Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lust vs. Love

Many of you have been very enthusiastic about yesterday's post What is Love? and the follow up.

In those posts, I make the point that love is not of this world, that God is love and that the theological virtue of caritas - which is charity, concern, love, care, compassion, willing and doing the best for another - is quite literally supernatural - more than natural, in fact Divine - an attribute of God, in a sense the essence of God.  Pure love is the life of God within us.

And since our natural world is anything but pure - since it is fallen and is intertwined with sin - there is an antagonism between love and the world, an antagonism that will last until the New Jerusalem.  Therefore, in this world, love will always entail pain and suffering, sacrifice and rejection.

That caritas can also include both agape and eros (as Pope Benedict points out in Deus Caritas Est) is another way of saying that libido - "liking" things, enthusiasm, and even sexual desire - is part of this package and is not necessarily opposed to self-sacrifice and self-denial.  (Thus my beef with the Westians and some of the pop-Catholics who hail the Theology of the Body as if it were a Theology of Indulging the Lusts of the Body and not an aspect of the true Christian Theology, which is always a Theology of the Cross).

This unity of love - expressed most fully in the Holy Trinity and in the Cross - is hard for us to grasp.  How can we be called both to desire and to renounce our desire?  How can love lead both to life and also to death - how does the Cross and the Tomb lead to Easter Sunday?  How is Abraham told both that his son Isaac will bear God's promise of life and hope, and also that he must kill his son for God's sake?


One of the keys is the First Commandment - which prohibits the worshiping of idols.

Idolatry is wrong on a practical level - on a psychological level - because it is analogous to safe sex.  It is a way of serving a god of our own making - which is safe and manageable - rather than serving the True God who draws us out of ourselves.  This is why "gay marriage" and pornography are all the rage.  Sodomy and Idolatry (and for that matter contraception and abortion) share the same secret thrill - fulfilling our lusts in a god-like way, having control not only of our desires, but of the consequences of following our desires.  Knowing that your seed is being wasted on something prevents you, as it prevented Onan, from making the kind of sacrifice that brings with it a new life that is not yours, a new life that is beyond you and your management and control.  Thus the homosexual is the icon of the New Age because he or she represents the lie that our lives and our loves can be selfish - can begin and end with us.

But sodomy and Lesbianism are not the only sins that are self-centered and self-consuming and literally sterile.  They are just the most obvious expressions of the essence of all sin - for all sin ends in sterility.  All sin ends in the gross parody that is the fop male and the butch female - or for that matter the gross parody of the middle-aged adulterer with hair transplants and a sports car, or the teen-aged atheist with ear buds and a hyper-inflated sense of his own intellectual ability.  All sin brings us to foolishness because all sin ends in vanity.  Indeed all sin ends in death.

I once had a good friend who gave his entire life to philandering.  He lived to seduce women and he kept count of the number he had seduced, as well as detailed records of each encounter.  When I last saw him, he was over 70 years old and was bragging about his latest conquest, a 35-year old waitress who was in treatment for heroin addiction and who had just gotten out of prison.  She would come over and sleep with him when his live-in girlfriend was out of town.  He was clueless that he had become a parody of himself, and that he was embracing a kind of sickness and death in a way that everyone around him could see but that he was blind to.  Such is our end when we give our lives to sin, when we worship our false gods - we wind up as hollow and sick parodies of ourselves, parodies that aren't even funny anymore, empty shells instead of human beings.

Sin is man's way of playing god - of asserting a false reality, an Unreality, that allows him to find satisfaction in a way that's within his own control but that thwarts the true satisfaction for which his desires were made.  We see this even in bad suburban Masses with bad art and bad music and insipid homilies - activities which may fall shy of sin, but which are nonetheless motivated by the desire to castrate God and God's frightening creative power and co-opt it for our own bland and bourgeois un-creative ends - turning even the worship and love of God into a kind of religious safe sex.


