Posted by: gcarkner | July 14, 2020

Quality of the Will Series: Post 10.

Investigating the Power of Agape Love: a Wager on Deep Meaning

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Can Millennials expand their horizon beyond the above markers of their generation discussed in Reginald Bibby et al, The Millennial Mosaic? Where will they find the wisdom and inspiration to navigate the contemporary world of COVID-19 and economic stressors, to take up their place and role of leadership? Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg writes: “Wisdom is involved when practical intelligence is applied to maximizing not just one’s own or someone else’s self-interest, but rather a balance of various self-interests (intrapersonal) with the interests of others (interpersonal) and of other aspects of the context in which one lives (extrapersonal), such as one’s city or country or environment or even God.” Wisdom is the foundational virtue, a commitment to grow in insight and character throughout one’s whole life journey. It is a core virtue concept, a posture, which entails management of other virtues. It entails the full picture, the natural and purposeful end, of our moral and physical capacities, intentions, towards the fully functioning and flourishing human life. It requires a vision of what is possible in a good life, in good lives forming community. (James 3: 15-18)

There are five key components to wisdom according to the Berlin Wisdom Project (Mark McMinn, The Science of Virtue). They are worthy of our attention and reflection.

  • Factual and scientific knowledge
  • Procedural knowledge
  • Life-span contextualism (sensitive to past, present and future span of things)
  • Values relativism or tensions (recognizes competing values/convictions at work in a situation)
  • Managing uncertainty and complexity: not all things go according to plan or principle. Wisdom implies competency with respect to the complexity of life.

Wisdom helps one in ‘postformal thought’—the ability to think about complex issues in flexible ways—for example, to learn through dialogue. It requires nuances and understanding of motivational complexity when dealing with others. Charles Taylor calls this the ‘palette’ of assumptions, motives and sensibilities. Humans are indeed complex beings. Wisdom is a key marker in this discussion. It becomes part of our emotional intelligence which is so critical to a successful, stable life, the thick self. Tristan Harris, Silcon Valley renegade, former Google employee notes a concern: “At the same time we have been upgrading our machines, we have been downgrading our humans.” In this post, we want to talk about how to upgrade our humans through a poignant discussion of wisdom and the agape impact. Wisdom increases from ages 13 to 25. It remains roughly the same after 30 without dramatic intervention. This is the same time of major brain rewiring to the frontal cortex, according to current neuroscience (Frances E. Jensen, MD and Amy Ellis Nutt, The Teenage Brain.)

We ended the last post, in our series, Quality of the Will, with a suggestion of the potential for agape to become such an anchoring hypergood for one’s identity, a stabilizing force that can inspire for the long run. We argue that it is the gold standard of virtues/goods. Below, we posit that it can also help to mitigate a current existential identity crisis in Millennials. Love entails deep structure wisdom in one’s life. It proves to be foundational.

Love is gentle and patient. Love is kind. It does not brag or judge or remember wrongs done. It forgives, heals, promotes unity. It perseveres. It understands human weakness and draws out potential. It is committed to the truth, not lies, spin or deception. Love is unusually resilient.

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor speaks of a potential transcendent turn to agape in both Sources of the Self and A Secular Age. This could address a major crisis in Western identity called the Crisis of Affirmation, discussed below. Love is part of what he calls constitutive language. He makes a bold claim to be discussed.

Constitutive language can open new spaces for human meanings and identity: new terms, new expressions, enactments, new fields of articulacy and how to recognize and bring to expression new domains of meaning. The disciplined languages of objective description suitable for science are comparatively late achievements of human culture.  In light of all this, it is clear that the regimented, scientific zone can only be a suburb of the vast, sprawling city of language, and could never be the metropolis itself.  (C. Taylor, The Language Animal)

Can such a love show us the path to the heart and depth of meaning, provide an exit from despair, an entrance to a whole new stance towards self and the world, through strong transcendence?

Could there be some light at the end of the tunnel that we humans have been seeking for a thousand years, the Holy Grail, or the pearl of great price? What is the hermeneutical key to life as we know it? Love surpasses all other values, includes all the best goods and rearranges them in a new order as we allow ourselves to come under its influence.

