Wednesday, July 4, 2018

James Baldwin, On Why We Must Define Ourselves, Rather than be Defined by Others

(I apologize for having to include the N-word in the following reflection on the themes of shame, self-awareness, and social identity in James Baldwin’s writing and public speaking, but this term is the most accurate one, according to Baldwin, to describe the typical conception a white American has of an African American. According to Baldwin, African Americans have historically been seen and treated as inferiors by white Americans, who have often addressed them by using this racial epithet.)

      James Arthur Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, social critic, and civil rights activist. He was born August 2, 1924, in New York City. His mother, Emma Berdis Jones, married a preacher, David Baldwin, in 1927. James was the oldest of nine children. He never knew the name of his biological father, and he had a strained relationship with his stepfather. In 1938, he began to preach at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly, but he renounced the ministry four years later when he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School. He began his career as a writer, and his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published in 1953. It was nominated for the National Book Award. He left the United States in 1948, and settled in Paris. However, he returned to the United States in 1957, and was active in the American civil rights movement. He settled in Saint Paul de Vence, southern France, in 1970. He died of stomach cancer at the age of 63, on December 1, 1987, in Saint Paul de Vence.
      Baldwin’s writings include the novels Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Giovanni’s Room (1956), Another Country (1962), Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and Just Above My Head (1979). His plays include The Amen Corner (1954), and Blues for Mister Charlie (1964). His essay collections include Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), The Devil Finds Work (1976), The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), and The Price of the Ticket (1985).
      In an interview with the oral historian, writer, and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel (1961), Baldwin describes working on his first novel and being unable to finish it:

“I finally realized that one of the reasons that I couldn’t finish the novel was that I was ashamed of where I came from and where I had been. I was ashamed of the life in the Negro church, ashamed of my father, ashamed of the Blues, ashamed of Jazz, and, of course, ashamed of watermelon; all of these stereotypes that the country inflicts on Negroes, that we all eat watermelon or we all do nothing but sing the Blues. Well, I was afraid of that; and I ran from it.”1

      It is this sense of shame that white people attempt to inflict on black people when they call them “niggers,” says Baldwin. But perhaps the white policeman will call the black man “nigger” once too often, and one of them will die.2
      Black people are therefore faced with the question, “If we’re going to be called “niggers,” then should we resist the notion of acting like “niggers”?” Perhaps we might as well act like “niggers,” even though we know we’re not “niggers,” and never were. But why should we act like something we aren't? And if white people are calling us "niggers" in order to keep us in our place, then maybe we should show them that we're not going to be kept in our place!
      A question that both white people and black people must also ask themselves is, “Why was it necessary for white people to call black people “niggers” in the first place?” What system of power and privilege was it necessary for this term to reinforce? What system of epistemic, social, and cultural values was it necessary for this term to support?
      Because black people know why (some) white people feel it necessary to call them “niggers”—it’s necessary for (some) white people, in order to help them maintain an unjust system of white power and privilege—black people know white people in a way that white people don’t know themselves (and know things about white people that they don’t know about themselves).
      Baldwin describes another kind of shame—not a shame associated with humiliation, but a shame associated with regret—when he writes of seeing a photograph of Dorothy Counts, one of the first black students admitted to Harry Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina in September 1957, showing her being taunted and harassed by white students.
        "That’s when I saw the photograph.
Facing us, on every newspaper kiosk
on that wide, tree-shaded boulevard in Paris
were photographs of fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts
being reviled and spat upon by the mob
as she was making her way to school
in Charlotte, North Carolina.

There was unutterable pride, tension, and anguish
in that girl’s face
as she approached the halls of learning
with history, jeering, at her back.

It made me furious,
it filled me with both hatred and pity.
And it made me ashamed.

