To be loved is the most desperate of human needs. In an age of dizzying change and frustrating loneliness, the need to find the love that satisfies is one of man’s most basic searches.
We live in a dislocated, rootless and transient world. It is a world taxing our ability to maintain sanity. It is the age of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. Western man “must search out totally new ways to anchor himself,” say Toffler, “for all the old roots – religion, nation, community, family or profession are now shaking.”
One may disagree with some of Toffler’s’ solutions, but there is no doubt that all the old roots are being shattered by the impact of a world that threatens to isolate the individual and to buffet him about with endless changes. That new way to anchor ourselves is with the “love that satisfies”, the subject of this article.
Every human finds himself a part of the hunt to find this meaning. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm sees this hunt for union in love as man’s most basic quest. “The deepest need of man,” says Fromm, “is the need to overcome separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness.”
Humans in every age and culture are faced with discovering the solution to one basic question. In Fromm’s words, it is “the question of how to overcome separateness, how to achieve union, how to transcend one’s own individual life and find atone-ment.”
In our age, the love that can shatter this prison of separateness is a most basic need. To experience the kind of love that will truly give meaning to our lives, we must first understand which loves, or pseudo- loves, do not permanently satisfy. They have blinded man’s eyes to the only love that can bring complete satisfaction.
Our misdirected search for the love that satisfies is reflected in the notion of romantic love. In the last few generations, the idea of romantic love has captured the imagination of the Western world. Romantic love is used as a gimmick to sell trinkets and toiletries. Product advertisements running the gamut from breakfast cereals to breath sprays insert a hefty portion of romance into their hard sell.
We sing about this romantic love in the thousands of popular songs ground out in the past several decades. Turn on the television or radio and you may hear:
She: “I don’t know much about this thing called love.” He: “I don’t know much about it either, baby, but I’m willing to try.” They: “Let’s find love together, baby, you and me that’s the way it’s got to be.”
The words of this popular American song aptly express the human pursuit of some kind of love that will satisfy. Songs over many decades from “Some Enchanted Evening” to “Baby, Light My Fire” have virtually idolized romantic love. Young people from somewhere around age 14 to 20 spend a good portion of their time searching for romance.
Please do not take this for an open season “pot-shot” at teen-agers. The need to find union with another person is a basic human drive. The point being made is that human beings at a very critical juncture in their lives when they ought to start understanding what the true love that satisfies really is – are derailed into a psychological and emotional ditch.
As the young adolescent is making his way through the jungle of romantic love, he soon stumbles upon another maze-like detour. The detour says: “Indulge yourself.” This detour thrusts the individual into a most curious world.
It is the 21st century world of the love of “things.” For the first time in human history, broad segments of the population can find access to material wealth. We can buy to our hearts’ content. We can gulp booze, poke filter-tipped cigarettes between our lips, dine out in splendor, buy flat screen televisions, computers all types of cameras, cell phones that do almost everything on extended credit. From all this splendor we receive a momentary sense of well-being. And for years the individual man confuses this temporary feeling with real fulfillment.
Erich Fromm put it in earthy terms: “Man’s happiness today consists of ‘having fun.’ The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones, and the eternally disappointed ones.”
This is not a diatribe against physical enjoyment or a clarion call for poverty. There is an expression that says, “Money may not buy happiness, but it sure helps.” To be poor is not a virtue. But neither is using the material world as a substitute for the hunger in our hearts and minds.
A third kind of love that fails to satisfy can only be understood by grasping what the essence of love really is. Simply put, the essence of love involves union, attachment, and acceptance. It repairs one-ness or at-one-ment. The Bible tells us that “two cannot walk together unless they be agreed.” Love assumes that two minds – because it is with the mind that we love-- accept each other and hold similar hopes and dreams. The absence of this kind of union is separateness, aloneness – being cut off. But no man can be an island and stand alone. Every man and woman must find acceptance and union with something.
There are, of course, people who are utterly alone. At least, they feel completely rejected and alone, without love. They are defined as the insane. It is simply impossible for a human to live in a state of utter aloneness and lack of love. The mind craves union with someone or something. This is why false loves can flourish in societies cut off from the love that satisfies. The man who feels rejected and alone is a prime candidate for such external influences.