Can such love pin our fears, anxieties and insecurities to the mat, reduce out daily stress? Can fear and hatred be transformed to confidence and compassion by love? First, we must believe that we ourselves are loved, despite our unworthiness and failures, in order to love ourselves and others.

Is this the space, the frame, within which we can discover the truth, overcome alienation from the truth, stop the weaponized lies, challenge the propaganda lines?

Some claim that agape is the hub of all virtues and values, the preeminent virtue in our hierarchy of values? Who are these people? Thomas Merton, Paul K. Moser, Glenn Tinder, Malcolm Guite, James K. A. Smith, Oliver O’Donavan, Larry Siedentop, Martin Luther King Jr., Charles Taylor and many other top scholars and leaders.

How does such gift love fit within a whole economy of God’s grace and with his best intentions for humanity? How does the logos of John 1 fit into this economy?

Can it heal our broken relationships, melt our hatred, promote forgiveness and peace-making, bring into play our humility and self-honesty?


A virtue is a state of praiseworthy character—with the attendant desires, attitudes and emotions. Formed by choices over time, a virtue disposes us to act in certain excellent ways. Knowing which way is the truly excellent way involves avoiding the extremes of vice by looking to people of virtue as role models. As certain virtues shape our character they influence how we see the world. And the entire process of forming virtues is shaped by a particular narrative and community. The settled disposition to act well, which makes us who we are, is nurtured by the stories we imbibe and the communities of which we are a part. (II Peter 1: 3-9; Philippians 4: 8, 9)

~Steven Bouma-Prediger (For the Beauty of the Earth, 140), Creation Philosopher-Theologian.

I Corinthians 13: Love is the Greatest.

James K. A. Smith writes that “we are what we love/desire”. We posit that love, agape, is a solution to a major crisis or horns of a dilemma in the West. Today we are torn between self-hatred and spiritual lobotomy. We cannot seem to affirm both self and the world at the same time, because the world is so broken and we don’t want to admit our complicity in this brokenness. It is called the crisis of affirmation, a demon or dark angel that haunts us. Two choices seem open to us says Charles Taylor following his reading of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevski:

a. We can blame the world for evil and suffering and tragedy, in order to preserve love of self–try to keep ourselves pure, blameless and above the fray. This is the route of self-righteousness and the powerful vice of pride. This posture leads to arrogance, hatred, terrorism and violence. We self-justify in this posture, thinking that we are different than the masses, the less-valuable Other.

b. We can open ourselves to grace. Because we accept a God of love, we can love both ourself and the world despite its problems. And we can accept that we are also part of the problem of the world (equally unworthy of such love). Love does not wager on background or pedigree. But that is not the end of the story. There is forgiveness and possibility of transformation that makes us better people, and the world a better, less violent place. Our moral choices, our spirituality and our identity are intertwined in this dilemma. That is why it is so challenging to discern–it requires deep honesty as in an addiction recovery group. Thus, the consequences of our stance are substantial. We must choose between meaning and nihilism at this late modern fork in the road of Western culture, and worldwide culture.

Biblically, the theme of love runs throughout the entire narrative spanning centuries, from Genesis to Revelation. The span includes a journey from the fire of creation, to the covenant call to love of Abraham in shaping a community of love, to the prophetic love that turns straying people back to God’s love and care, to the exultations about God’s love in the Psalms (139), to the incarnate unparalleled love of Jesus of Nazareth (John 14: 16-18), to Paul’s teaching on love in his letters to young churches (I Corinthians 13; Romans 8: 31-39; 12: 9-21), to the promise of the new creation to come in Revelation, where our work on developing the language and culture of love really pays off, for eternity. Agape (Ahavrah in Hebrew) forms the lingua franque of heaven. We have evidence from thousands of years of history to test and prove its veracity (David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions).

Agape creates infinite value in everyday life, as the heart and soul of all values/virtues. It speaks of excellence of character. It is the end game, the ultimate purpose, of all life’s struggles and endeavours. We must let love win in the end; the alternative is death-dealing destruction. It has big impact, enduring power, transforming society as well as the late modern self. Practice agape. Turn into love. Live large in love. Open yourself to God’s love. It is a solid place to stand, to be accepted and understood. It adds such quality to your life as the path to joy. Let it it be your first priority. Loyola philosophy professor Paul K. Moser thinks and writes profoundly on the subject: “God’s agape love directed at the human conscience is a deep invitational call to an existential depth.” (Paul Moser on Christ-Shaped Philosophy

There is cultural and personal momentum in love. Hear what retired University of Massachusetts political scientist Glenn Tinder has to say in his brilliant The Political Meaning of Christianity on how agape shapes a political culture in the West, and bolsters human rights at their best. Timothy Jackson’s Political Agape: Christian Love and Liberal Democracy, demonstrates how love can shape a whole culture. See also Larry Siedentop, The Invention of the Individual.

