(A lecture delivered in the Unitarian Church of Detroit on February 20, 1894
and reported in the Detroit Free Press)
Vivekananda delivered a lecture on “The Love of God” at the Unitarian Church last night before the largest audience that he has yet had. The trend of the lecturer’s remarks was to show that we do not accept God because we really want Him, but because we have need of Him for selfish purposes. Love, said the speaker, is something absolutely unselfish, that which has no thought beyond the glorification and adoration of the object upon which our affections are bestowed. It is a quality which bows down and worships and asks nothing in return. Merely to love is the sole request that true love has to ask.
It is said of a Hindu saint that when she was married, she said to her husband, the king, that she was already married. “To whom?” asked the king. “To God”, was the reply. She went among the poor and the needy and taught the doctrine of extreme love for God. One of her prayers is significant, showing the manner in which her heart was moved: “I ask not for wealth; I ask not for position; I ask not for salvation; place me in a hundred hells if it be Thy wish, but let me continue to regard Thee as my love.” The early language abounds in beautiful prayers of this woman. When her end came, she entered into Samâdhi on the banks of a river. She composed a beautiful song, in which she stated that she was going to meet her Beloved.
Men are capable of philosophical analysis of religion. A woman is devotional by nature and loves God from the heart and soul and not from the mind. The songs of Solomon are one of the most beautiful parts of the Bible. The language in them is much of that affectionate kind which is found in the prayers of the Hindu woman saint. And yet I have heard that Christians are going to have these incomparable songs removed. I have heard an explanation of the songs in which it is said that Solomon loved a young girl and desired her to return his royal affection. The girl, however, loved a young man and did not want to have anything to do with Solomon. This explanation is excellent to some people, because they cannot understand such wondrous love for God as is embodied in the songs. Love for God in India is different from love for God elsewhere, because when you get into a country where the thermometer reads 40 degrees below zero, the temperament of the people changes. The aspirations of the people in the climate where the books of the Bible are said to have been written were different from the aspirations of the cold-blooded Western nations, who are more apt to worship the almighty dollar with the warmth expressed in the songs than to worship God. Love for God seems to be based upon a basis of “what can I get out of it?” In their prayers they ask for all kinds of selfish things.
Christians are always wanting God to give them something. They appear as beggars before the throne of the Almighty. A story is told of a beggar who applied to an emperor for alms. While he was waiting, it was time for the emperor to offer up prayers. The emperor prayed, “O God, give me more wealth; give me more power; give me a greater empire.” The beggar started to leave. The emperor turned and asked him, “Why are you going?” “I do not beg of beggars”, was the reply.
Some people find it really difficult to understand the frenzy of religious fervour which moved the heart of Mohammed. He would grovel in the dust and writhe in agony. Holy men who have experienced these extreme emotions have been called epileptic. The absence of the thought of self is the essential characteristic of the love for God. Religion nowadays has become a mere hobby and fashion. People go to church like a flock of sheep. They do not embrace God because they need Him. Most persons are unconscious atheists who self-complacently think that they are devout believers.