The first main point that Keenan covers in chapter 1, Love, is about union. He does this to reinforce what drives love between individuals, whether it’s romantic or platonic love. The story that he tells about everyone holding hands on an airplane stricken with turbulence is very familiar to me. My parents and I go to the Bahamas every year, just the three of us. One year there were terrible storms on the day we were supposed to fly home. As delayed as we were we finally made it off the island late at night, in the dark.
It was a small plane, maybe 20 passengers, and when it was struck with terrible turbulence every one began holding hands there too. This idea of union is the driving force in any kind of love. It is how we as humans express our compassion and connectivity with one another. Our love for God is driven by union as well, a need to be connected. We are united with God because He is essentially “in” us all, meaning His love is within us. Next, Keenan begins a discussion on why theological teachings should start with love.
He roots his reasoning in the demands of scripture, the fact that love precedes all other teachings in theology, and that love is the driving force behind the human experience. To elaborate on his second reason, I would go so far as to say that one couldn’t have freedom or truth (points he used to begin his teachings with) without having love. To have freedom and truth one must have the respect for humanity that love brings. Further, Keenan emphasizes his last point with the comparison of the Michelangelo vs. Caravaggio paintings of the conversion of Paul.
The last main point that Keenan makes about love is the “threefold love”, stemming from agape, eros, and philia. From the reading we learn what each type of love is, but to bring this full circle to Keenan’s point about union defining love, all three types of love are driven by union and themselves united. Agape, the love for God, is selfless and purely for God. That love cannot be shared among humans, but only between God and his individual children. However, accepting God’s love and returning love to God unite all humans that encompass, and we are united by doing so.
Further, this gives us the ability to experience the eros and philia types of love. Keenan then moves to a discussion about conscience. He starts by discussing the Christian call to grow, to move forward in life, progress, and to do so in love. In his discussion of growth and developing a conscience, Keenan emphasizes three main points, the voice of conscience, the formation of conscience, and the erring of conscience. The voice of conscience is rooted in the development of an individual’s superego. The superego is the voice in everyone’s head that tells them what to do or not to do, it is like a watchful eye over one’s self.
It tells us not to do things that would make us feel guilty. Keenan discusses the formation of conscience by reinforcing that we as adults should grow in our experiences, rather than be intimidated by a superego. The conscience is like the “big boy”, new and improved version of the superego, for grown adults. My favorite line that Keenan uses in this section is “the conscience calls us to aim more at being the one who loves than being the beloved”. I think that really drives home what it means to have a conscience.
While wanting union and love drives both conscience and superego, that statement shows that wanting to give love rather than take it motivates the conscience. It is about wanting to do what is right for others, not just one’s self. Finally, Keenan makes a point about the erroneous conscience. The erroneous conscience may cause someone to do something that is actually wrong, but to do so in searching for the right. He also discusses the development of the ideas about whether a person acting with an erroneous conscience is good or not, ultimately concluding that it depends on intent. If the intent is good or right, then the person is excused.