Agape is a prophetic love. It refuses to equate anyone with his immediate observable being. A human being is not deeply and essentially the same as the one who is visible to the employer, neighbour, salesman, policeman, judge, friend or spouse. A human being is destined to live in eternity and is fully known only to God.  Agape is about the spiritual destiny of the individual; destiny is a spiritual drama. My destiny is my own selfhood given by God, but given not as an established reality, like a rock or a hill, but as a task lying under divine imperative…. Agape is simply the affirmation of this paradox and of this destiny underlying it. Agape looks beyond all marks of fallenness, all traits by which people are judged and ranked, and acknowledges the glory each person—as envisioned in Christian faith—gains from the creative mercy of God. It sets aside the most astute worldly judgment in behalf of destiny. (Glenn Tinder, The Political Meaning of Christianity, 25, 28)

See also Glenn Tinder(1999). The Fabric of Hope: An Essay. Eerdmans (42-52). “God, Community and Self”

Hospitality to the Stranger/Outsider: a Wager on Transcendent Agape

~inspired by Richard Kearney, author of Anatheism: Returning to God after God.

What does agape look like when implemented in practical ways? Hospitality bears witness to the meeting of grace with nature, and eternity with time. In Jesus, God demonstrates what  humans are like when they are truly and fully alive. He is the great gift of self-giving compassion to the least of these (Matthew 25), the bread from heaven broken for us, the cup of self-sacrifice showing the way through Gethsemane. It may come as a stark realization that we mere humans are created to be hosts of the divine in this world, living out the calling  of Creation Day 7. In this light, we host the Son in every act of service, love and care towards other human beings. Through such profound hosting, we make him present to our friends and neighbours in a special way. This is part of the incarnation.

If Millennials reject the common quest for power, entitlement and self-interest, reject the pride of ego, triumphalism and radical individualism, along with the fear of lacking more wealth and power, they too will entertain angels (I Corinthians 13). The cross itself offers a meta-critique of contemporary power-interests, an alternative vision of ‘power through weakness’, the humble fruits of the Holy Spirit. Biblical Christianity promotes a renunciation of privilege and entitlement in favor of servanthood, gratitude and generosity. Instead of self-assertive power, we identify our weaknesses, only to realize that God the Father by his grace loves to work through such honest and fragile vessels (II Corinthians 12: 9) who have identified with his Son. This recapitulates the ancient ways of wisdom (James 3: 17-18), promoting righteousness and justice to facilitate the empowerment of others: the poor, vulnerable, sick, homeless, have-nots and broken. This is the essential message of the Good Samaritan story and the willingness to go the extra mile. In poetic brilliance, the book of Proverbs  reverberates with the song of this outlook–the way of wisdom.

But God’s love is one active contemporary source of the good, the love of which has empowered people to do the good and exemplify the good in their character, social life and politics. He suggests that we need a transcendent turn to avoid the extremes of self-hatred, guilt and shame or alternatively the extremity of hating morality itself—spiritual lobotomy. The transcendent turn to agape becomes vital to solve this problem. “The only way to escape fully the draw toward violence”, he writes, “lies somewhere in the turn to transcendence—that is, through the full-hearted love of some good beyond life” (C. Taylor, A Catholic Modernity?, 1999, 28).

This intentional will-to-life celebrates a dynamic, vibrant economy of grace, the transcendent in the immanent, the divine Word in human flesh, the cup of cold water for the thirsty soul. We gladly purge ourselves of the illusions of power and greed, in order to recognize our responsibility/obligation/call in the face of the other (Emmanuel Lévinas), in relation to the biosphere of God’s beloved creation. This posture leads us into an experience of epiphany, a breakthrough illumination. It can even issue in a divine encounter. We see the world through refreshed eyes, accept a change in the calculus of life, and deepen our identity by caring for the distant stranger, the outsider, the immigrant, the other, the alien, the different.

