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The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm Read Online (FREE)

From the standpoint of paradoxical logic the emphasis is not on thought, but on the act. This attitude had several other consequences. First of all, it led to the tolerance which we find in Indian and Chinese religious development. If the right thought is not the ultimate truth, and not the way to salvation, there is no reason to fight others, whose thinking has arrived at different formulations. This tolerance is beautifully expressed in the story of several men who were asked to describe an elephant in the dark. One, touching his trunk, said “this animal is like a water pipe”; another, touching his ear, said “this animal is like a fan”; a third, touching his legs, described the animal as a pillar.

Secondly, the paradoxical standpoint led to the emphasis on transforming man, rather than to the development of dogma on the one hand, and science on the other. From the Indian, Chinese and mystical standpoints, the religious task of man is not to think right, but to act right, and/or to become one with the One in the act of concentrated meditation.

The opposite is true for the main stream of Western thought. Since one expected to find the ultimate truth in the right thought, major emphasis was on thought, although right action was held to be important too. In religious development this led to the formulation of dogmas, endless arguments about dogmatic formulations, and intolerance of the “non-believer” or heretic. It furthermore led to the emphasis on “believing in God” as the main aim of a religious attitude. This, of course, did not mean that there was not also the concept that one ought to live right. But nevertheless, the person who believed in God—even if he did not live God—felt himself to be superior to the one who lived God, but did not “believe” in him.

The emphasis on thought has also another and historically a very important consequence. The idea that one could find the truth in thought led not only to dogma, but also to science. In scientific thought, the correct thought is all that matters, both from the aspect of intellectual honesty, as well as from the aspect of the application of scientific thought to practice—that is, to technique.

In short, paradoxical thought led to tolerance and an effort toward self-transformation. The Aristotelian standpoint led to dogma and science, to the Catholic Church, and to the discovery of atomic energy.

The consequences of this difference between the two standpoints for the problem of the love of God have already been explained implicitly, and need only to be summarized briefly.

In the dominant Western religious system, the love of God is essentially the same as the belief in God, in God’s existence, God’s justice, God’s love. The love of God is essentially a thought experience. In the Eastern religions and in mysticism, the love of God is an intense feeling experience of oneness, inseparably linked with the expression of this love in every act of living. The most radical formulation has been given to this goal by Meister Eckhart: “If therefore I am changed into God and He makes me one with Himself, then, by the living God, there is no distinction between us …. Some people imagine that they are going to see God, that they are going to see God as if he were standing yonder, and they here, but it is not to be so. God and I: we are one. By knowing God I take him to myself. By loving God, I penetrate him.”[23]