Some one of us should have been there with her!3

      He recalls the sense of shame he was made to feel by his stepfather:

“My father said, during all the years I lived with him, that I was the ugliest boy he had ever seen, and I had absolutely no reason to doubt him. But it was not my father’s hatred of my frog-eyes which hurt me, this hatred proving, in time, to be rather more resounding than real: I have my mother’s eyes. When my father called me ugly, he was not attacking me so much as he was attacking my mother.”4

      He also recalls that as a boy, because he had been made to feel ugly, “I used to put pennies on my eyes to make them go back.”5 He was made to feel not only ugly, but queer and “strange.”6
      Baldwin says,

“In order for me to live, I decided very early that some mistake had been made somewhere. I was not a “nigger” even though you called me one. But if I was a “nigger” in your eyes, there was something about you—there was something you needed. I had to realize when I was very young that I was none of those things I was told I was…So where we are now is that a whole country of people believe I’m a “nigger,” and I don’t, and the battle’s on! Because if I am not what I’ve been told I am, then it means that you’re not what you thought you were either!”7

      In a film documentary entitled “Take This Hammer,” produced in 1963 by KQUED Public Television, Baldwin continues to explain why it's so important to be able to define one’s own sense of personal identity:

“What you say about somebody else, anybody else, reveals you. What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessity, my own psychology, my own fears and desires. I’m not describing you when I talk about you, I’m describing me. And here in this country we’ve got something called “the nigger,” who doesn’t in such terms, I beg you to remark, exist in any other country in the world. We have invented “the nigger.” I didn’t invent him. White people invented him. I’ve always known—I had to know by the time I was 17 years old—what you were describing was not me, and what you were afraid of was not me. It had to be something else. You had invented it, so it had to be something you were afraid of, and you invested me with it. Now if that’s so, no matter what you’ve done to me, I can say to you this, and I mean it, I know you can’t do any more, and I got nothing to lose, and I know, and I’ve always known, you know, and really always, that’s part of the agony, I’ve always known that I’m not a nigger. But if I am not the nigger, and if it’s true that your invention reveals you, then who is the nigger? I’m not the victim here. I know one thing from another…I know a person is more important than anything else. Anything else. I’ve learned this because I had to learn it. But you still think, I gather, that “the nigger” is necessary. Well it’s unnecessary to me, so it must be necessary to you. So I’m going to give you your problem back. Your “nigger,” baby, isn’t me.”8

      He also explains in an interview with the poet Quincy Troupe in November 1987,

“I was not born to be what someone said I was. I was not born to be defined by someone else, but by myself, and myself only.”9
      For white people to try to dehumanize non-white people is for white people to dehumanize themselves, says Baldwin.10 When white people try to strip non-white people of their humanity, white people strip themselves of their own humanity.
      What is necessary now is not for black people to adjust themselves to the ways in which they have been seen and treated by white people, but for white people to adjust themselves to the fact that black people will no longer accept the unjust and shameful ways in which they've been seen and treated. Black people will no longer accept the demeaning and stereotypical conceptions of themselves that have been promoted by white people.
      White people must therefore find a way of living with black people in order to live with themselves. They must see that “the nigger” they attempt to make of every black person has nothing to do with who black people really are, but instead arises from white people's own need to establish or maintain some form of white supremacy.
      Just as black people must liberate themselves from the distorted conceptions of themselves promoted by white people, says Baldwin, white people must also liberate themselves from those same distorted conceptions. This is the only way for there to be a true understanding of the nature of racial relations in America.
      He describes the experience of twice seeing the movie The Defiant Ones (1958)—once with a white audience in downtown New York City, and once with a black audience in uptown New York City—and how differently the two audiences responded to the moment at which the escaped black prisoner, played by Sidney Poitier, gives up his own chance for freedom in order not to leave behind his fellow white prisoner, played by Tony Curtis:

“at the end of that movie when Sidney jumps off the train to rescue Tony Curtis…I saw it twice, deliberately, in New York. I saw it Downtown with a white liberal audience. There was a great sigh of relief and clapping: they felt that this was a noble gesture on the part of a very noble black man. And I suppose, in a way, it was.
      Then I saw it Uptown. When Sidney jumped off the train, there was a tremendous roar of fury from the audience, with which, I must say, I agreed. They told Sidney to “Get back on the train, you fool.” In any case, why in the world should he go back to the chain gang, when they were obviously going to be separated again: it’s still a Jim Crown chain gang.
      What’s the movie supposed to prove? What the movie is designed to prove, really, to white people, is that Negroes are going to forgive them for their crimes, and that somehow they are going to escape scot-free. Now, I am not being vengeful at all when I say this…because I’d hate to see the nightmare begin all over again, with shoes on the other foot. But I’m talking about a human fact. The human fact is this: that one cannot escape anything one has done. One has got to pay for it. You either pay for it willingly or pay for it unwillingly.”11