Philosopher Eric Hoffer has made a life study of mass movements and why people are caught up in them. A number of years ago, he wrote a widely acclaimed book, The True Believer. In this book, Hoffer analyzed the mental makeup of the person who becomes a true believer of a mass movement.
“The ideal potential convert,” stated Hoffer, “is the individual who stands alone.” Hoffer continued: “A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following, not by its doctrine and promises, but by the refuge it offers from anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual’s existence.”
Yet today, we find meaninglessness a characteristic of our culture. This feeling cuts us off psychologically and makes us feel insignificant. Insignificance becomes a synonym for aloneness.
In his book, Hoffer gives examples of this feeling. For example, when facing Stalin’s’ police, the individual Russian citizen felt meaningless. He seemed powerless and alone – insignificant-- and hence felt unable, psychologically and physically, to resist.
But facing the invading Nazi German armies, the Russian citizen saw himself as part of a powerful nation. His aloneness and insignificance evaporated. The individual’s life had acquired meaning and purpose. He was united with all Soviet citizens in the struggle for Mother Russia. Psychological union gave power to his life.
The Russian could identify with a power greater than he – a power that both needed him and gave him support. This reciprocity, this union of needs and alms was a kind of love relationship. Yet this kind of bond – this love for homeland-- is not the kind of love that can satisfy permanently. For the nation can disappear. Or it can turn against the individual. At best, this union, called “nationalism” is merely the most noble expression of conformity.
In its baser forms, this kind of love finds expression in abject conformity to customs, practices and beliefs. “It is a union,” say Fromm, “in which the individual self disappears to a large extent, and where the aim is to belong to the herd.” Fromm continues with the thought that “one can only understand the power to fear to be different; the fear to be only a few steps away from the herd, if one understands the depths of the need not to be separate.”
Many young people (as do older people) claim to be individualistic and reject society. The youthful expression of this “individualistic” attitude may be the wearing of outlandish clothes, the smoking of pot, the wearing of long hair, tattoos, bandannas, etc.
If one looks deeply enough, he finds that such groups of people are conforming to their own subcultures. They are just as slavishly dependent on the approbation of their peer-dominated tyranny as anyone in the silent majority.
A human simply cannot reject everyone and everything to stand alone. Neither can a human mind maintain sanity in a state of total rejection. The human mind cannot exist in psychological isolation. Just as nature abhors a physical vacuum, the mind abhors an “acceptance vacuum.” One can only reject this so he can accept that. A mind can survive being rejected by one group only if it can find acceptance in some fashion elsewhere. An individual must find union and love somewhere, if only with one other mind.
We humans are on a continual – though often unspoken-- campaign to find union and love and to avoid being separate. We may lavish affection on another human being. The romanticism of the “I can’t live without you, baby” syndrome is one expression of this love.
Some people simply stay lonely. They must grapple with minds that periodically threaten to slip into the abyss of insanity. These are the depressed minds of the aged, the pariahs, the sick and the unloved.
Other humans drown themselves in orgies of accomplishment. These people “get results” by being entrepreneurs, salesmen, the best in the field, the men with a line in Who’s Who-- the creators of masterpieces. Ability and the need to be loved drives them to superhuman accomplishment.
To accomplish is not wrong. But to use accomplishment for winning the kind of love that must satisfy permanently is to chase the wind. Today’s success is tomorrow’s failure. During the Great Depression, for example, many successful men committed suicide. They had used success as a love staff to lean on; it proved to be a broken reed.
The love which comes from the approbation of humans is transitory. Circumstance cuts its power. Circumstance made even Napoleon a prisoner on the island of Elba. Death took Churchill. For death is the ultimate barrier to a love that can satisfy permanently. Death makes life itself impermanent.
And so it is that since time immemorial men have turned to religion in hope of discovering the love that really satisfies. In religion, the helpless, alone and mortal human could find union with a superior being – a being that could love and protect beyond the changing vicissitudes of family, friend, success, mate, nation and even life itself and who could explain the traumas of life and transcend the limits of time with a love that endured.
