On Tuesday, I posted a quote from Terry Eagleton’s On Evil. To risk appearing completely enthralled by Eagleton’s prose (which I admit are difficult not to delight in), today I’m sharing a passage from Holy Terror (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2005), which Hanna recently finished and handed off to me.
I’ve talked briefly in a couple of recent posts about the meditation practice of metta, or “lovingkindness,” the Buddhist practice of extending intentions for well-being, peace, and and end to suffering toward all beings in the world. Even beings we do not like very much (or at all). Even ourselves. A friend of mine recently suggested this is similar to the Christian practice of “radical welcome” or “radical acceptence.” Both distinguish loving beings qua beings, so to speak, from loving individual beings in a more particular sense. I believe both types of caring — the more impersonal, unconditional love extended to all, and the particular liking of certain persons — are important. But I also believe that liking people, in a genuine way, really only takes root within the more disinterested, impartial sea of radical acceptence, or radical love.
Last week, I came across a passage in Holy Terror that speaks to the power of radical love. (Eagleton speaks from his background as a Catholic Christian, though I don’t believe the ideas need to be limited to Christian theology.)
Dionysus [in Euripides’ play The Baccae] offers men and women precious time off from their burdensome existence under the political law. We have seen already that such carnivalisque interludes are in the interests of the governing powers rather than an affort to them. As Olivia observes in Twelfth Night, there is no slander in an allowed Fool, no harm in jesters so long as they are licensed. When transgression is ordained, deviancy becomes the norm and the demonic finds itself redundant. This is why the devil finds himself with empty hands in the postmodern world. If Jesus’s law is light, however, it is not only because he, too, comes to relieve the labouring poor of their afflictions, but because God commands nothing more of his people than that they should allow him to love them.* Because he is the Other who neither lacks nor desires, unlike the Lacanian variety, he needs nothing from others, and his law is consequently free of neurotic compulsion and paranoid possessiveness. Ironically, it is God’s transcendence — the fact that he [sic] is complete in himself, has no need of the world, and created it out of love rather than need — that allows him to go so easy on his creatures.
God himself has the necessity of law, in that his being is not contingent. But this law, once again, is the law of love — for since nothing apart from God needs to exist, whatever does exist does so gratuitously, as a result of his unmotivated generousity. To say that things were created out of nothing means that they did not have to come about. The did not follow inexorably from some precedent, as elements of a causal or logical chain. Creation, in Alain Badiou’s terms, is an “event,” not a dreary necessity. The cosmos could quite easily never have happened. Instead, God could have devoted his considerable talents to, say, figuring out how to create square circles …
… Since religious fundamentalism is among other things an inability to accept contingency, the universe itself is a persuasive argument against such a creed. What fundamentalism finds hard to stomach is that nothing whatsoever needs to exist, least of all ourselves. For St Augustine, the fact that human beings are “created” means their being is shot through with non-being. Like modernist works of art, we are riddled from end to end with the scandal of our own non-necessity (p. 32-33).
*All bold passages are my emphasis, rather than Eagleton’s.
I am bewitched by Eagleton’s final passage here: “we are riddled from end to end with the scandal of our own non-necessity.” Why? Because our impracticality is the foundation upon which unconditional love is built: we do not have to be useful to be loved, we simply have to be. And this, indeed, is a radical claim.
A fuller meditation on both On Evil and Holy Terror will (knock on wood) be in a forthcoming booknote.