      Baldwin strikes a more hopeful note, however, in a televised interview with the psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark (1963), entitled “The Negro and the American Promise”:

“I can’t be a pessimist, because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”12


1James Baldwin, in “An Interview with James Baldwin,” by Studs Terkel, in Conversations with James Baldwin, edited by Fred L. Standley and Louis H. Pratt (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989), p. 4.
2Ibid., p. 18.
3Baldwin, in I Am Not Your Negro, compiled and edited by Raoul Peck (New York: Vintage International, 2017), p. 12.
4Baldwin, “No Name in the Street,” in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), p. 501.
5Baldwin, “Disturber of the Peace: James Baldwin—An Interview,” by Eve Auchincloss and Nancy Lynch, in Conversations with James Baldwin, edited by Fred L. Standley and Louis H. Pratt (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989), p. 79.
6Baldwin, “No Name in the Street," in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985, p. 502.
7Baldwin, “The Devil Finds Work,” in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), p. 559.
8Baldwin, in ”Take This Hammer,” 1963, WNET, online at
9Baldwin, in The Last Interview: and other Conversations (Melville House, 2014).
10Baldwin, “Many Thousands Gone,” in Notes of a Native Son (New York: Bantam Books, 1955), p. 19.
11Ibid., pp. 11-12.
12Baldwin, in “The Negro and the American Promise,” 1963, WGBH Educational Foundation, online at


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Baltimore Ten Miler, 2018

The Baltimore Ten Miler was held Saturday, June 2nd, 2018. Thunderstorms had been forecast, but the weather was warm and cloudy, 73 degrees at starting time, with calm wind. The route was the same as last year, starting in Druid Hill Park, leading along East Drive to Wyman Park Drive, down Howard St. to 28th St, along 28th St. to Greenmount Ave., up Greenmount to 33rd St., along 33rd to Lake Montebello, around Lake Montebello, and back along the same route to Druid Hill Park.
      Dave Berdan, from Owings Mills, MD, was the winner in the men's division, with a time of 54:28. Breanna Bordenski, from Pasadena, MD, was the winner in the women's division, with a time of 1:03:39.
      My son Douglas and I ran together the whole race. He's an experienced runner and triathlete who ran the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia on May 6th. Our finish time was 1:26:19, for a pace of 8:38 per mile, better than I expected. I finished 453 out of 3898 total finishers, number 1 out of 40 finishers in my age group!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Cosmic Christ

At the church I attend on Sunday mornings, the 8 a.m. service ("Faith at Eight") is usually a small gathering of people, including the rector, deacon, and 10-12 parishioners, who come together to say prayers, share readings from the lectionary, participate in a reflection period (during which we talk about the readings and whatever else is on our minds), and share Holy Communion. The following is a reflection that I gave on Sunday, September 16, 2012, about a reading from the lectionary.

