• Stephen Oliver B-M

Queer philosophy - the wisdom of love

Philosophy is a queer subject. No one can agree as to what it is - not even the meaning of the two words that make up its title [philo = love, sophy = wisdom].

'Philosophy' (1896), mural by Robert Lewis Reid, Library of Congress,Washington D.C. Caption underneath reads: HOW CHARMING IS DIVINE PHILOSOPHY

Some see this as a weakness, but actually that is to misunderstand the nature of the subject, or rather to turn it into an abstract idea rather than see it as a tradition with a developing story.

It began with Socrates (may be a mythic character invented by Plato) who questioned everything so as to show that, at least in the most important ideas (for example, justice), there is no one answer, no defined single truth. What philosophy seeks is to push the boundaries of all possible answers to such open-ended problems, to seek to prioritise answers with reasons and thereby to attempt a ‘best’ answer.

Philosophy demands reasons for judgements made but this does not mean philosophy can be reduced to a theory of mind, matter or belief in a rational universe. Queer philosophy it seems to me would argue, as with Nietzsche, that though truth is its goal, reason is just a servant of that search, not what it uncovers. Socrates thought the end-product is self-knowledge - its goal inseparable from a life well lived. Not a bad objective but for the purposes of queer philosophy, I want to obvert the subject into the ‘wisdom of love’. To make this case, I have listed below a variety of understandings of the term ‘love’ from many of the key philosophers. What is strange is just how contradictory these are but that is what makes them so queer. The seeming failure does not detract from their truth. May be the truth is actually multi-faceted because life is multi-faceted, rather like the relationship of self-identified gender to sexuality.

In my queer philosophy, love is another word for passion; the bliss of the silent self to shape words so that they may become cyphers of joy; the Spirit in us that raises us up to dance; the Light which shines through us as a kiss; our unique expression of the Divine Grace, our peculiar gift for which we were born.

  • Plato: 'He whom love touches not, walks in darkness.'

  • Aristotle: Love is a “relationship of shared virtue, ...altruistic, intention, ...natural.”

  • Che Guevara [Marx]: 'The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love' - a unity between how we are treated outwardly and inwardly, our quest for individual self-expression, our alienation from each other overcome in genuine community.

  • Leibniz: Love is the result of the rational act (strategy) of fulfilling our genuine pleasures known only to ourselves. Altruism is its enemy since we cannot get outside of our minds to know another. We trust in a synchronicity of ‘loves’ given by a rational market place.

  • Teilhard de Chardin [Heidegger]: Profound of love is found in the struggle of life, as in a tightly knit band of soldiers fighting together in war time. Soldiers help and sacrifice their lives for each other, creating an inexpressible bond of love that words cannot convey.

  • Kant: The golden rule is 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is nothing more sacred than the ‘good will’; the intention of altruistic love that refuses to violate another’s freedom; that dignity given to us simply by virtue of being a human being.

  • Ortega: Love is creative and imaginative empathy. It is to live our lives as a love story in which we and our beloved are the heroes - ‘aristocrats’ of sensual pleasure.

  • Wittgenstein: Love is an unknowable mystery closed to words, (as in a kiss), unsayable. It arises from the unconscious. It communicates in silence, (an instinct as it were), which gives us certainty that we are doing the right thing.

  • Nietzsche: Love is the will to self-transcendence - the will to power - the non-rational drive of life that overcomes pain and suffering, the eros of the dancer and mountaineer, the ‘overman’ that runs from the beguiling valley to ‘climb every mountain’ - the music of the universe.

  • Schopenhauer [Buddhism]: Love is not to be confused with desire (possession) which consumes and destroys us like a fire, but it opposite, the ‘letting be’, the ‘letting go’, the fullness of ‘the void’ that is everything - a life lived out of compassion.

  • Kierkegaard [Unamuno]: 'There are two kinds of people, good lovers and bad lovers.' The good lover embraces love unconditionally as a personally addressed vocation, the calling of ‘the impossible dream’. The bad lover will turn and run, like a drunkard, mistaking bravado for the courage to take the leap of faith.

Queer Christianity must be informed by all these intuitions and see them as vantage points onto the universe or outlooks from the ‘heart’ of what it means to be human. Its theology arises out of a biblical story but the truth of its doctrines arise out of a poetry of love that the simple can understand and the sophisticated miss. Actually it is in our loving sexual relationships that their truth gains meaning - even that of the Trinity.

In the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Christ is understood to be the Incarnate Wisdom of God out of which the world is created. We call it the open secret of creation and of re-creation. The Holy Spirit is this love when we as ‘children of God’ give ourselves to that creative love. Christ is the light or ‘logos’ that lightens us all, and as the Lamb of God, Christ is the saving passover mystery of unconditional Love. It is this revelation of ‘love in flesh’ that is its gospel and from this perspective, all of existence is declared sacred, from its inception, throughout its journey in time, to its conclusion in its apocalypse. In its abstraction it is beyond gender, but in its working out in human lives, it is inseparably both feminine and masculine.

It is our humanity that is being redeemed in history. To express this in its fullness, we must adopt a queer understanding - the celebration of all that it means to be both female and male, that fullness out of which we were born to live and have our being.

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