But religion became, as Lenin and others so carefully observed, the opiate of the people, a sort of spiritual vodka. This world’s religions merely manipulated the very elements humans’ feared by casting a shadow in front of the love that really satisfies. The religious use of conformity, ceremonial entertainment, orgiastic ritual, fear of punishment, deprivation and the use of military power to force acceptance to a certain way of thinking blinded men’s eyes to the love that satisfied. Religion has seldom used or known of the love that would really satisfy, the very need its adherents were seeking to fulfill.
To understand what this love is, we must first understand ourselves. Man is, as Fromm puts it, “life being aware of itself.” He is aware of the fact that at one time he was born and that soon he must die. Man knows that he does not want to die. He knows himself as a separate being; but a being that is basically powerless and alone.
“This awareness of himself as a separate entity,” says Fromm, “the awareness of his own short life span, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison. He would become insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, uniting himself in some form or other with men.”
Yet this union, this fusion with another person or persons does not really satisfy. The other person is as weak as he is. Any love or interpersonal union with a human – though a very high form of love-- must be subsidiary and secondary to the true love that satisfies.
If human love is not the ultimate love, where then can we find this love that will satisfy? To find this love that satisfies, we must first understand what has been overlooked in ideas regarding love. In love, one assumes, by definition, that there is a union, the lack of union-- separateness – is the lack of love.
“The experience of separateness arouses anxiety,” say Fromm. “It is indeed, the source of all anxiety.” Beyond that, it arouses shame and the feeling of guilt. This experience of guilt and shame in separateness is expressed in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve.
“After Adam and Eve have eaten of the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil,’ after they have disobeyed, they saw that they were naked and they were ashamed.’”
Fromm implies that the separateness being spoken of is the separation between Adam and Eve. “While recognizing their separateness they remain strangers because they have not yet learned to love each other” he says. But to assume this to be the point of the narrative is to miss its true implication.
In this account, the important separation is not between Adam and Eve. The important separation is between man and God! The account chronicles the singular event in which mankind was cut off from contact with an eternal, all-powerful being. At this moment in history, man was forced to fill this void by inventing gods, both material and religious – in his own image.
Adam and Eve had disobeyed; they could no longer be at one with their Creator. Because being at one pre-supports that both parties share the same way of life. As mentioned, two cannot walk together unless they agree. Love is based on acceptance of common beliefs, aspirations and desires. There can be no love when no common acceptance exists.
Thus, the narrative in Genesis says of this Creator, “The man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep them away from the tree of life.”
The tree of life symbolized the way to the love, the union that would really satisfy. Man was now on his own. This severing of the connection between man and God left a sort of mental need in Adam’s mind, and in every other human since. Proof of this need has been discussed in this article. It is bound up with the human need to find love, union, acceptance, guidance and help.
So it is that Jesus in the New Testament speaks of a new type union between man and God which he made possible. Jesus said of his disciples in John 17:20-22, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me that they may be one, even as we are one.”
Christ was able to promise union with God – the love that satisfies to the true believers. Earlier He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter” (John 14:15-16). The ability to have this love demanded obedience to the same way of life practiced by Jesus. For then, the true believer, Jesus and God would walk together, united in love.
But before a union can take place between man and God, the wall of separation erected by Adam’s sin and the subsequent sins of humanity must be broken down. This wall is the sinful condition in which man lives. Your iniquities (sins) have separated between you and your God,” cries the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:2).
And so it was that in the Old Testament sacrificial law, a goat representing the bearer of the sins of humanity was killed. This atonement – or at-one-ment – ritual was enacted in the following way by a Levitical priest.
“Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring his blood within the vail. And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins” (Lev. 16:15-16).
From the Apostle Paul we understand that this goat represented the New Testament Messiah, Jesus, who died for the sins of humanity. “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh,’ says Paul in Hebrews 9:13, “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
So it is that man can find union with God once the wall of his sins is removed. Then the true agape, the Greek word for the love of God, can fuse the true believer with his Creator. This love, the love that satisfies opens a new dimension for the human being.
He needs no longer grapple with his helplessness. He can tap the power of an Almighty God, the Creator of the universe. He need no longer fear the termination of a short life, for the Creator promises the true believer eternal life. He need to longer search for his identity and purpose of life.
The individual need no longer feel alone, unloved, rejected or separated. Even though the world may despise him, he can always count on the love of God, a love that is unlimited. And it is a love that satisfies today and forever.