Mark 8:27-30 27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? 28And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, ”But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah." 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a question with many levels of meaning, since it concerns not only his identity, but also his mission, the purpose of his ministry, and the meaning of his teachings. And thus it leads us to ask ourselves, “Who is Jesus for us today?”
      But to ask this question is also to ask, “Who or what or where is God?” Can we say anything with certainty about God? Is the concept of God something we can describe with any degree of adequacy? Does the concept of God transcend the limits of language? If the term “God” is a name we use to refer to absolute being, ultimate realty, or the guiding principle of the universe, then what is our relation to this absolute being, ultimate reality, or guiding principle? Is God a cosmic presence, truth, or reality? If so, is there a cosmic Jesus?
       The question of who Jesus is has cosmic importance, and its answer has cosmic implications. Who then is the cosmic Jesus?
      Maybe the cosmic Jesus is the Jesus who brings to us the consciousness that we are one with the universe, and that the universe is always changing. Maybe the cosmic Jesus is the Jesus who teaches us that everything is interdependent, and that our own well-being depends on the well-being of others, as well as on the well-being of the world in which we live. Maybe the cosmic Jesus is the Jesus who teaches us that God is creator, redeemer, and sustainer of the universe. Maybe he's the Jesus who teaches us that God is the eternal principle on which is based all being and becoming. 
      Maybe he's also the Jesus whose appearance is like lightning, and who’s more powerful than the Big Bang. The Jesus who transcends the realm of asteroids, comets, planets, stars, constellations, and galaxies. The Jesus who’s not earthbound; the Jesus of cosmic infinity. The Jesus who says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
      Because there’s a here and now Jesus, and there’s a cosmic Jesus, who are one and the same. An earthly Jesus, and a heavenly Jesus. A bodily Jesus, and a spiritual Jesus. A Jesus of human history, and a Jesus of universal power, who are not two different beings, but the one Jesus, who lives and reigns in unity with the Holy Spirit and God the Almighty.
      Jesus may be seen as not only a redeemer and savior, but also a cosmic reality whose transformative power extends throughout the universe, and whose sacramental presence is a cosmic mystery. He's a Jesus who was crucified, who suffered death for our sake, and who ascended into heaven. He's a Jesus who resurrects the dead, and who leads us to eternal life. He's a Jesus who walked among us, and who remains with us for all eternity.
      He may also be seen as not only a scriptural Jesus, but a living Jesus. A corporeal Jesus, and a transfigured Jesus. An electric Jesus who electrifies us with his eternal and universal power. An electric power Jesus who has more power than Baltimore Gas and Electric. A cosmic power Jesus who never has a power outage, and who always sustains us whenever we’re in need. A Jesus who teaches us there’s no greater power than the power of love. A Jesus who supports us in times of trial, and who gives us strength in our faith.
      If there’s a cosmic Jesus, then is there also an interplanetary and intergalactic Jesus, a Jesus who transcends the limits of time and space? Indeed, a Facebook page for the “Interplanetary Church of Jesus Christ the Galactic Savior” makes the very odd and amusing claim that “God Almighty gave us the technology of space flight so we could spread HIS healing gospel to the extraterrestrials!”
      The question may then be asked: if there are other worlds of living beings in the universe, has a cosmic Jesus been crucified in those worlds and redeemed sinners on other planets and in other galaxies? Is Jesus a redeemer and savior only for our own world? When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” is he perhaps saying his kingdom is not localized to any one particular world? (I’m jesting here; I don’t seriously mean that Jesus is flying around somewhere in another galaxy saving sinners!)