It is a true conversion/reconfiguration/redirection of self and its passions. As we learn this art of hosting, the sacred shows up dramatically within the context of the secular, kairos within chronos, as we commit to self-giving agape in the name of our trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Paul writes about Christ in Philippians 2, we must first go down (self-empty; self-offer) in order to go up. The hermeneutic of this posture in life is superabundant grace all the way down. Within this economy, this stance, we naturally become the resistance to radical evil: by becoming whole, complete human beings, building our capacity to love, honoring the sacred in the everyday, casting off the mask of the false self, building bridges across difference. This is the pinnacle of human existence and the solution to the angst/despair/inequality/desperateness/alienation/tribalism of our age.

Now is the time for Jews, Christians and Muslims to say what they failed to say in the past: We are all children of Abraham. And whether we are Isaac or Ishmael, Jacob or Esau, Leah or Rachel, Joseph or his brothers, we are precious in the sight of God. We are blessed. And to be blessed, no one has to be cursed. God’s love does not work that way. Today God is calling us, Jew, Christian and Muslim, to let go of hate and the preaching of hate, and live at last as brothers and sisters, true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith, honouring God’s name by honouring his image, humankind. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name)

IMAGINE (a sonnet from Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis)

Imagine a new natural philosophy;
I hardly know what I am asking for;
Far-off echoes, that primeval sense,
With blood and sap, Man’s pre-historic piety,
Continually conscious and continually…
Alive, alive and growing like a tree
And trees as dryads, or as beautiful,
The bleeding trees in Virgil and in Spenser
The tree of knowledge and the tree of life
Growing together, that great ritual
Pattern of nature, beauties branching out
The cosmic order, ceremonial,
Regenerate science, seeing from within…

To participate is to be truly human.

Love is all About Building the Unity of Mankind–Thomas Merton

(riveting quotes from New Seeds of Contemplation)

As long as we are not purified by the love of God and transformed into him in the union of pure sanctity, we will remain apart from one another, opposed to one another, and union among us will be a precarious and painful thing, full of labour and sorrow and without lasting cohesion. (70-71)

All over the face of the earth the avarice and lust of men breed unceasing divisions among them, and the wounds that tear men from union with one another widen and open into huge wars. Murder, massacres, revolution, hatred, the slaughter and torture of the bodies and souls of men, the destruction of cities by fire, the starvation of millions, the annihilation of populations and finally the cosmic inhumanity of nuclear war: Christ is massacred in his members; God is murdered in men, (71)

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a body of bones…. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and sorrow that are the price of resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion…. Hatred is the sign and the expression of loneliness, of unworthiness, of insufficiency. (72)

From blood-drinking gods the human race was once liberated, with great toil and terrible sorrow, by the death of a God who delivered himself to the cross and suffered the pathological cruelty of his own creatures out of pity for them. In conquering death he opened their eyes to the reality of a love which asks no questions about worthiness, a love which overcomes hatred and destroys death. (73)

To serve the God of love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbour. It is the rankling, tormenting sense of unworthiness that lies at the root of all hate.(74)

The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God. The faith that one is loved by God although unworthy–or, rather, irrespective of one’s worth! (75)

Hatred tries to cure disunion by annihilating those who are not united with us. It seeks peace by elimination of everybody else but ourselves. But love, by acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds. (75-76)

We should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves…. But I cannot treat the men as men unless I have compassion for them. I must have at least as much compassion to realize that when they suffer they feel somewhat as I do when I suffer…. I must learn to share with others their joys, their sufferings, their ideas, their needs, their desires…. For Christianity is not merely a doctrine or system of beliefs, it is Christ living in us and uniting men to one another in his own life and unity. (76-77)

Agape takes the side of the victims as René Girard articulates so well (Violence and the Sacred; Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World). It is against, it refuses violence, especially vengeance and retaliation, promoting peaceableness through patience and self-giving. It is a stance of gratitude.

