy of WWI. The Dominion Institute and the Royal Canadian Legion perpetuate this depiction of the war as “the forge of Canada’s nationhood” in countless ways. WWI is also remarkable for the self-righteous moral judgment enshrined by the victors in the “war-guilt clause” of the peace treaty. Such was the awful nature of that war that the victors felt they must put all blame on the enemy, to exculpate their own sense of responsibility.

One of the more egregious ways to make war mean something is to compare war’s pain to the pain of a woman giving birth. One example could be multiplied by the hundreds in the literature of WWI: “…in the agony of her losses in Belgium and France, Canada is suffering the birth pains of her national life.” Many nations’ ideologues expressed similar ideas about the need for blood to be shed in order for “the birth of freedom” to happen. Patrick Pearse, the Irish poet revolutionary, was a fine exemplar of propagandists who ennoble and spiritualize violence and war.

As one can see in a letter by a WWI writer, war is given meaning by propaganda: “To a very great extent, Canada is finding her soul – and like most of us, through suffering.” War is often elevated from its material effects into a spiritual experience that raises warriors and their society into a mystical state. WWI is particularly mythologized that way.

Human love is individualized

As I have said, war is a collective experience, something that humans do on the scale of very large groupings of people (nations etc.). On the individual level, humans fight, but a fight is not a war. It is in fighting that we are like many other creatures which can be violent, but in war we are like only one other creature, the ant.

Humans have aggressive instincts, and can be violent. This is not the same as saying humans are born soldiers. No. A soldier is made, not born.

From what I have just said, it follows that one individual human cannot wage war. War by definition requires that a human collective be involved in the organization and execution of mass violence. War is not two people fighting.

Love is the opposite of war; naturally, human love is experienced for one person at a time, not toward a collective “humanity.” We experience love with one person at a time, and we begin from the moment of our birth.

Love can be generalized, as in “I love my country” – but the fact is, we love individuals; we may imagine a mental abstract of “my nation” and express love for that collective, but such love is an abstract copy of the love we feel for concrete individuals.

We wage war as masses; we love as individuals.

Love and the end of relationship

Most of us have fallen in love, had a relationship, and found that relationship ending at some point. Where did love go? One might say, and it is common to say it, “My love was not meant to be. The other was not my soul mate.” It says little, but enough. Leave the explanations; respect the mystery of love unravelled.

Have you ever saved a relationship with counseling? Many people have. You save the relationship by acceptance that one can settle for less than one’s soul mate and still love that person. You know there are big, important differences between you, yet you want the relationship to go on for many good reasons – perhaps shared children most of all. Thousands of years of millions of marriages in human history offer evidence that two humans can stay together when their mate is not their soul match. It is not the ideal; it is commonplace reality.

If you do not sustain your love relationship, the choices are wide for how you feel toward that one you once loved. A fine, warm friendship is optimal, but not all that usual. Much worse would be to hate that person, to never see them again but nurture hatred in one’s mind against that person for ever after the failure of the relationship. Worst, one could do violence to them.

It is a common observation that love, ended, can turn to its opposite, hatred. Hatred is the necessary violent feeling fanned by leaders to turn their nation against a wartime foe. Take love, turn it to hatred, lead a society to fight “the enemy”– and you have war.

Love and War

There is not much to be learned from comparing one’s personal relationships to the relations between nations, or trying to learn from individual relationships and failures of love how nations might avoid war.  Yet that is exactly the common rhetoric of politicians, diplomats and writers about international politics: we pretend that “Canada” is a person with friends and enemies, and that Canada has the traits of an individual person such as honour or nobility or reputation. We think about war as if it were comparable to a fight between individuals. We are told, and we tell ourselves, that we “have to fight” sometimes, and similarly that Canada has to fight wars.

The probability that war will always be part of the human condition is rooted in these weaknesses of human thinking. Our consciousness seems too limited to manage the complexity of relations between large masses of people.

We have to understand the complex through the simple, so we think and talk of nations and societies as individual people.

“Canada is a peace-loving nation, but Canada does not abandon its allies when they are threatened.” Statements like this by our Prime Minister are perfect examples of making war seem like a simple person-to-person conflict.

Love can solve human relationship issues involved in humans living in the mass, in societies and states. Start at the individual level and move through ever-larger collectivities. When conflicts are all dissolved in collectives of peaceful humans, then war between collectives will be vastly less probable.

Love is the antidote to hatred; that is a truth we can all agree upon. But love is not an immediate solution to war. “Make love, not war!” is not practical in a state of competing human societies.

Is it likely that humans can dissolve their differences in love? How probable is it that human consciousness is ripe for a transformation that will result in a world without the crises we face now? Take your choice of viewpoint on this question. I have heard a substantially wide range of opinion.

From the choice of a worldview, you go forth to “create reality with your consciousness”… the topic I want to take up next column.

Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of Arc of the Cognizant can be found here.

This post was syndicated from https://rosslandtelegraph.com
Categories: GeneralOp/Ed