By Rev. Dr. Charles B. Mantey, Toronto, ON,
Shidaanikei, 2017, xi + 203 pp. paper
The author highlights the concept and often intricate particles of love and how they can be easily reduced to a romantic phenomenon. He effectively peels off the seemingly endless layers of misconceptions that often shroud love in the human psyche since the dawn of time. He does so by expounding on the various aspects of love through biblical exegesis in relation to human interactions and the understanding of love from various cultural perspectives.
The book argues specifically that Africans’ understanding of love forms the basis of their community way of living; a concept that serves them well to share in each other’s burden in lieu of government support or social intervention services to help the vulnerable in time of need.
Without a shred of doubt, Rev. Dr. Charles Mantey’s book is thought-provoking to both Christians and non-Christians and how they perceive and embrace love through the prism of their environments and associations with others. It is an eye opener to cross-cultural students, missionaries and people of African descent who desire to have an in-depth knowledge not only about Africans and their understanding of love, but the Western and Eastern perspectives of love.
Publishers: Shidaanikei Publishers
Date of Publication: 2017
The book Understanding Love: Biblical & Cultural Perspectives by Rev. Dr. Charles B. Mantey is one that I highly recommend. It could be argued that the word-LOVE- has been overused and over-stretched in many circumstances. I don’t know about you but sometimes I find myself lost in my thoughts thinking about what love really is in this cosmic theatre called life.
I believe that everyone at some point during this journey called life has encountered love in one way or the other and has tried to find an answer to the question:
What Is Love?
Many of us believe that love is a mental attitude that manifests itself in outward deeds. For example, one would say, ‘if you love me prove it!’ The Bible also says, “For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten son....” And, “If you love me keep my commandments.” Thus, love is an important ‘thread that runs through the fabric of every society’ and, it is also the foundation of the Holy Scriptures.
In this book, Rev. Mantey carefully takes us through his ownjourney of love with his wife, Faustina, for forty years now and,teaches us what love really entails using expositions from Biblical as well as cultural perspectives. These perspectives are well researched and documented, thus, making this book a useful textbook for students, especially those studying religion and culture as well as good source of knowledge for every reader.
Also, it academically removes the misconceptions about love that ‘torture human understanding everywhere.’ References made to literature on the subject by both orthodox and contemporary writers make this book classic.
In my opinion, each of the thirteen chapters of this book discusses a unique issue on love from the meaning of love; through the ingredients of love; what love does best;misunderstanding love; biblical perspectives on love; marriage and divorce from the African Cultural point of view; love from the Western and Eastern perspectives, to the question: who needs love? Interestingly, the author aptly touches on the power of faith which is a huge topic on its own to stress the fact that love is the greatest of all the virtues of life.
It is also evident from the addition of a section on ‘discussion questions’ at the end of this book that the author seeks to engage his readers in an ‘academic exercise’ of comprehending the true meaning of love.
Unlike in his first book, African Spirituality which Rev. Manteyused a story to narrate the content, this book is written in the expository form analyzing biblical concepts as well as cultural perspectives (African, Western and Eastern) on love.
Overall, from reading this book I’m sure that many will come to understand love from the biblical and cultural perspectives and will find the courage to confront that which is not love such as hatred, envy, pride and selfishness wherever and whenever these negative concepts of life arise. Humankind craves for love and the validation of its deeds.
SOME FAVOURITE LINES FROM THE BOOK:
1) ‘Love is an emotional feeling that is expressed through various aspects of life. Songs, dramas, movies, books, poems, speeches and gestures are filled love stories ’
2) ‘To most Africans, love is understood in the broader context in relation to family, the community and the environment.’
3) ‘To the Ancient Greeks, love was defined and understood in four different ways-Agape, Phileo, Eros and Storge.’
4) ‘The mercies of God prompt us to show kindness when we remember how He has been kind to us.’
5) ‘God’s intention for marriage is for couples to be in love and live happily in permanent monogamous union.’
6) ‘Love was primarily understood as self-sacrificing and unselfish, implying a compassionate, affectionate, kind and benevolent relationship between people rather than a romantic sentiment.’
KEY LESSON: Love ultimately comes from God (God is Love)and is manifested through our gifts, talents, and abilities in our relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.