To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything he has given, and he has given us everything. Every breath we draw is gift of his love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from him. Gratitude takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. ~ Thomas Merton

Matthew 5: 1-20 Jesus’ Love Sermon on the Hill

Jesus uses agape love to divide selfishness from self, sin from the sinner. Using critical wisdom, Jesus challenged many of the religious systems of wisdom in place in his time. In the Sermon on the Mount, he messes with people’s understanding of virtuous living. His wisdom is often countercultural, always discerning, sometimes mysterious, involving a metaphoric social grenade periodically. Remember the story of the highly moral young prince who lacked the ability to self-empty and love his fellow humans. His wealth was his Achilles heal. This is thinking outside of the box, with a high commitment to justice and goodness. Fear the Lord and forsake evil. Found in Matthew 5-7, the teaching lays out the tenants of life in the kingdom of God. It is a prophetic statement on what we need to internalize God’s will, God’s posture toward the world. The most radical statement is his challenge to his followers to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 43-48) as God himself does, to refuse to take revenge. This is the direction of full integrity, completeness.

Will we choose Nietzsche or Jesus?

God is love from first to last. He is fully invested in love and he believes that it the best thing for human beings. The sermon deals with the deep things of the inner person and shows how love internalized can transform us from greed to radical generosity, from pride to deep humility, from violence to peacemakers, from narcissists to servanthood people. It claims a whole new posture of radical freedom in Christ, freedom to love beyond one’s imagination. Only with a radical change in outlook and motivation can it be possible.

The Sermon sets the tone for the entire teaching ministry of Jesus. He welcomes marginalized players to the game of life: the poor, weak, meek, downtrodden, addicted, broken, wounded, hurting. It is a counter-cultural stance compared to the brutal Roman Empire, which is all about power and control, dominance, enslavement, crushing the weak, expanding superpower territory, exploitation, currency devaluation. This is his disciples’ best new opportunity, a way to become whole, more fully human and alive to all of life.

This strong version of transcendence means that, while such love comes from outside human culture, it offers transforming dynamics within the economies of the full range of culture spheres: in science, the arts, ethics and religion. Charles Taylor believes that the epiphanic discovery of agape love can act as a hypergood, in that it influences a rearrangement of the hierarchy of one’s moral goods or values, bringing into play both a transfiguration and transvaluation within the horizon/frame of the moral self. This enables self-transcendence and motivation for embracing the good, sacrificing for the other, facing pain, mitigating evil and personal challenges.

You are to be congratulated (blessed), says Jesus: I want you to be my people, my friends, my co-conspirators for bringing heaven to earth, in real time, in the here and now. It’s a live option, a calling. The kingdom of God is yours, here and now! Come join my new world order, a new paradigm or way of seeing everything, a new way of being human, of dealing with power, the freedom of self-giving, sacrificial love. Jesus shows incredible kindness and warmth to the disadvantaged, even as he expresses outrage at the injustice of calcified religion (just like Kierkegaard). He stands against treachery, systemic greed and oppression. John 1: 14 captures it: he is full of grace and truth. You will be called the children of God, not human refuse, not untouchables. You are a new wave, a phenomenal turn-around story. Jesus offers a restoring, rectifying, healing of relationships, a new narrative, a re-ordering of power and wealth and status. It is positively revolutionary.

Jesus, the perfect image of God, is the master of critical wisdom. He didn’t come to abolish the traditional wisdom but to enliven it, to flesh out the greatest commandments of loving God and loving neighbour as self, to remind us of life’s deep mystery, to call us back to fear and awe of God. We so easily settle for a religion composed of cognitive beliefs and behavioural lists that make us feel holier than others. (Mark McMinn, The Science of Virtue, 26)

You are welcomed, included, celebrated in your giftedness and I want you to know that you are the very epicentre of God’s interest. You have a high purpose, a new identity with cosmic significance. It is very good, very meaningful at a deep level. Allow God to make you into beatitude people, beautiful people, salty people, spicy people, light and life-giving people. You are being offered friendship, communion with the Lord of the Universe, the God who is love. He wants to bless you as you are transformed into the image of Christ. What the world needs is people just like you, citizens of the kingdom of heaven here on earth, ambassadors of his grace. Are you willing to bet your life on this? Can you throw your weight into it? What are the potential losses if you do not?

