Responding to a short paragraph introducing My Scarlet Seven lyric of a few days back (I guess the lyric itself wasn’t worth a comment! Haha), an anonymous poster asked:
Can you clarify what you mean by “in fact a Christian because of erotic love” ?
I posted the below as a reply there, but then decided I might as well post it as a blog entry on its own. Sex is always fun to talk about, and controversial (?) as well. What follows I typed while preparing to teach four classes, so let’s just blame any obvious stupidities on haste rather than mental wattage, shall we?
Erotic love is a complex mix of hunger (sexual), hunger (relational), and various other needs, including being one answer to existential loneliness and lack of meaning. Remember, this is only me, who speaks non-authoritatively (or at least with a sense of the silliness of claiming to “know thyself” — sorry Socrates) even when speaking of myself.
Erotic love is also, like everything human, laced with human failure and selfishness. Yet, simultaneously, erotic love is the greatest experience of union, ecstasy, and the doorway to caring about another as deeply as one’s self (and potentially moreso).
Erotic love is not merely sex. One can have sex of sorts with an inflatable doll (bleah!) or victimize someone by forcefully (either violently or via manipulation) taking it. That is not erotic love, nor even animal sex, since (as someone noted) the animals do not rape.
“I wanted to kiss in a world with meaning, rather than a world without it.”
Erotic love is, by definition, the meaning we humans find in what to a reductionist researcher appears only as the biological act of coitus. Erotic love is not as much about what goes on between penis and vagina (or tongue, fingers, and so on), but rather what goes on in the minds of the two participants in that act and relationship.
The Answer to “what I mean by saying I’m a Christian because of erotic love”
I was (and fairly often still am) haunted by what I see as the lone credible alternative to Christian faith. That alternative is that, as novelist Walker Percy once wrote, “In America, everything is true. Which is the same as saying that nothing is true.” Or perhaps he said it more like this: “Americans believe everything, which is the same as believing nothing.”
I believed as a younger man that nothing was true, that all religions and also all atheistic / agnostic attempts at morality were useless. If we were in the midst of an impersonal, unfriendly, and accidental universe, then both Billy Graham and Richard Dawkins were simply white noise generators.
Yet, erotic love — the desire for it in my case, rather than the reality of it — led me to realize what the above meant. No such thing as erotic love could, as my feeble brain and heart perceived reality, exist. Everything changes, I thought. Nothing is certain, nothing is reliable, nothing can be said to have a real (as in existent outside my incredibly short and transitory life) meaning.
The post-moderns today would say that Erotic love was a human construction, and that hits at part of it. For me, erotic love was worse if my nihilistic hunch was correct; Eros was mere delusion.
Yet I looked at my father and mother, whose love burned bright and always had through my childhood, and their love was concrete evidence that something lacked in my worldview. My own hunger — an insatiable one not at all eased by masturbatory expression or occasional disappointing forays into porn — cried out for love, not merely sex. I wanted not only to be held by another and loved (and allowed to love in return)… I wanted to kiss in a world with meaning, rather than a world without it.
All religions worth the name hint broadly at a world in which something is very wrong, yet also in which beauty, delight, passion, and celebration hold aspects of a divine meaning outside mere human constructions / delusions. Christianity then and now seems to me to bear the most profound answers to the terrible anxieties of meaninglessness, hopelessness, faithlessness, and therefore lovelessness I experienced.
And just so it doesn’t remain still a bit abstract…
When I surrendered to God it was in a state of complete despair. My literal expressed feeling was this: “God, I’m so tired of the struggle to understand, to believe. Whether you exist or not, I do not know. And I cannot find out. If you are there, I will give you everything. But if you do not answer me, I just don’t have the strength to continue in this. I will live the life, perhaps, of a gentle hedonist, until that too wears thin. And then I will cease living.”
“The Universe according to Eros is not empty, but is instead unbearably full of light and sensuality and excessive beauty of all and every kind.”
Sounds a bit melodramatic, doesn’t it? It was. But it was also heartfelt.
On Huffman’s farmhouse floor, the Spirit did in fact fall upon me, fact because if I know anything at all worth knowing, it came to me at the moment Agape penetrated me to the core of my being with absolute joy and certitude that I was God’s beloved.
Eros was Agape’s handmaiden (or handservant, if one wishes), and though I at times have not remembered which goes first, when I do remember Eros has continued to bless, instruct, and lead me toward Agape. Agape in turn has made every moment with my dearling, whether in bed or merely watching her tend her flower-box outside our Chicago alley-way window, a literal embodiment of God’s own Presence.
So not only did Eros play a large role in leading me to Christ’s love, Eros continues to play a huge role for me in remaining in belief. Thomas may have needed the wound in Christ’s side, but all I need is my dear one next to me. I need not touch her, though prefer to touch. If I can or cannot, I can see her. And Eros and Agape tell me what the meaning of this strange, transitory, often sorrowful life is. It is to love another, even more than one loves oneself. It is to be faithful and true to another (and Another). It is to be pure in all relationships so that in one relationship love burns up like a fire, or lies quiet as two lovers after their crisis has passed.
Christ is the significance. And because He is all in all, everything else — every breath, every kiss, every embrace — has meaning. The Universe according to Eros is not empty, but is instead unbearably full of light and sensuality and excessive beauty of all and every kind.
So, to say that I am in fact a Christian because of Erotic Love is only to give proper praise to Erotic Love as a lesser love. In being lesser, however, it is more than it ever could be in our paltry human imaginations. We can imagine all sorts of positions and techniques — nothing wrong with that. But what is harder to imagine is loving one’s beloved not only with the powerful, even possessive, strength of Eros, but also with the Agape Love reminding us that we are — before anything else — to love one another “as we love ourselves.”
Erotic love unbound from Agape becomes either a dictator or (more likely in our culture these days) a shallow mimicry of itself. We mistake mere sexual attraction for erotic love, failing to understand that Eros’ flames fluctuate, that it cannot be depended on when changing our child’s diapers, having a nasty argument over money or who will do household chores, or (heaven forbid) differing sexual appetites. These matters need “neighbor-love,” need Agape.
So. In the end, Eros drove me to find meaning for its existence, a meaning others may not find convincing. Eros also drove and continues driving me toward Christ as I see my complete inability on my own to love my wife as I love myself. As passion overflows its banks, I often think of Christ and His Hedonistic creation. Every nerve ending is there for a reason, every molecule of skin upon skin merging.
He, not it, is the meaning. This I believe, while also believing that it has meaning because He is.