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Feel the Love

When I was a teenager studying different styles of the electric guitar, I caught onto the music of Rush, a Canadian rock trio that produced a different sound than any other band I had heard. Two things that struck me as different about them were that they had few songs one could dance to and absolutely no love songs. In Aquarian Weekly, the drummer and lyricist of the band, Neil Peart, explains why: "Along with Frank Zappa, I think that love songs are not only dumb, they're also actively harmful. They invent this fantasy that people expect their own relationships to live up to, and when they don't they result in divorce and low self-esteem and sense of failure and all that, so it's not healthy."

While there are dozens of love songs that sound good musically, the idealism and ultimate unrealism they embody may very well be damaging to real-life relationships. If this is true for songs, it is also true for movies, junk romance novels, and any other form of entertainment that expresses the "happily ever after" romantic ideal without any consideration for the practicalities of life.

I have many difficulties for varying reasons with a large number of spiritual and religious leaders. However, it has only been recently that the parallel between my youthful attraction to the music of Rush and its lack of songs addressed to one's "luv," and a repulsion to many modern teachers, has become apparent.

There are a number of spiritual personages in the world today whose mission is to spread love and more love. We all know who the love kings and queens are, and they certainly work overtime to make sure we don't forget. Their motto is, like the Beatles line, "Love is all you need." But after a three-hour love fest, chanting some Hindu songs, and feeling "the love" with whomever is around, participants must return to the world - a world that was not included as a passenger on the love train.

The real world is the one where participants have the same a diminished sense of self, the same inability to control the mind, the same desires and fears, the same ego and attachments, the same baggage of beliefs, and the same inability to embody genuine love in a life that is defined by materialism, consumerism, and competitive acquisitiveness. If anything, the contradiction between the world and the halls of love is more apparent, and the inability for love to simply be tacked onto the narrow personality, change it, and express itself in the glare of real daylight is more striking.

Love isn't where it's all at, anyway. A lot of violence in this world is expressed under the canopy of love. The issue is for people to develop mutual identity. I would much rather have someone identify with me than love me. And identifying with others is a lot harder to do. Even marriages fail, not because the love's gone, but because the identity, upon which all love is built, goes.

Mutual identity is a lot harder than hugging people. Mutual identity is also harder than talking about love constantly, or stressing that love is all we need. The problem isn't with love, the problem is with us, the identity who is doing all the loving. Love in the hands of a narrow self is as good as anger, hate, or any other divisive emotion. Selling some quick answer to life - the most tempting being love - is unhealthy. It creates a fantasy about human life and the world that is not in keeping with efforts to acquire actual knowledge about the world or the sense of self.

And the proof is in the people pudding. Just as people who embrace a warped ideal of love from syrupy love songs think they are in possession of the knowledge of real love - like Flaubert's Madame Bovary - so, too, people walk out of love rallies on a high, believing they know what love is, and with their new-found monopoly on love, will now proceed to bestow it with the world and look down on those who aren't buying it.

The overly sweet romance of a love song can result in a sugar overload that the narrow self can use to view a partner as a pathetic attempt at love. As for the narrow self in a relationship, it actually thinks it knows what love is, leaving the partner who might not be getting the message out in the cold. Similarly, the narrow self that can't get enough of love-saints and bhajans becomes an embodiment of love, radiating love to a world that desperately needs love. That is, until the world rips off the heart the narrow self sewed onto its sleeve. And when it is ripped off, woe onto the person that did the ripping!

The rash of Indian saints who preach love is not a sign of a healthy spiritual outlook. Saintliness in not simple mindedness, but it is a dull-witted idea that mature love could be shared in a few hours, understood, taken back into the world (which curiously had to be kept at bay for all of this loving to take place), and implemented in such a way that it actually changes the world. This idea is believed by millions of people, but is defended with anything but love.

The love people share in these closed groups is not shared with the world in ways that really matter. Instead of actually being loving, and selfless, and universal, love becomes a weapon to use against others who are deemed to be lacking in love. It forms the foundation of a superiority complex. In the end, self-righteousness and sarcasm hide behind religious and spiritual formalities that were originally meant to carry the spirit of friendship.

There is an important question that needs to be asked: What are the long-term effects of representing love in a heavenly, unadulterated, idealistic form that, while untouched by the gross world of selves and desires and bodies, is somehow supposed to permeate this fragmented world? If reason and intuition, we must hope against hope, can prevail over ignorance excused by presumed saintliness, then one day these questions will not illicit angry responses, will not challenge little selves, but will instead be seriously entertained by people who really want to think about life.

Though countless philosophers and mystics compare schools of thought, states of consciousness, teachers, and practices, even as ancient texts point out different levels of truth and reality, when a love bunny's own teacher is challenged, the daggers come out and the hypocrisy shows as he or she unhesitatingly equates the challenger with ignorance. Just as it is a love of an otherworldly being they embrace, it remains a love of another world - easy, seductive, narrowing, exclusive, and as Neil Peart pointed out about silly love songs, harmful.

Preaching love without teaching methods to actively expand the sense of self, live the ascetic life or challenge the narrow identity, is not merely unrealistic, but dangerous and violence-producing. Moreover, it provides self-mystifying fillers and distractions in life that allow the real economic and political violence to continue unchallenged.

This issue needs to be raised one day to the millions of devotees drunk on spiritual love, the millions who nevertheless have next to zero intuitive perception of a self beyond the senses.

Any Joe Blow can preach love. It's easy and lucrative. Who can argue against love? It is the best shield against criticism. It is the best veil to hide ambitions. Very few people can pierce it, but many thinkers have pointed out how it is a two-edged sword, and the real exemplars of love for humanity, like Gandhi, have shown that real love is action and is invariably expressed by a self that is far from perfect. Real love is work that expands the human identity. Working in the world is not a job for saints who want to be perceived as perfect, because the only work that truly matters is the work that is unpopular, politically incorrect, and that challenges humanity to sacrifice its narrowness.

Love becomes reality through expanding one's self and exposing where violence hides behind the intoxications of ersatz love, not in singing about it, hugging one another, and mouthing platitudes about saccharine-sweet love. Even the Dark Age New Testament figured that out: "Love without work is dead." The work is ultimately in sacrificing the narrow self. I have known people that attended these love orgies, attesting to the feeling of love they received, and am never surprised at how no change was apparent in their smallness or self-absorbed conduct. I realized that not only were people never going to change by such methods, but those are the precise methods that attract people who want the little self to be affirmed, not challenged.