The “incarnation” has no meaning, therefore except as “the beginning,” the foundation of the Church, a new sort of community of charity and forgiveness, a space for the possibility of this offering. For Augustine, it is the Church that is the adequate sacrifice to God; in other words the perfect realization of community. The centrality of incarnation and the cross in no way contradicts the truth that the central aspect of salvation is the creation of perfect community. Christianity is primarily about the hope for community…. The Christian claim is that narratives about Christ show what love–a difficult and demanding practice requiring more subtlety, style and correct idiom than mere “well-meaning”–is. Here is the Logos, the lost harmonic pattern of genuine human life. (Professor John Milbank)

Love is the perfect foundation and motivation for ethics and positive freedom, empowering moral choice in startling ways. In the Old Testament Psalms and Proverbs, love is featured extravagantly–to the lengths and widths, depths and heights of the human condition, the full expanse of the complex human story. Our relationship to this love is the key. Do we lean into it or move away from it? Human relations at their best are rooted, they flourish in the nurturing agar of God’s love. The more we root our identity in grace and gift love, the more fun, creative, surprising and rich life becomes. It is the ultimate hypergood that changes all the dynamics of our existence, all our goals and purposes. That bodes well for cultural progress and personal mature identity (Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual; Tom Holland, Dominion).

Incarnational thinking involves a moral conversion, including the development of moral language skill and proper categories. We can learn how to make wiser moral judgments, using the capacity of our intelligence and reasoning skills in the service of moral and affective orientation (our loves). Gnostics are radically dis-oriented, with a twisted, artificial view of the world. Love (I Corinthians 13) is a foundation for ethics, bringing hope, liberating the individual to see virtues as transcendent of desires. Love opposes revenge and promotes forgiveness and reconciliation, collaboration, tolerance and patience with the imperfections (and differences) of others.

Here we find Milbank answering the question why there is something rather than nothing. The answer is ‘gift’. The gift of Christ to redeem us is the plenitude that allows us to ‘glimpse’ the Fall and thereby Creation. The answer is to assume that love is basic to our existence as reason, which is something Balthasar endeavoured to show. We do not understand reason well if it is unrelated to love. We can only know what we love and love what we know. Love is the perfection against which Creations and reason appear…. Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood. Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve its infinite desires is not negative but positive…. Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, beauty and goodness. It illuminates our lives. (D.S. Long, 2009, 158-59)

Love goes beyond the Golden Rule, taking risks in its initiatives, listening to the stories and engaging the needs of others. Jesus is the law of love, the divine-human example to inspire us. Psalm 119 reveals the richness of the language of our relationship, within covenant love, with God’s statutes, principles, duties, rights and obligations. It also articulates his moral excellence of goodness and authority, his power and desire to help us live the honorable life and avoid evil. We are capacitated to indwell this poem (as with other scripture) and grow from it. It offers a worship experience that changes our outlook. Love has that transforming effect people.

We can always do better, think better, behave more honestly, honorably and authentically. As we have seen earlier in this series, philosopher Charles Taylor helps us recover the whole discourse of the moral good in the first part of his landmark tome Sources of the Self (1989). It is a powerful platform for dialogue on morality, filled with deep insights about what we value and why. Duff McDonald (2017) shows why this arena is important in today’s world through his gripping critique of the moral failure of our business community (The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite). Should we not research and experiment in our institutions concerning the powers of good character and the virtues, build out our creative work in this critical space? Pastors also would do well to seek training in ethics so that they can fruitfully integrate moral themes into regular teaching. This is where people live and struggle, need wise guidance.

A note on the church:

The church is not a self-contained society, nor is the church a mystical communion with no relations to social or political formations. Both understandings of the church remove it from its relationships to other social formations, which is where we discover the church’s truth. The church is non-necessary formation grounded in charity. It exists within kinship systems, nation-state and other political systems, and market exchanges, but it is not defined by any of those systems. It defines them. The reason is that charity is the basis for our existence. No institution or social formation can do without it; even the most corrupt form of social formation will eventually have to bear witness to the primacy of charity over power, will, and coercion. Only the church can explain why this is so. (D. Stephen Long, The Goodness of God, 304)

In Conclusion

The pursuit of mature happiness, rich freedom, human flourishing, resilient identity and substantive meaning, amidst the suffering and tragedy of a broken world, is a powerful, existential quest. It is the heartbeat of the field of Positive Psychology. The West is not without a response to the crisis of affirmation from its own philosophical, cultural, and spiritual tradition. Agape love posits a stance towards self and the world that is morally courageous and life-affirming. Yes, it is even heroic and prophetic, enhancing the common good and promoting the wellbeing of the community.

