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God and the Problem of Loneliness

  • John G. McGraw (a1)


As Milton reminds us, the first thing God named not good was loneliness. In proclaiming it not good for man to be alone, was God but projecting his own loneliness? In the words of James Weldon Johnson, God stepped out on space, looked around and said, ‘I'm lonely’.Johnson's concept of God may be very ‘spaced-out’ but the notion of a monotheistic God as lonely is far from preposterous. A God endlessly immersed in the contemplation of its solitary perfection (à la Aristotle, for example) would be an isolation anything but splendid. Such a being might be perfect as an abstract essence, but it would be perfectly alone.



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1 Milton, J., Tetrachordon. In Mijuskovic, B. L., Loneliness in Philosophy, Psychology and Literature (Assen, the Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1979), p. 3.

2 Johnson, J. W., ‘The Creation’. In Dusenbury, W., ed., The Theme of Loneliness in Modern American Drama (Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1960), p. 1.

3 Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologiae (Turin: Marietti, 1952), 1, 30, 3, p. 162.

4 Feuerbach, L., The Essence of Christianity, trans. Eliot, G. (New York: Harper and Row, 1957).

5 Lavelle, L., Evil and Suffering, trans. Murchland, B. (New York: Macmillan, 1963).

6 Nietzsche, F., in Jaspers, K., Nietzsche, trans. Wallroff, C. and Schmitz, F. (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1965), p. 86.

7 Sartre, J.-P., Being and Nothingness, trans. Barnes, H. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956).

8 Satre, J.-P., Le Diable et le Bon Dieu (Paris: Gallimard, 1951), p. 213. The translation from the original French and all bracketed words are mine. For the distinctions between homonomy and autonomy, see Angyal's, A. Foundations for a Science of Personality (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1958). As used in this essay autonomy and homonomy can be positive or negative. Moreover, each correlates with the other positively or negatively.

9 Baudelaire, P. C., The Eyes of the Poor. In R. Sayre, Solitude in Society (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978), p. 74.

10 Eliot, T. S., The Cocktail Party (London: Faber and Faber, 1950), p. 117.

11 Bulwer-Lytton, E., The New Timon, in Dusenbury, p. 8.

12 Hesse, H., Im Nebel. In Cowburn, J., The Person and Love (New York: Alba House, 1967), p. 102.

13 Mijuskovic, pp. 1–38.

14 Nietzsche, F., Ecce Homo, trans. Kaufmann, W. (New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1989), p. 343. Kaufmann translates the German ‘Einsamkeit’ as solitude, but this German word can, like its English counterpart ‘solitude’, mean either an objective, physical condition or loneliness, a subjective condition, or both. Neitzsche often uses ‘Einsamkeit’ to signify either or both conditions simultaneously. The distinctions needed to be drawn between these two phenomena would require another essay. However, generally speaking, ‘solitude’ is used to indicate in se a positive way of being alone, whereas loneliness is in se a negative way of being and feeling alone. Of course, solitude can be employed negatively and loneliness can serve as a vehicle for personality development.

15 Nietzsche, F., in Harper, R., The Seventh Solitude (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), p. 13.

16 Nietzsche, F., in The New Nietzsche, ed. Allison, D. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1988), p. xxvi.

17 Zakahi, W. R. and Duran, R. L., ‘Loneliness, Communicative Competence, and Communication Apprehension: Extension and Replication’, Communication Quarterly, XXXIII, 1 (1985), 5060.

18 Jones, W. and Moore, T., ‘Loneliness and Social Support’. In Hojat, M. and Crandall, R., eds., Loneliness: Theory, Research and Implications (San Rafael, California: Select Press, 1978), pp. 145–6.

19 Perlman, D. and Peplau, L., ‘Loneliness Research: A Survey of Empirical Findings’. In Peplau, L. and Goldston, S., eds., Preventing the Harmful Consequences of Severe and Persistent Loneliness (Rockville, Maryland: The United States National Institute of Mental Health, 1984), p. 24.

20 Nietzsche, F., Human, All Too Human. In Clive, G., ed., The Philosophy of Nietzsche (Toronto: The New American Library of Canada, Mentor Books, 1965), p. 108.

21 Fromm-Reichmann, F., ‘Loneliness’. In Hartog, J. et al. , eds., The Anatomy of Loneliness (New York: International Universities Press, 1980), pp. 338–9, 348–51.

22 Ibid. p. 345.

23 Ibid. pp. 345–8.

24 Ibid. p. 345.

25 Klein, M., ‘On the Sense of Loneliness’. In Hartog et al., pp. 362–76.

26 Guntrip, H., ‘Sigmund Freud and Bertrand Russell’, Contemporary Psychoanalysis, IX, 35 (1973), 275.

27 F. Fromm-Reichmann, pp. 350– See also Sangster, J. and Ellison, C., ‘Mental Illness, Loneliness and Helplessness: A Challenge for Research Therapy’, Mental Health and Society, V, 56 (1978), 284–95.