       But speaking seriously, I think the cosmic Jesus is also the Jesus through whom is revealed the unity of the logos and cosmos. In the original Greek of the New Testament, the word “logos” means “word” or “law,” and the word “kosmos” means “world” or “order.” The Gospel According to John (1:1) says “ν ρχ ν Λόγος, κα Λόγος ν πρς τν Θεόν, κα Θες ν Λόγος” (“En archē ēn ho Lógos, kai ho Lógos ēn pros ton Theón, kai Theós ēn ho Lógos”)—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is the Word incarnate, the Word given human form. John continues, in Chapter 1 verse 10, ” ν τ κόσμ ν, κα κόσμος δι᾿ ατο γένετο, κα κόσμος ατν οκ γνω” (“en tō kosmō ēn, kai ho kosmos di’ autou egeneto, kai ho kosmos auton ouk egnō”)—“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.” Thus, the Word or law (the logos of the cosmos) is both immanent and transcendent. Jesus is in the world, but he also transcends the world. The cosmos is sustained by God’s law, by God’s will, and by God’s love, as personified by the cosmic Jesus. The logos governs the cosmos, and the cosmos is an embodiment of the logos. The logos is also the ultimate truth or reality of the cosmos. Although the universe may often appear impersonal to us and may also appear indifferent or hostile to us, the ultimate truth or reality of the universe is personified by the cosmic Christ, who reveals to us that at all times and in all places God loves us and watches over us. The logos is the key to understanding the mysteries of the universe. The logos may also be an underlying cosmic principle that explains things. It may even be a principle of cosmic necessity or destiny.
      We may thus have to consider how we can reconcile the concepts of “cosmos” and “chaos.” Is chaos governed by the cosmos, or is the cosmos governed by chaos? Is the universe ruled by order or disorder, by chance or necessity? Is divine love a governing principle of the universe?
      Belief in a cosmic Christ may be found in Christian mysticism, insofar as it may lead to a quest for union with God. (Union with God is in fact what happens when we share the Eucharist; we are united with the precious body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.)
      Insofar as belief in a cosmic Christ leads to a quest for union with God, it may also be similar in some ways to other kinds of religious mysticism. But it doesn’t necessarily eliminate any distinction between God and ourselves or between God and the universe. It may or may not be compatible with various forms of panentheism (the belief that all things are in God, and that God is in all things), and it may actually be incompatible with pantheism (the belief that God is identical to the universe).
      Both pantheism (the belief that all things are manifestations of God) and panentheism (the belief that all things are in God and permeated by God’s being) may fail to distinguish between the Creator and the created, and they may therefore be incompatible with a belief “in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made” (Nicene Creed).
      Panentheism may not allow for any ontological distinction to be made between the universe and God, if the universe and God are seen as having the same mode of being. It may also be taken to imply that God’s presence is somehow to be found in material things, and it may therefore not fully recognize God’s transcendence of the material world.
      Belief in a cosmic Christ may be further distinguishable from panentheism if it's a belief that God is capable of being in every part of the universe, as opposed to a belief that God is actually in every part of the universe. Belief that God is capable of being in every part of the universe may allow for the existence of evil and for the existence of that which has not yet been redeemed by the saving grace of God.
      Belief in a cosmic Christ may also be distinguishable from pantheism insofar as it may be a belief about the presence of God in the cosmos, as opposed to a belief about the identity of God and the cosmos.
      Cosmological Christology may be a quest for a better understanding of the relation between Christ and the cosmos, and it may also be a quest for a better understanding of the cosmic Christ. It may also enable us to reconcile our theology and Christology with the insights of modern science concerning the origin, evolution, and destiny of the universe.
      Hebrews 1:3 says, [Jesus] “reflects the glory of God…upholding the universe by his word of power,” and Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Thus, the cosmic Christ is our hope, our sustainer, and our salvation.
      The cosmic Christ is also the Christ who said to his disciples after he had risen from the dead, “I will be with you always, to the end of time” (Matt 28:29). The cosmic Christ is the Christ who, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer of the New Zealand Prayer Book, is “Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be.”2
      Interestingly, there may be similarities (as well as differences) between the kinds of viewpoints taken by Christianity toward the nature of cosmic reality and the kinds of viewpoints taken by other religious and philosophical traditions. For example, just as some Vedanta philosophers describe the world as the body of Brahman, some Christian theologians describe the world as the body of God. Just as some Buddhist thinkers describe the dissolution of the self in the state of enlightenment, some Christian thinkers describe the dissolution of the self in the state of union with God.
      Sallie McFague, Professor Emerita of Theology at Vanderbilt University, says, in an essay entitled “The Scope of the Body: the Cosmic Christ” (1996), 