We can indeed love and accept self and the world, despite the brokenness, disappointments and failures, without resentment. Agape offers to reduce violence, promote justice and improve an individual’s mature response to circumstances. It follows in line with a happiness that is virtue-, character- and principle-driven (David Brooks, The Road to Character). It offers the motivation to do the good that we know to be part of our better self, our truest self. It addresses our desire to bridge the troubling moral gap between what we know to be the good, true and beautiful and the motivation to accomplish such things. Taylor suggests that the prime question of ethics and identity is “Who or what do we love?” We think he is on the right track; we tend to love what we think is good, what we admire. But it leads us into an awesome and terrible responsibility for the other (Lévinas). To participate in such love is to be truly, deeply human (Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism).

What the secularists forgot is that Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but on principle refuses to guide us as to how to choose. (Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference)

~Gordon E. Carkner, PhD in Philosophical Theology, Meta-Educator with UBC Graduate Students

Next: We will venture into how the incarnation impacts ethics.

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Houston, J.M. and Zimmermann, J. (eds). (2018). Sources of the Christian Self: a cultural history of Christian identity. Grand Raids, MI: Eerdmans.

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McMinn, M. (2017). The Science of Virtue: why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Merton, T. (2007). New Seeds of Contemplation. New Directions Books.

Sacks, J. (2003). The Dignity of Difference: how to avoid the clash of civilizations.

Sacks, J. (2017). Not in God’s Name: confronting religious violence.

Siedentop, L. (). Inventing the Individual: the origins of Western Liberalism. Belnap Press.

Smith, J.K.A. (2016). You Are What You Love: the spiritual power of habit. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos

Taylor, C. (1978). Language and Human Nature. Plaunt Memorial Lecture, Carleton University, 1978

Taylor, C. (1979). Hegel and Modern Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, C. (1985a). What’s Wrong With Negative Freedom? In C. Taylor (Ed.), Philosophy and the Human Sciences: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, C. (1985b). Foucault on Freedom and Truth. In C. Taylor (Ed.), Philosophy and the Human Sciences: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [also in Political Theory 12, 2 1984.]

Taylor, C. (1985c). Connolly, Foucault, and Truth. Political Theory 13  377-85

Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the Self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Taylor, C. (1989b). Taylor and Foucault on Power and Freedom: a reply.  Political Studies 37  277-81.

Taylor, C. (1991). The Malaise of Modernity. Concord, ON: Anansi.

Taylor, C. (1994). Charles Taylor Replies. In J. Tully (Ed.) Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The philosophy of Charles Taylor in question (pp. 213-57). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, C. (1999).   In J.L. Heft (S.M.). (Ed.). A Catholic Modernity?  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, C. (2017). A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Taylor, C. (2016). The Language Animal: the full shape of the human language capacity. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Tinder, G. (1991). The Political Meaning of Christianity: the prophetic stance.

Volf, M. (1996). Exclusion and Embrace: a theological exploration of Identity, otherness, and reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Zimmermann, J. (2012). Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world. Downers Give, IL: IVP Academic

Research on Love’s Impact on Culture

If you are not aware of it already would like to draw your attention to The Kenarchy Journal,, a new online academic resource launched this summer embracing a wide and interdisciplinary perspective relevant to the politics and theology of love. Its purpose is to advance applied research, and it includes a forum that we very much hope will provide the opportunity for thinkers and activists beyond academia to engage with the online material.

Volume 1, Starting Points, deals particularly with the theology of Incarnation, Trinity and Lament and then focuses on reinstating the feminine, advocating for the poor and reintegrating humanity and the creation. Volume 2, Spring 2021, will continue to explore Starting Points focusing on the remaining themes central to kenarchy, namely the priority of children, welcome for strangers, justice for prisoners, and health for the sick.

We are currently inviting submissions exploring the theology of the child, immigrants and asylum seekers, restorative justice, and health and wellbeing. Please encourage students and colleagues or fellow researchers to consider submitting an abstract for an article relevant to these themes via the website, or to let us have sight of an unpublished article they may have already prepared on one of these themes. We would of course, be delighted to have a submission from you!