28 D. Perlman and L. Peplau, ‘The Causes of Loneliness’. In Peplau and Goldston, p. 24.

29 Laing, R. D., The Politics of Experience (New York: Ballantine Books, 1967), p. 130.

30 Lynch, H., The Broken Heart: The Medical Consequences of Loneliness in America (New York: Basic Books, 1976).

31 Searles, H., Collected Papers on Schizophrenia and Related Subjects (New York: International Universities Press, 1965), p. 123.

32 Laing, R. D., The Divided Self (London: Penguin Books, 1969), pp. 45–6.

33 F. Nietzsche, in Jaspers, p. 56.

34 Laing, R. D., The Politics of Experience, p. 37.

35 Kierkegaard, S., The Sickness unto Death, trans. Lowrie, W. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1954), p. 186.

36 Ibid. p. 173.

37 Sartre, J.-P., The Flies. In No Exit and Three Other Plays, trans. Gilbert, S. (New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1955), p. 123.

38 Ibid. pp. 124–5.

39 Ibid. pp. 121–2.

40 Sartre, J.-P., Existentialism and Humanism, trans. Mairet, P. (New York: Haskell House, 1977), pp. 2630.

41 F. Nietzsche, in Harper, p. 12.

42 Nietzsche, F., Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Kaufmann, W., The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Viking Press, 1965), pp. 176–7, 190.

43 Ibid. p. 175.

44 Nietzsche, F., Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Cowan, M. (South Bend, Indiana; Gateway Editions, 1955), p. 35.

45 Nietzsche, F., Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 176.

46 Nietzsche, F., Untimely Meditations, trans. Hollingdale, R. J. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 139.

47 Camus, A., Caligula, trans. Gilbert, S. (New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1958), p. 68.

48 Ibid. p. 37.

49 Luke 12: 49–55.

50 John 15: 18–25.

51 Jaspers, K., Philosophy, v. 2, trans. Ashton, E. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970). See especially pp. 71–3, 177–215.

52 May, R., Man's Search for Himself (New York: W. W. Norton, 1953), p. 31.

53 Arnold, M., To Marguerite. In Dilman, I., Love and Human Separateness (New York: Blackwell, 1987), p. 117.

54 John 6: 47.

55 John 10: 30.

56 Matthew 27: 46.

57 The names for the last four forms of loneliness delineated in this presentation are taken from two pioneers in the study of the taxonomy of loneliness: Sadler, W. A., ‘On the Verge of Loneliness’, Humanitas, X, 3 (1974), 255–76 and Weiss, R., Loneliness: The Experience of Emotional and Social Isolation (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1973). I am particularly indebted to Sadler for his division. It might be preferable to replace the terms ‘emotional’ and ‘social’ loneliness with, respectively, ‘eros’ and ‘friendship’ loneliness since the latter two are the paradigms for these two types of loneliness. However, the basis and rationale for using the names employed for any of the ten forms of loneliness would require another essay.

58 Paloutzian, R. F. and Ellison, C. W., ‘Loneliness, Spiritual Well-Being and the Quality of Life’. In Peplau, L. and Perlman, D., eds., Loneliness: A Source Book of Current Theory, Research and Therapy (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1982), pp. 224–37.

59 W. Jones, ‘Loneliness and Social Behavior’. In Peplau and Perlman, p. 239.

60 Luke 9: 58.

61 John 1: 10.

62 John 4: 44.

63 Hammarskjold, D., Markings. In Burke, C., ed., Loneliness (Winona, Minnesota: St Mary's College Press, 1977), p. 3.

64 Millay, E. St Vincent, Conversation at Midnight. In May, p. 202.

65 Marquis, D. R. in Clark, E., ‘Aspects of Loneliness: Toward a Framework of Nursing Intervention’. In Zderad, L. T. and Belcher, H. C., eds., Developing Behavioral Concepts in Nursing (Atlanta: Southern Regional Educational Board, 1968), p. 37.

66 Russell, B. in Satran, G., ‘Notes on Loneliness’, Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, VI, 3 (1978), 286.

67 For all his denunciation of the Christian religion, Nietzsche, nonetheless, extols it as the ‘best bit of ideal life’ he has ever known and that in his heart he believes he has never been ‘vicious against it’. On this see Jaspers, , Nietzsche, p. 434.

68 Sartre, J.-P., in a 1977 interview reported in Harper's Magazine, February, 1984, p. 38.

69 Fromm, E., The Art of Loving (New York: Harper and Row, 1956), pp. 68.

70 John 14: 15–26.

71 St John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle I, in M. Simpson, ‘Loneliness and Solitude’, The Way, XIV, 1 (1974), 23.

72 Kant, I., Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, trans. Goldthwait, J. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1965), pp. 4650.

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God and the Problem of Loneliness

  • John G. McGraw (a1)


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