Saturday, February 22, 2014

God and Puppy Love

In Colossians 1:28, St. Paul says

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

I commented a few days ago that "maturity in Christ" is an unheard of concept these days - at least unheard of from the pulpit.

What I mean by that is that while we hear a lot about "love", we never hear about mature love, or the love of adults.  We hear about love of God and love of neighbor, but the love we are preached is a kind of puppy love.  Love remains a kind of emotion or sense of benign good will.  It is at best being nice and at worst doing whatever turns us on.  "Love" is a puerile and childish thing, or seems to be if you simply listen to most homilies.

Or perhaps love is not exactly "childish" but worse, it's "adolescent".  "Love" for some is merely an excuse for a sophomoric indulgence of sexual desire; and there are those who imply that the path to God begins in our groins.

But what is mature love - which must be a key component of being "mature in Christ"?  Is mature love the denial of all sexual desire?  Is it Puritanism?  Is it repression and frustration?

Later in the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul says

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5)

Christopher West and his followers would say that someone who says such a thing is a Puritan, a Theology of the Body neophyte.  They would concede that sexual immorality and evil desire are wrong - but passion?  Passion is the way to God!  The Passion of Christ means not just His suffering on the cross, but the intense desire that springs up in us that leads us to Him.  Passion is Eros.  And Eros is love, or at least an aspect of love.

But is this what Paul means by "passion" (πάθος - sometimes translated "lust")?

For Paul πάθος (pathos) means a kind of abdication of human reason, a giving in to an emotion so that it dominates us - whether that emotion is sexual desire, anger, greed, or what have you.  Addiction, lust, hungering for money and power - these are passions that destroy us, but the desire at the root of these passions is not in itself necessarily evil.  It is good to want sex, good to enjoy drinking, good to work for money.

And if this kind of desire for something beyond us is loosely called Eros, then what we see in our culture is obvious.

  • We see the secular world (and much of the Christian world) elevating Eros as the God of salvation, and completely ignoring that allowing desire to dominate us is horribly dangerous, that sex can no more exist without rational boundaries than capitalism can exist without laws that restrain it and keep it from eating us all up.  But Westians deny the one and Republicans deny the other.  
  • And on the other hand we still see (if we look hard enough) a tradition that realizes, as Paul did, that the only way to exercise our Eros, which is to say the only way to love, is to use our rational faculties as well as our emotions and our spiritual instincts - to integrate our lives prudentially as fully formed adults "mature in Christ"; that to do anything else is to make our gods our appetites (Phil. 3:19)

Yes, Eros is love, but when did we become so foolish as to believe that love is something that should not be restrained or cultivated or canalized in a mature and adult way?

I am coming to believe more and more that what we need most desperately in the Church is a well articulate theology of mature love.