In peace and love,


Roger Haydon Mitchell PhD

Honorary Researcher, Lancaster University Centre for Alternatives to Social and Economic Inequalities

Political Theologian with the Westminster Theological Centre

Co-director, 2MT

Lead Editor, The Kenarchy Journal     


Afterthoughts from N.T. Wight’s Gifford Lectures

  • Love is the most complete form of knowing and the resurrection is the most complete form of love. Ludwig Wittgenstein notes: “It is love that believes the resurrection.”
  • A new creation people, a new moral order, a new future in the present, emerges through the cross and resurrection: Jubilee
  • Jesus’ resurrection, by unveiling the creator’s love for the world, opens up the space and time for a holistic mode of knowing, a knowing which includes historical knowledge of the real world by framing it within the loving gratitude which answers the creator’s own sovereign love.
  • Knowing is a whole person, communal, here-and-now activity that is redeemed by love. Essays on Agape by Jason Lepojarvi

Ten Ways to Improve Your Life from Dr. Jordan Peterson, University of Toronto (paraphrased). He can be blunt while offering some practical wisdom.

  1. Stop doing the wrong and stupid things. You know what I mean. Walk away from evil and malevolence.
  2. Make a schedule and stick to it—one that works for you. It’s not a prison; you can adjust it later.
  3. Clarify your thoughts. Get the cobwebs out of your brain. Journal about them. Read a lot of good books–they become your friends.
  4. Take the meaningful path involving courage and integrity, versus the pathological way of anger, resentment, nihilism, and self-righteousness. Put meaning ahead of expedience/short cuts.
  5. Analyze your past to see what went right, what went wrong, face your pain and failures, and then specify your goals for a future as if you cared about yourself. Fix yourself first before you try to change the world; you’ll be amazed at the difference this makes. Have self-compassion as well as self-discipline. Be diligent and industrious. Step up to life and its challenges. Engage the world. Face your fears head on. Take courage, my friend. Act in good faith.
  6. Stop saying things that make you weak, which includes all those white lies and deceptions you pretend are OK—they represent your false self, turn you into a coward and cause you debilitating shame. Say things that align with the truth, the good and the core of your being (Parker Palmer). These things make you resilient.
  7. Adopt the mode of authentic being (Kierkegaard). Speak and act with integrity. Orient yourself to the truth as best you can discern it right now. Just stop lying to yourself and to others. This makes you weak, guilty and ashamed, hating yourself, resenting others. It can also cause you to hate the world. Honesty is the better way.
  8. Learn from your failures, errors and mistakes. Don’t let them freeze your moral will. Say you’re sorry to the ones you hurt. Reset your relationships accordingly. Ask for forgiveness to make things right in relationships. Make your life a bit better today, and then a bit better still tomorrow. This will build your confidence.
  9. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with yourself. Get real. Take time to reflect on your life and your highest ideals or values, the greatest good that you can come up with and admire. Don’t be afraid of ideals and virtues in our cynical age. Step out from the crowd of sceptics and cynics. This can be very enlightening. Make a covenant with your future self, love your future self, and step into life robustly. Let that pull you forward into the good life, one well worth living–the moral high road.
  10. Aim really high at good goals. Why not shoot for the stars, the higher moral road of growth, order and maturity, personal responsibility. Don’t let your life slide into laziness, mediocrity, and chaos, or the evil forces of arrogance, narcissism, entitlement, deceit and resentment will eat you alive. This will also result in hurting a lot of people associated with you. Don’t settle for being a slacker, and become your own worst enemy. Hang out with people that make you better, that challenge you to your better self. You have no idea what you can accomplish with passion and perseverance (Angela Duckworth). Ask for help when you need it, be brave and see a counsellor, join an AA group, and generously give help to others. Talk with a pastor or priest. I highly recommend you study the biblical stories for realism and inspiration; they inform the whole background of Western civilization and they will wake you up as a person.

A creed that tells us that we are no more than selfish genes, with nothing in principle to separate us from the animals, in a society whose strongest motivators are money and success, in a universe that came into existence for no reason whatsoever and for no reason will one day cease to be, will never speak as strongly to the human spirit as one that tells us we are in the image and likeness of God in a universe he created in love. (Jonathan Sacks)

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