“The body of God…is also the cosmic Christ—the loving, compassionate God on the side of those who suffer, especially the vulnerable and excluded. All are included, not only in their liberation and healing, but also in their defeat and despair. Even as the life-giving breath extends to all bodies in the universe, so does the liberating, healing, and suffering love of God. The resurrected Christ is the cosmic Christ, the Christ freed from the body of Jesus of Nazareth, to be present in and to all bodies. The New Testament appearance stories attest to the continuing empowerment of the Christic paradigm in the world: the liberating, inclusive love of God for all is alive in and through the entire cosmos. We are not alone as we attempt to practice the ministry of inclusion, for the power of God is incarnate throughout the world, erupting now and then where the vulnerable are liberated and healed, as well as where they are not.”3


1Interplanetary Church of Jesus Christ the Galactic Savior, online at
2A New Zealand Prayer Book: He Karakia O Aotearoa (HarperCollins, 1997), p. 181.
3Sallie McFague, “The Scope of the Body: the Cosmic Christ,” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, edited by Roger S. Gottlieb (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 286.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Four-Seven Debate

The following is a brief synopsis of The Four-Seven Debate: An Annotated Translation of the Most Famous Controversy in Korean Neo-Confucian Thought, by Michael C. Kalton et al. (State University of New York Press, 1994).
      The Four-Seven Debate was a debate in sixteenth century Korean Neo-Confucian philosophy, between Yi Hwang (Toegye, 1501-1570) and Gi Dae-seung (Gobong, 1527-1572), and between Yi I (Yulgok, 1536-1584) and Seong Hon (Ugye, 1535-1598), about the ways in which the Four Beginnings and Seven Feelings are similar to, or different from, each other.1
      The Four Beginnings (compassion, shame, respect, and the sense of right and wrong) were described by Mengzi (Mencius, 372-289 BCE), who said, ”The sense of compassion is the beginning of benevolence (ren), the sense of shame is the beginning of righteousness (yi), the sense of respect is the beginning of propriety (li), and the sense of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom (zhi). All human beings have these four senses, just as they have four limbs.” (Mengzi, 2A.6).2,3
      The Seven Feelings were described in the Liji (Book of Rites) as basic feelings of which all human beings are capable. The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong), a chapter of the Liji attributed to Zisi (c. 481-402 BCE), describes four basic human feelings or emotions (joy, anger, sorrow, and joy) whose arousal to appropriate levels results in a state of harmony, and whose non-arousal results in a state of centeredness or equilibrium, but the Li yun (Evolution of Ritual) chapter of the Liji describes seven basic human feelings or emotions (desire, hate, love, fear, grief, anger, and joy).4
      The Zhongyong says, in describing the basic human feelings or emotions:

“When joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure have not yet arisen, it is called the Mean (centeredness, equilibrium). When they arise to appropriate levels, it is called “harmony.” The Mean is the great root of all-under-heaven. “Harmony” is the penetration of the Way through all-under-heaven. When the Mean and Harmony are actualized, Heaven and Earth are in their proper positions, and the myriad things are nourished.”5

      But the Li yun says,

“What is meant by the genuine (qing) in man? Pleasure, anger, sadness, fear, love, hate, desire, these seven we are capable of without having learned them.”6

      The tone of the Four-Seven Debate, as manifested in the letters exchanged between Toegye and Gobang from 1559-1566, was quite courteous and respectful. The tone of the letters subsequently exchanged between Yulgok and Ugye was also quite cordial and respectful.
      In a letter written to Gobong in 1559, Toegye says the emergence of the Four Beginnings is purely a matter of principle (li) and therefore involves nothing but good, but the emergence of the Seven Feelings includes material force (qi) and therefore involves both good and evil.7
      In a reply written to T’oegye in 1559, Gobong contends that to say that the Four Beginnings are produced by principle and are therefore nothing but good, and that the Seven Feelings are produced by material force and therefore involve both good and evil, is to differentiate the one from the other and make them two distinct things. However, principle and material force are always combined in actual things, and are inseparable.8
      In a reply written to Gobong in 1560, Toegye agrees that the Four Beginnings and Seven Feelings are equally feelings, but he says the Four Beginnings correspond to the original goodness of human nature, while the Seven Feelings correspond to changes in human nature that may be caused by external conditions. Toegye agrees that principle and material force are interdependent, and that just as there can be no material force without principle, there can be no principle without material force. But he suggests that the Four Beginnings are predominantly a matter of principle, and that the Seven Feelings are predominantly a matter of material force.
      In a reply to Toegye, Gobong says that although the Seven Feelings combine principle and material force and involve both good and evil, the Four Beginnings are actually only those of the Seven Feelings that are in accord with principle and are good.9 Both the Four Beginnings and the Seven Feelings emerge from the same source: the mind and heart. The Four Beginnings are not a distinctive set of feelings that only arise from principle and not from material force.10
      In a reply to Gobong, Toegye suggests that to say the Four Beginnings and Seven Feelings are the same, with nothing distinguishing them, is to say that principle and material force are the same, with nothing distinguishing them.11
      In a letter written to Ugye in 1572, Yulgok explains that material force is what principle “mounts upon” (like a rider mounting upon a horse). Without principle, material force has nothing to guide it, and without material force, principle has nothing upon which to mount. Principle and material force are interdependent; there can’t be one without the other. “The Four Beginnings are the good side of the Seven Feelings, and the Seven Feelings are a comprehensive term that includes the Four Beginnings,” says Yulgok.12 The term, “The Four Beginnings,” is just another term for the subset of Seven Feelings that are good feelings. The Seven Feelings include the Four Beginnings.13
      In a reply to Yulgok, Ugye compares the relation of principle and material force to that of a rider and a horse. Without the horse, the rider cannot come and go, but without the rider, the horse will stray from the proper path.14
      In a reply to Ugye, Yulgok says that principle is formless, but that material force has form. Principle pervades, but material force delimits. Principle has no beginning or end, no before or after, and it isn't subject to the constraints of space and time, but it makes all concrete form and activity possible.15


