Indebted Love: Part B

“The essential characteristic of love: That the lover by giving infinitely comes into – infinite debt.” Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 2006, p. 172.

     I truly enjoy Star Wars. To clarify, I enjoy the “real” Star Wars (episodes IV-VI). I even read the books and bring my lunch to work in a Star Wars lunchbox. Not even kidding. One of my favorite relationships throughout the series is Han Solo and Chewbacca. The life debt Chewie swears to Han began as the fulfilling of a cultural institution, but grew into a genuine relationship of Love. If I can have a bit of license, I think Chewie’s life debt is a fantastic illustration of healthy Indebted Love.

      When Han prevented Chewie’s clan from being enslaved by the Empire, Chewie took a life debt to Han. Now, this doesn’t mean that Chewie is Han’s slave. Nor does it mean that Chewie’s life debt is fulfilled if he saves Han’s life. What it means is that without Han, Chewie would not have a life, so he willingly (see Intentional Love post) gives his life in service to Han.
     Articles on Star Wars state that the idea of a “life debt” is fictional and does not exist in the real world. I would suggest that it does exist and we call it marriage. Kierkegaard continues to expand on this idea when he writes that “for his own sake the lover wishes to be in debt; he does not wish exemption from sacrifice, far from it” (Ibid, p. 174). For instance, is there anything that can be done, any act that can be committed, that will fulfill the vows of marriage so that one is no longer married? No! That makes no sense and renders marriage useless.
     Any relationship based in Love must be based in a willingly taken on indebtedness. Perhaps, instead of saying indebtedness, it may be more accurate to say selflessness. Selflessness, truly understood, is being joyfully indebted to another whom we Love. This does not mean we sacrifice self to another. If that were to happen, then “we” couldn’t be in the relationship, could we? In fact, a relationship would not exist at that point. Kierkegaard addresses abusive relationships by submitting that staying in them would be tantamount to enabling, which is one of the least loving things we can do. However, we are not to give up on the other.
     One seemingly inescapable conclusion of this line of thought is the inability to remarry after a separation. While I do not have an argument to defend staying single after a separation or divorce, I would offer this: Would people be as quick to rush into Love relationships based on indebtedness if they knew the ending of that relationship limited their access to relationships later? If we were obliged to suffer the consequences of our relational choices until death, would we act any differently? Would we be more free to love? More free to make mistakes? What if, as Kierkegaard wrote, we were to live relationships of Love “imprisoned in freedom and life” (Ibid, p. 176)?

If a Wookie gives you a Valentine, you take it!
(C) Nathan D. Croy


8 Replies to “Indebted Love: Part B”

  1. I feel like this explanation of love is basically leaving emotion out of the equation. You talk about love as if it is something we choose to do. You talk about "willingly taken on indebtedness." I disagree. I did no willingly choose many of the people I love. I didn't choose to love my children. They were born and I loved them. My kids do things all the time that annoy the hell out me but I still love them. Perhaps the love we have for a child is not the kind of love you are referring to. I also don't believe I decided to love my wife. She and I liked each other, so we started spending time together. There was never a point when I said, "You know what, I like this person enough to love them." I just love her. Your definition of love feels more like a definition of marriage or even any committed relationship. If that's the case then I can agree with you on some points. I definitely made the decision that I loved Julie enough to want to spend the rest of my life with her enter into a marriage. But love just happens in my opinion.

  2. Unfortunately, there are many people that choose to not love their children. If working with foster children and parents has shown me anything, it's that Love for our children is not automatic; it's not a given.
    What I would like to know is this: What if Love was not as emotional as you've been lead to believe? What if the idea of romantic love is not real? Would that change the way you relate to your wife? Your children? Your family?

  3. For me, love is exactly as emotional as I believe so I don't really know how to answer your question. I couldn't choose to stop loving my wife. If romantic love is not real and love is a choice, then why is it so hard for a person to get over a partner who leaves them? Couldn't they just say, well he/she left and clearly didn't care about me so I'm done loving them, and move on? Or how about couples who have been together for years an realize that they no longer love one another? Then they go through an ugly divorce that is hard on everyone. Wouldn't be easier for them to just choose to keep loving each other? I think that love is purely emotional, the relationships we have with the people we love are where the choice comes in to play. If we just chose based on who we SHOULD love then there wouldn't be abusive relationships, or divorce.

  4. As someone who loves my freedom very much and expects to find someone with whom i can share freedom with in a marriage and love relationship, I think I find this definition very heavy. Obviously a personal feeling for me and my life as someone who has never been married. One of my favorite quotes "love in a way that makes the person you love feel free." I can't imagine a better way of being loved than that.

  5. I don't like the frame of "debt" when discussing life or love. I prefer the frame of "freedom" or "gift", and might even go so far as to rename the Star Wars concept "life gift".

    In my mind, by definition, a healthy gift is unconditional. That is, you completely let it go, with no strings attached to what the recipient does with it. They may love it, toss it, regift it, etc.

    When I learned this lesson, I found myself giving more & more gifts!

    An expert in world religions, I find consistent examples of this theme in religious texts from every culture – whether you're Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc., your tradition tells you that your life is given to you as an unconditional gift, to do as you wish.

    I know that's terrifying to a lot of people. At a recent church reunion, I was saddened to learn so many childhood friends, now in their 30's and 40's, still waiting around for a sign from God to tell them what to do with their lives. (Eh-hem, ever heard of the Parable of the Talents?)

    I am a fan of *all* Christological texts (both canonical & non-canonical), with a particular interest in lost gospels. But whether you're reading the Bible or a lost gospel, Jesus is not telling anyone they're indebted to him, but rather, follow his teachings to discover your own freedom.

    (Perhaps my favorite quote comes from The Gospel of the Savior – for 2 years I worked as research assistant to the papyrologist who discovered this lost Gospel): "He that is near me is near to the fire; He that is far from me is far from life"

    -Paul H

  6. Being a "fan" of Christological texts, what do you do with Romans 13:8 "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law."? Just like the parable of the Talents, we've all been intrusted with something precious: Life. That is the ironic thing that Kierkegaard tries to point out in his description of infinite debt: We're all indebted automatically, choosing to turn that debt into one of love is what gives us freedom.

    It's akin to the Christs statement that those who try to save their lives lose them, but those who lose their lives for his sake save them. On first blush this made zero sense to me. But, from the viewpoint of infinite debt, it made sense to me to see this as saying that selfishness (which is a protective/defensive act) only serves to corrupt that which we desire to protect (the self). Debt BECOMES freedom when it is willingly taken on. It is a freeing debt, it is, to quote Kierkegaard again, "imprisoned in freedom and life".

  7. Paul, I just want to add this and hope you consider it: Go watch the Matrix…again. And invite me over. I think it's a pretty cool example of the myth of freedom. It was only in embracing the pervasiveness of the Matrix that Neo was able to act outside of it. Capitulation to the Matrix, while easiest, is just an expression of the sickness unto death. Yes, Neo left the Matrix, but even then, he was tied to it.

    I don't even know if freedom really exists. Our ability to choose existst, but our choices are limited by time, space, and reality. Maybe what I need is for you to define freedom.

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