Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Four Loves: Eros

Lewis defines Eros as what we call "being in love." I found it interesting that eros is not just sexuality because sexual experience can occur without Eros. In fact, Eros includes other things besides sexual activity. Lewis differentiated Eros from Venus, the carnal or animally sexual element from within Eros. He makes sure to note that the absence of Eros in sex doesn't make sex "impure." After all, most ancestors came to marriage not with Eros but with animal desire. Lewis ruled out mere sexuality as "irrelevant to our purpose."

Evolution would suggest that Eros grows out of Venus, but that is not always the case. Lewis said that "what comes first is simply a delighted pre-occupation with the beloved," with less concentration on sex than "the fact that she is herself." The difference can be expressed in this way, "Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself: Eros wants the Beloved." Eros "makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman." This type of love transforms a Need-pleasure into "the most Appreciative of all pleasures." Lewis further differentiates Eros and Venus, "Without Eros sexual desire, like every other desire, is a fact about ourselves. Within Eros it is rather about the Beloved." Despite Eros' pleasure, however, is a by-product and not the reason for it.

Lewis then addressed the misconception that Eros is most noble or pure when Venus is reduced to the minimum. When Paul says it is better to not be married, he fears the pre-occupation of marriage and the need to constantly "please" someone else rather than sex itself. Thus, it is marriage itself, not the marriage bed, that will hinder us from spending time with God. I found this passage especially interesting because this idea has been alive and well throughout church history. Christians over the years have remained single under the false pretense that they are "pure" without sex, when it's not about that. In fact, Eros makes abstinence easier because it is not a sensual pre-occupation. Lewis commented that we have taken Venus too seriously (or at least not seriously in the right way). There is a "solemnization" of sex.

Sex is serious, Lewis writes, for four reasons:
1. This is the body's share in marriage which is the "mystical image of the union between God and Man."
2. It is a Pagan or natural sacrament of the natural forces of life and fertility.
3. Morally, there are obligations involved (ex. parenthood).
4. It has an emotional seriousness in the minds of the participants.

Yet, other things are "serious" without having to be treated as totally solemn. Thus, Lewis believes that "we must not be totally serious about Venus." Further, he made the point that, "Banish play and laughter from the bed of love and you may let in a false goddess." It is a divine joke that "a passion so soaring" as Eros should be linked with a "bodily appetite" along the lines of weather, health, and diet. Lewis believes that, "It is a bad thing not to be able to take a joke."

He then described three views man has taken of the body:
1. Ascetic Pagans who called the body the prison or "tomb" of the soul and Christians who thought the body was a "sack of dung"
2. Neo-Pagans who believe the body to be glorious.
3. St. Francis called his body "Brother Ass," a view which Lewis supports, "There's no living with it (the body) until we recognize that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon." An error is that Eros should always be serious and permanently abolish the joke.

Lewis then turned to the issue of headship, a topic that continues to strike controversy in the present day. He wrote, "The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church-- and give his life for her." Thus, marriage is like a crucifixion. I am open about my skepticism concerning "headship," but for the time, I wonder if Lewis was considered to be a feminist. Certainly his comments would have been considered too liberal for his time, in which hardly any women were allowed to enter a ministry field. Even though I still believe the section on page 148-9 contains modern chauvinism, I respect Lewis for addressing this topic in a fresh way for his time.

A major problem with Eros is if people treat it as if it is a god. Lewis entreated us to "not give unconditional obedience to the voice of Eros when he speaks most like a god." Indeed, "being in love" seems to become a sort of religion. He said that, "The real danger seems to me not that the lovers will idolize each other but that they will idolize Eros himself."

I found Lewis' arguments interesting, but honestly, I don't have much to say more on this topic. I am neither experienced nor lucky in relationships, so I think to have further insight, I would need to be in a serious relationship and/ or married. I believe that the church has indeed made sex a "solemn" practice when it shouldn't be, but at the same time, I think in some cases the church has gone too far. I know churches (well, okay, I'm thinking of one specific church) that concentrate waaaaaaaaay too much on sex and not enough on other issues. There needs to be a balance between "Let's pretend sex doesn't exist" and "Sex is the most important issue we should address." The "abstinence programs" where students get an "abstinence ring" are just as likely to have sex at younger ages. There shouldn't just be rules about sex: there should be theology behind it, coupled with discipleship. Finger-wagging doesn't help and could just enforce students to eat this "forbidden fruit." When I am married or in a long-term relationship, perhaps I will revisit this chapter and find it to be more meaningful.

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