1The Four-Seven Debate: An Annotated Translation of the Most Famous Controversy in Korean Neo-Confucian Thought, by Michael C. Kalton, with Oaksook C. Kim, Sung Bae Park, Youngchan Ro, Tu Wei-Ming, and Samuel Yamashita (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994).
2D.C. Lau translates this saying of Mencius as “The heart of compassion is the germ of benevolence; the heart of shame, of dutifulness; the heart of courtesy and modesty, of observance of the rites; the heart of right and wrong, of wisdom. Man has these four germs just as he has four limbs.” (Mencius, translated by D.C. Lau, New York: Penguin Books, 1970, pp. 82-83).
3Irene Bloom translates this saying of Mencius as “The mind’s feeling of pity and compassion is the sprout of humaneness (ren); the mind’s feeling of shame and aversion is the sprout of rightness (yi); the mind’s feeling of modesty and compliance is the sprout of propriety (li); and the mind’s sense of right and wrong is the sprout of wisdom (zhi). Human beings have these four sprouts, just as they have four limbs.” (Mencius, translated by Irene Bloom, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009, p. 35).
4Deborah Sommer, “Xing qing (The nature and feelings),” in The Encyclopedia of Confucianism, edited by Xinzhong Yao (Abingdon: Routledge, 2003), pp. 701-702.
5The Doctrine of the Mean, translated by A. Charles Muller, 2016, online at
6Lisa Raphals, “Reflections of filiality, nature, and nurture,” in Filial Piety in Chinese Thought and History, edited by Alan K.L. Chan and Sor-hoon Tan (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), p. 217.
7The Four-Seven Debate: An Annotated Translation of the Most Famous Controversy in Korean Neo-Confucian Thought, by Michael C. Kalton et al. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), p. 1.
8Ibid., pp. 4-6.
9Ibid., p. 9.
10Ibid., p. 32.
11Ibid., p. 55.
12Ibid., p. 131.
13Ibid., p. 134.
14Ibid., p. 140.
15Ibid., pp. 175-176.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Revolutionary Love

What is revolutionary love? Is it a theological, religious, ethical, philosophical, or political form of expression, or is it perhaps all of these? When does love become a revolutionary act? Is revolutionary love the kind of love that is required in order to change the world? Where does the love revolution begin?
      What happens to us when we feel, express, are touched by, or are empowered by revolutionary love?
      The answers to these questions may depend in part on whether the kind of fundamental change produced by revolutionary love is psychological, moral, political, social or institutional in nature.
      There may of course be many kinds of love: romantic, parental, filial, sisterly, and brotherly. There may also be love of one’s family, love of one’s friends, love of one’s community, love of one’s country, love of God, love of self, love of one’s neighbor, and love of the stranger. Can each of these kinds of love be in some cases revolutionary? If so, then there may be many kinds of revolutionary love.
      Revolutionary love, as described in the New Testament, is the kind of love that teaches us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). It’s also the kind of love that teaches us to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another…Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21).
      Revolutionary love is also the kind of love that changes others when they see that we have only love, and not bitterness or hatred, in our hearts. It reconciles us with others, and others with us. It enables us to overcome our differences, and it motivates us to promote social harmony and cooperation. It’s also a kind of love that may be so powerful that it changes our whole way of looking at the world. It may also encourage others to reciprocate with kindness and understanding.
      Denise Levertov’s poem, “Prayer for Revolutionary Love” (1975), begins with the lines:

