Volume II - (1998)
BOOK REVIEW: Boundless As the Sea: A Guide to Family Love. By June Saunders. New York: Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, 1997.
- Written by Dietrich Seidel Dietrich Seidel
Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 2, 1998 - Pages 155-158
Why should we read another book on family love? In my opinion, June Saunders would answer that the message of her book is not only innovative for its discussion of the whole spectrum of family love, but also because it contributes to the larger agenda of providing the resources for transforming the present divorce culture into a marriage culture. She is not alone in pursuing this noble endeavor. In fact, she cites a host of like minded authors, drawing on their experience and imagination for illustrating her presentation, authors like Scott Peck, Erich Fromm, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Judith Wallerstein, Garry Smalley and Stephen Covey, to name just a few. However, it is unmistakable that Boundless As the Sea draws its unique insights into issues of family love from the monograph True Family Values (Pak and Wilson, 1996) in an effort to address a larger audience that is not particularly knowledgeable of Unification teachings.
Based on my reading, I would argue that the primary purpose of Boundless As the Sea is to present a vision of family love to a wider American public that is prepared to appreciate such a vision, based upon a general notion of God and a culturally defined Christianity that seems to be threatened by today’s increasingly secular social climate. As can be expected, such an appeal to a general audience may, on the one hand, provide guidance and inspiration for reflecting on one’s family relationships, but on the other hand, it may be inadequate for addressing the deeper issues required to solve the decline of contemporary family life. In order to explain why I would hold such an opinion about Saunders' book, I will focus on three aspects of her writing, identifying them as the social vision, the cultural setting and the theological content.
The Social Vision
Here Saunders is at her best. She skillfully paints the great canvas of human relationships by discussing the ideal of true love and how it applies to the individual, the family and the larger society. Based on the new paradigm of true love, we are able to discern the misapprehensions of love that pervade contemporary society. Such a discernment becomes possible based on the belief that as created beings we all have the ideal of true love engraved in our hearts. Therefore, overcoming any form of abusive love involves the process of tapping into one’s God-given reservoir of true love.
As Saunders rightly emphasizes, the process of attaining true love is best described as a journey of discovery. The love we are looking for resides already within us as a potential of our original being. It is up to us to unearth this hidden potentiality and to apply the ways of true love in our daily interactions with other people. Thus, Saunders' admonition not to succumb to the pitfall of defining love through the person in front of us is well taken. Such a person-centered love would make us believe that all we need to do in order to enter into a fulfilling loving relationship is to find the right partner. This mistaken notion propels people into a repetitive cycle of falling in and out of love. As Saunders point out, the real issue is to admit that we simply do not know how to love. We need to develop that still-hidden original faculty of being truly loving.
Once the new paradigm of true love is established, Saunders guides us on that long journey of discovery by examining its implications for marriage, family life and life as citizens. In my view, she is successful in translating for an American audience the basic tenets of True Family Values, specifically its vision of harmonious family relationships. Here, Boundless As the Sea fulfills the pastoral need of providing inspiration and guidance for what many marriage counselors consider to be the first necessary step for healing and improving marital life. Namely, a couple should develop and put down in writing their own vision for their unique marriage and family (see, for example, Harville Hendrix's book Getting The Love You Want).
When the goals for our human relationships are in place, we can focus on the business of applying them in our daily lives. Saunders succeeds in providing for couples a fertile soil of inspiration with which they can create their personalized vision of relationship. However, connecting that vision to our present situation involves the task of accounting for the cultural forces that surround us.
The Cultural Setting
In its discussion of family love, Boundless As the Sea includes a consistent effort to illustrate its message with a wide spectrum of references to our cultural heritage. In fact, over fifty authors are cited who endorse in their own unique ways the basic tenets of true family values. Rather than analyzing the contributions of any particular philosopher, social scientist, educator, psychologist or human rights activist, I will offer some general reflections on the implications of such a pronounced cultural contextualization.
