Monday, May 14, 2007

"A Christian Because of Erotic Love"?

photo, Jon Trott (c) 2005

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?

An Introduction

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.


Anonymous said...

What you're saying sounds very similar to Rob Bell's thoughts in his latest book "Sex God".
Have you read it?
Any comments?

Jon Trott said...

One chapter was mailed to us from the publisher. If they send the rest, maybe I'll try a review. The chapter was promising, but as someone who thinks a lot (probaby too much!!) about sexuality and eros on my own, I probably won't be happy until I've written something "substantial" (meaning in book form, I suppose) of my own. I do have a little sumpin' in the cooker, and we'll have to see. Of course, I also have had a novel in the cooker for years. Still not done, but plenty long.


Anonymous said...

What's the novel about?
Will Cornerstone Press publish it?

Jon Trott said...

Anonymous, does your name rhyme with Flark Biderer? If so, you are one odd fella.

The novel? You'll have to buy a copy.
Will Cornerstone Press publish it? We'll have to see.

@bdul muHib said...

Thanks for this Jon! Well written. Shades of >Four Loves.

But on a minor point, I didn't understand what you meant by animals not raping. They do so quite commonly, and indeed it is the primary method of sexual transmission in many species. Sadly, there are even documented cases of non-human animals raping humans. Perhaps you are saying something different here that I'm not getting?

Jon Trott said...

@bdul muhib,

My argument would be that when it comes to animals, it isn't rape. It is forced sex, but animals (controversial comment coming) do not function in a moral universe of good and evil but in a universe about instinctual propogation of the species. Thus, biologically, it could be called "forced sex" but it could not be called "rape," since rape is a moral category implying the involvement of two beings with moral consciences. Obviously, in the case of the rapist, that conscience has been ignored or so damaged it no longer works. But you get my overall idea, I hope.

As far as an animal raping a person, that's a new one on me. I've never seen such a story or could imagine one, unless it be in someone's porno collection somewhere. But abstractely speaking, I suppose to the animal it would be a instinctual attempt to propogate, and a mammalian malfunction regarding the proper mate to do so. To the person it would be a nightmare.

At least that's how I see it. I've read a bit of your stuff, and realize you may be better versed on the zoology portions of the above than I am.

In short, though, I'm suggesting rape is an act which can only happen in a moral world. Animals are not broken by sinfulness in the same way humans are -- it is we who are both physical and spiritual beings and who recieve in ourselves the unique damage done to conscience and to sexual appetite which creates rape.

All the above is highly vulnerable to those with more cerebral space and/or information than I have.

Lainie Petersen said...

I have heard, from some very reliable sources, that various Latin American paramilitaries specially trained dogs to rape prisoners. My understanding is, however, that dogs have to be specifically trained to do this, as humans in general don't "smell right" . In other words, the animal has to be conditioned somehow to do such a thing, oftentimes by a human possessed of a very sick and twisted mind.

Jon Trott said...

A bemused aside... how did we get onto animals raping humans? Hehehehe... and all I wanted to talk about was the beauty of erotic love. Sigh...

Regarding what animals will or will not do under human training and guidance, I suppose isn't a lot different in one sense than the dolphins military types have allegedly trained to attach bombs underwater to enemy ships (or even serve as the aquamarine version of a terrorist suicide bomber?). The animal is not morally culpable -- it has no idea what the moral ramifications of its actions are, and no mental / spiritual apparatus to block it from doing such a thing.

The crime involved in human beings teaching violence to animals is that they (the humans) are involving innocent creatures in the demonic. I mean that quite literally. Animals trained to commit unnatural (that is, not occurring in nature) acts against human beings by other human beings are being forced into the activities of the Kingdom of Darkness.

The realm of the demonic as it intersects w/ nature is, I think, well illustrated by C. S. Lewis' demoniac, Weston, in Perelandra, where Weston enters an Edenic world to ruin it and starts off by mindlessly killing small creatures (a type of frog, I think, which he tears open with his fingernails). Lewis also creates a fascinating and perhaps controversial figure in his "Fairie" woman in That Hideous Strength. She enjoys torture, and keeps a zoo of animals as well as prisoners. Lewis leaves her full purposes unrevealed, but she seems a cross between an SS guard and s/m nightmare.

At any rate, humankind is supposed to steward creation, including animals. What a sick twisted word "stewardship" becomes under fallen humanity's hand!

Anyway, what about the Erotic's positive side? Anyone else have thoughts / remembrances of Eros having been a guide toward God rather than away from Him?

Lainie Petersen said...

**A bemused aside... how did we get onto animals raping humans? Hehehehe... and all I wanted to talk about was the beauty of erotic love. Sigh...**

That's total depravity for you.

As to the rest:

I confess to being suspicious of the "baptism" of erotic love into some sort of spiritual exercise. I probably got this way from my years in Western Esotericism/Neo-Paganism, where (at least theoretically) ritualized sex is condoned and practiced. I am not saying that there aren't serious practitioners of sacred sexuality in those traditions, but more often than not, the "spirituality" was used as a way to excuse or rationalize sexual behavior.

Ironically, I have seen Christians (Catholic and Protestant) engage in similar rationalizations (usually in the form of anti-contraception rhetoric). It seems like folks are just really reluctant to enjoy sex for its own sake.

At the same time, I do see how erotic love can point us to God. As has been touched on here, human sexuality differs from most animals in numerous ways. For one thing, humans are capable of (and seem to prefer) mating face-to-face, something which facilitates bonding. Human males understand (or ought to!) the importance of bringing a female to arousal, and human females are able to engage in this highly intimate activity regardless of their fertility. All of these differences mean that human sexuality is an important part (perhaps the most important part) of human community.

Sex between humans has the potential to not only create life, but can foster significant bonds between people. Mothers (ideally) know who their children's fathers are, and love their children all the more because they resemble their fathers. Fathers love and care for children who are the result of their eros. Grandparents and siblings and aunts and uncles are interconnected to each other because of the erotic love shared between other family members. This intense love also fosters a fear of death.

It is in the community, originated by eros, that philo and agape can emerge. It is also because of love, in all of its forms, that death is so devistating to individual humans and to communities in general. The question of "why bother with love" is, I dare say, one of the most common reactions that a person will have when they lose a loved one. And indeed: What *is* the point? We could make a utilitarian argument, I suppose, so that love creates community which is necessary for human survival. But I don't think that the utilitarian argument is likely to be of much comfort to people.

Instead, I think that the Christian message of resurrection and reconciliation offers us a balance to the risks of erotic love. If one fears the risk of "knowing" someone so intimately, only to lose them to death, they can also know that death doesn't have the last say.

@bdul muHib said...

Ah, thanks for clarifying. I think part of it is that the word "rape" is commonly used in biology to describe a number of practices by animals on each other. It is divorced of it's moral component, simply describing forced sex.

But I agree, animals lack the moral awareness of good and evil to be morally culpable. Indeed, I'd strongly argue that our actions before we became aware of good and evil, when we were lower primates, suddenly become evil, or good, once we developed the brain to have a conscience, and therefore a soul.

Sadly, the case of animal rape I've read is documented in an anthropology textbook I read in seminary, with a male gorilla. And yes, quite horrible for the woman.

But on the positive of eros leading us towards agape, have you read Pope's translation of Song of Songs? Simultaneously much more overt than the standard English versions (down with NIV!), and yet incredibly more beautiful.