      “That a woman not ask a man to leave meaningful work to follow her.
        That a man not ask a woman to leave meaningful work to follow him.”1

Thus, Levertov suggests that love may be revolutionary insofar as it fully allows for and respects the personal autonomy and moral agency of those who share it.
      Thomas Jay Oord (2017), a professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University, describes revolutionary love as a kind of love that promotes overall well-being, not only individually or locally, but also collectively or globally. He argues that “revolutionary love works to overcome, overthrow, and oppose structures, systems, or authorities that undermine overall well-being. Revolutionary love seeks justice in the face of evil.”2 He also argues that “We need revolutionary love when the status quo and the established systems disenfranchise, oppress, and degrade our lives and our planet…Revolutionary love opposes the status quo whenever the status quo does harm and evil, whether at the local, national, or international levels.”3
      Revolutionary love is also the kind of love that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes in a sermon entitled “Loving Your Enemies,” which he delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on Nov. 17, 1957. Dr. King may in some ways be described as a revolutionary, and his preaching, ministry, and civil rights activism may in some ways be described as an effort to promote revolutionary love. What he explains we must recognize is that

“Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it…
      And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see…what religion calls “the image of God, you begin to love him…Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them…
      and...there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.”4

      Serene Jones (2017), a professor of theology and President of Union Theological Seminary, explains that just as there may be many kinds of love, there may be many kinds of revolution. Thus, there may be “revolutions of loves.”5 She explains that great harms may sometimes be perpetrated under the guise of “love,” and that revolutionary love must therefore be committed to telling the truth about social inequity and injustice. Revolutionary love 
“recognizes our fundamental interconnection and interdependence as human beings with one another and with our planet. It affirms the fundamental equality and value of every human being…and the fundamental value of the planet in which we find ourselves. It also goes beyond a justice-based, distributive understanding of equal value and steps into the space where we imagine how to actually care for one another, how to have our lives invested in the pursuit of the well-being of the other.”6
      Jones also explains that revolutionary love is not simply or exclusively a Christian theme or concept, and that love, justice, and promotion of overall well-being are at the center of a variety of religious traditions. Revolutionary love is also a theme that has secular or nonreligious meanings and implications.
      John J. Thatamanil (2017), a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary, also argues that revolutionary love is not a narrowly Christian category, but rather an interreligious comparative category that may be useful in comparing the Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions. Thus, for Engaged Buddhists, revolutionary love may be a political expression of karuna (compassion) or metta (loving-kindness), and for Gandhian Hindus, it may be an expression of ahimsa (non-injury or non-violence).7 Thatamanil quotes the words of the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Aware of suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving-kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.”8

Thatamanil also quotes the words of Mohandas K. Gandhi:

“I accept the interpretation of ahimsa, namely, that it is not merely a negative state of harmlessness but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer. But it does not mean helping the evil-doer to continue the wrong or tolerating it by passive acquiescence. On the contrary…Non-cooperation is not a passive state, it is an intensely active state—more active than physical resistance or violence. Passive resistance is a misnomer.”9


1Denise Levertov, “Prayer for Revolutionary Love,” in Selected Poems (New York: New Directions Books, 2002), p. 106. Online at
2Thomas Jay Oord, “Revolutionary Love,” March 22, 2017, online at
4Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church,The Martin, Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, Stanford University, online at
5Serene Jones, “Revolutions of Loves,” in Toronto Journal of Theology, Vol. 33, No.2, 2017, p. 159.
6Ibid., p. 161.
7John J. Thatamanil, “Revolutionary Love as Shared Interreligious Comparative Category: Christian Engagements with Engaged Buddhism and Gandhian Nonviolence,” in Toronto Journal of Theology, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2017, p. 169.
8Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (New York: Riverhead Books, 2007), p 93.
9M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (New York: Schocken, 1961), p. 161.