Saunders employs her supporting evidence from culture in two ways. First, we find support from past and contemporary thinkers for her definition of the ideal and vision of family love. The impression is conveyed that core concepts like true love and the four realms of love in the family have been with us all along within our Judeo-Christian heritage. Admittedly, it is a difficult task to find a healthy balance between apologetic arguments and the proclamation of a new expression of truth. That is to say, Saunders succeeds in telling the reader that the presented vision of family love is something that is already imbedded in the existing culture, and thus she can count on receiving the attention of her audience at this initial level of the discussion. However, once the reader is repeatedly told that the book at hand confirms what is common knowledge, his attention may wane. In my view, it would have been a more balanced, and thus more effective, approach to highlight Unificationism’s unique religious and social insights into the concept of true love, while at the same time pointing out why past attempts at practicing true love were limited precisely on account of a lack of this new understanding.
Second, towards the end of her book, Saunders discusses true love in action on the level of community and society by means of numerous testimonies about unsung heroes as well as well-known 20th century saints like Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Indeed, to invoke stories about exemplary men and women has its own merit, providing much needed inspiration for people from all walks of life. However, it seems to me that the argument from culture assumes here a leading role and the reader is still left with the question how these exceptional people could accomplish such outstanding results in the name of true love. Inspiration may lead us to new resolutions, but a real change in our ability to love comes, in my opinion, from a more profound understanding of truth.
Saunders' definition of true love, namely, "to act from the heart for the benefit of another," can be seen as embracing two dimensions, one transcendent the other immanent. In other words, "acting from the heart" implies a reality that describes our God-given original nature, thus pointing to the transcendent quality of true love. On the other hand, "for the benefit of another" denotes the direction and result of our action in the temporal world and in this sense carries the quality of immanence. I would argue that Saunders succeeds in demonstrating the immanent dimension of true love through her numerous cultural references. However, she does not sufficiently explain the transcendent aspect of true love. As a result, she leaves the reader to his own devices in his desire to overcome his inability to practice true love.
The Theological Content
In what sense does the transcendent dimension of true love need further explanation? This issue concerns the theological content of Boundless As the Sea. My first impression of the book was its distinctly Christian appeal, as evidenced by its numerous references to the Bible and the presentation of family love as God's original plan for human beings. In particular, the explanation of conjugal love includes the Unification understanding of the ideal of marital love, thus allowing the reader to gain a new perspective on traditional doctrines of the love of God. In all these areas of the theological discussion of family love, Saunders delivers excellent work, to the point where Christians and even non-believers would appreciate her effort.
However, I was struck by a missing theological dimension in her writing. Somehow she does not finish building the bridge for Christians to understand the Unification position on family love. After everything is said, Boundless As the Sea remains distinctly Christian. In my opinion, the reason for such a verdict lies in its adhering to the traditional concept of God. That is to say, if God is only seen as the transcendent Creator who possesses all perfections, and if God’s love is seen as an outpouring of the infinite abundance contained in His own being, then there is little room for a genuine responsiveness on the part of God towards the love of human beings. To use the terminology of process theology, Saunders refers to God in terms of monopolar theism. Yet I would maintain that the ideal of true love can be fully realized only through understanding God in terms of dipolar theism, God who is perfectly responsive to created beings.
If true love means "to act from the heart for the benefit of another," we need to examine our hearts first. In other words, we need to make sure that our motivation for loving actions is congruent with the original ideal that God imprinted on our hearts. Once we understand that the original ideal is a genuine partnership of love between God and human beings, we will have discovered the first step in a long process of changing our hearts from selfishness to unselfishness. It is through such a process of transforming our hearts that we are able to benefit others, thus becoming modern day heroes and saints. At that point, we will understand that true love is not something we possess, but it is the power generated by God and humankind mutually submitting to one another. Adding this additional perspective, I can appreciate Boundless As the Sea as a significant contribution to our common journey towards that glorious destination, the ideal of true love.