Love One Another, Ben Carson? I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

There’s a classic moment in The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya calls into question Vizzini’s overuse of the word “inconceivable.” What makes Inigo’s comment so funny, of course, is that Vizzini considers himself the brains of the conspiratorial group who kidnaps Princess Buttercup. Whenever reality doesn’t match his expectation, such as when Wesley continues to climb up the Cliffs of Insanity when he should have fallen, Vizzini describes the situation as “inconceivable” as a way to draw boundaries around its impossibility. This November’s election shattered and fractured our country in a way few anticipated and many, in fact, saw as inconceivable.

There has been a recent call by Ben Carson and other politicians, pastors, and people of goodwill to become of nation of love to help heal the recent strife and violence perpetuated by this election year. According to Carson, unconditional love means holding doors open for people, smiling at strangers, and being more patient. While a nice sentiment, Carson’s platitude is describing only basic human decency, a set of behaviors that should be practiced no matter what the cultural or political climate. But I would argue that unconditional love begins where the boundaries of human decency have said we have done enough.

We should instead turn to Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for more creative extremists whose love helped to “extend justice” even as the South called them “rabble-rousers” and “agitators.” Unconditional love goes beyond the tit-for-tat dynamic of human decency; it is sacrificial in nature. By this reasoning, the best, most proactive love isn’t nicely packaged or necessarily pleasant to the eye. It is much more rough around the edges because it can never have clearly defined boundaries as it constantly reevaluates and grows to include more people for us to love and defend.

I was reminded of this fact when reading a Facebook post by author Jamey Hatley, who asks us to “start at home,” when being an ally. My church might help orphans from other countries, but does it open its doors to homeless LGBTQ youth from my own city? Are we throwing our bodies in between the oppressor and the oppressed by marching in protest of unfair laws and unjust police action? Are the pictures of our social gatherings inclusive, or are they homogenous representations of a certain economic class, ethnicity, or sexual orientation? There is nothing wrong with homogeneity, but can our definition of love expand if we don’t regularly engage with other cultures? Likewise, admonitions to get over it, be more pleasant, move on, or just love each other might be more an effort to maintain what King calls a “negative peace.” Such rhetoric avoids the tougher, messier conversations we need to have as a country about racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia, in order to become a more healthy, diverse, yet unified country.

To say that love means an absence of resistance or tension is to deny the core value of love, which is always radical transformation of the world through action. It means questioning every boundary constructed through our ideologies or religion or culture that separates us from “those people,” who now might be in real danger if Trump and his cabinet create laws that restrict their civil liberties. In fact, despite being associated with emotion, true unconditional love always involves critical thinking, since we must constantly and consistently analyze and evaluate who we might be leaving out, because our privilege or other cultural values taught us not to care. Perhaps it is this kind of creative, extreme, “inconceivable” love that is needed now more than ever.