But how does this tie in with love?  I mean, after all, ask any teen-aged girl who goes to a Catholic high school - any of them - and they'll tell you that "gay marriage" is a good thing because it is an expression of love.  In the same way, they'll tell you that worshiping your god, your truth, your idol is a great and wonderful thing, as long as it's "true for you".

This simply stems from a confusion of love and lust.

Now we talk a lot about love - though it's not mentioned in our pop songs as much as it used to be.  Still, we're all proud of love but embarrassed by lust.  We're not embarrassed by lust itself, but by the outmoded concept of "lust".  Isn't that just part of that whole religious thing, that old fashioned superstition that burned witches?

Deny that lust exists and it's easy to think that even anal sex can be an expression of "love".  And soon, perhaps, even pedophilia and bestiality will be celebrated as expressions of "love".

The thing is lust is not just a sexual thing.  It not only exists, it permeates our lives and springs up on and off all day long out of our lustful hearts.  What I mean when I use the term lust here is that little selfish worm that turns sexual desire into selfishness, that turns the object of love (the good of the other) into an "object" plain and simple (the objective becoming not the good of the other, but the thing that brings a good feeling to me).  It's the same worm that turns desire for a material good - like money and all the good things money can buy - into greed, into an appetite for acquisition that devours the goods and serves them as idols and sacrifices all else to them, seeing them as ends in themselves.

St. James (and the Holy Spirit) wrote about this long ago (James 4:1-3)...

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Other translations use the word pleasures instead of lusts, but the original Greek comes from the root that forms our English word hedonist and hedonism.  Strong's Greek Concordance says of this root word hedone (translated as lusts or pleasures)

2237 /hēdonḗ ("satisfaction of physical appetite") has a strong negative connotation, generally referring to pleasure that is made an end in itself. That is, the satiation of bodily desires (lusts) at the expense of other things.

And so we see that desire (which is libido and which constitutes a part of love) can go wrong; it does not (despite what the Westians imply) always lead to God.  On the contrary, as St. Paul says ...

But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. (Rom. 7:21

Paul generally refers to this "different law in our members", this tendency to turn a good thing bad, to seek "pleasure that is made an end of itself", to satisfy desires "at the expense of other things", as the flesh.  He contrasts it with the grace of God implanted within us, which is the spirit.  

Call these things what you will - flesh vs. spirit / lust vs. love / greed vs. gift / selfishness vs. sacrifice - the reality is there, and the reality is this ...

  • Our desires can lead to a selfish squander (sowing to the flesh, which reaps corruption - see Gal. 6:8), which is not the end for which God made them; or
  • Our desires can lead to a self-giving sacrifice of love, and to new and eternal life, the end for which they are made.  (See Gal. 6:8)


But how easily the one gives way to the other.

How easily (as I've said before) the actor who loves his craft can turn this love into an idol, this passion for art into a lust - a lust that urges him to do anything for the role.  "If I want the part so badly - if I love it - then why not let the director bugger me on the casting couch?"

How easily a far better group of people than actors - the pro-life crowd - can turn their legitimate and self-sacrificial love for the unborn into an idol.  "If we want to save babies and serve God - if we love God and our mission - then why not lie to abortion clinic workers and treat them with the contempt they deserve?"

How easily parents can say, "Well, if I love my family, I need to get them good things, and if this means working 80 hours a week for two cars and a house in the suburbs and never seeing my kids - that's not greed that's love."  

How easy for every one of us to say, "If I love this guy or this gal, I can cross the line every now and then.  After all, it's not fornication if you're in love or if you fool around without going all the way - after all it's not lust - there is no such thing as lust! - it's love."


But there is a little worm within us.  And when that worm turns, our gaze shifts from God and the end for which the gifts of God were made, and faces with a secret and hungry delight the worm-infested apple that looks so sweet and that opens our eyes to sin and our hearts to death.

Lust is not love.  Greed is not desire for necessities.  Gluttony is not mere hunger.

In past ages, because of Christ, people knew this.

And now we've all become just a tad bit confused.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really like it whenever people come together and share opinions.
Great blog, continue the good work!

Eric Gray Buffalo