BIG QUESTION: Who needs love?
BIG ANSWER: We all need love.
ENJOY READING THE BOOK!!
This book is a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature on the subject of love, not only because of the creativity with which it combines biblical principles with cultural perspectives, but also because of the nuance, lucidity, and circumspection with which it evinces the importance of love in our daily life. The sequence of the 13 chapters that constitute the book is intuitively appealing. After providing the objectives and rationale for the book in the introductory chapter, the author moves to what can be described as the characteristic features of love in chapters 2 to 4. Here we learn of the ingredients of love, which, according to the author, include kindness and patience. With the implicit conviction that exposition is best accomplished through contrast, the author then followed these chapters up with a discussion on “Misunderstanding Love” in Chapter 5. It is here that he talks about what love is not, in a manner akin to Hegelian negation, by which we learn of a concept based on what it is not. It is in this chapter that we read that love is not envy, not pride, not boastful, and not self-seeking. From Chapters 6 to 9, we read of the “instrumentalities” of love, or the things that love can help us to do best, including overcoming anger, protecting one another, and being hopeful and trustful. Given the objective, as well as the titular commitment, of the book, the cultural perspectives of love cut across virtually all the chapters. Still, it is in the next chapters, notably 10 to 12 that the cultural arguments are decidedly explicit and sharper, as the author discusses love vis-à-vis marriage and divorce from not only the biblical standpoint, but also from the African, Western, and Eastern cultural perspectives. The book concludes, in Chapter 13, with some insightful pointers to the question: “Who needs love?”
There is much to commend about this book. For instance, right from the introductory chapter we learn of the different types of love, with useful illustrations drawn from the Greeks who see love as Agape, Phileo, Eros and Storge. The book also tells us about the common misconceptions and mis-interpretations of love in different secular and sacred contexts. That love is a complex, multifaceted, and internally heterogeneous phenomenon is clearly articulated in the book, especially in the introduction where the author categorizes aspects of love to include emotional, romantic, cognitive, empirical, dynamic, and spiritual. Also, quite expectedly, given the author’s formal training in theology, all the chapters are imbued with a hefty dose of biblical analogies, allegories, thought experiments, and quotations, mostly drawn from the teachings of Jesus, as proselytized by the apostles Peter and Paul, in particular. Indeed, one cannot read this book without realizing that love has both vertical and horizontal dimensions, to wit: “our vertical relationships with God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit ...and the horizontal relationships we develop with people irrespective of beliefs” (p. 13.). Even more attractive, beyond the deep scriptural prescience the book offers, are the practical suggestions it provides to help us deal with others. With simple maxims such as “kindness is ‘love in action;’”(p. 17) “your pain is my pain;” (p. 24) and “Charity means love” (ix), the author is able to weave an insightful tapestry of guidelines on how we can practice love by way of open-mindedness and by celebrating the achievements of others, not the least of whom are our kith and kin. We are also encouraged to sympathize with others in their hard times and losses, and eschew envy at all cost. The story of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, whose brothers sold him to captivity was used to firm up the case against envy and jealousy—again, it is the recurrence of such powerful biblical stories that makes the book even more appealing from the practical standpoint.
At the same time, it would have been useful to reduce the extent of male-centric language, in favour of a more gender-natural language in the book. For instance, we read that “Biblically, love is premised on God’s love for man” [p. viii] (what happened to God’s love for woman?). Similarly, in discussing why people commit sin, we read that “the fault is not with God, but with man” (p.35): What about woman? This may seem a minor quip, but it is still crucial if we are to enhance “gender equity or neutrality” in academic writing. Also, the thrust of many of the cultural arguments seems to suggest that there is a unified, homogenous African culture, but clearly there is not; and to avoid any appearance of crude essentialism or reification of Africans and their cultures, some nuance would have been useful in the discussion. One should not allow these petty quibbles to detract from what is, undoubtedly, a superb work. The book provides a rich analysis of love from the perspectives of the bible and other major world cultures; it comes with a comprehensive reference list and a user-friendly index. It would be an invaluable reading for social science students as well as students of religion and theology who seek to comprehend the complex issues surrounding love; the book is highly recommended.