In which we consider the subject of ‘eros’ by way of C.S. Lewis’s chapter on the same in The Four Loves.
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I’m honestly really confused with this subject. I’m not sure I’ve ever quite understood Eros. I’ve read “The Four Loves” before. And I just want to beat my head against a wall sometimes trying to understand Eros. I felt the same sort of madness listening to the first 40 minutes of this episode. This is why I commented in advance of the episode on Friendship with the quote from Wesley Hill in “Spiritual Friendship” and the issue of C.S. Lewis and Arthur Greeves.
I’m a theologically conservative Christian. I believe in traditional biblical sexual ethics. I understand the issues of the deceitfulness of the heart and the effects of original sin’s corruptions and so forth. For most of my life, I’ve experienced same-sex attraction or whatever you want to call it. I’m in my late 30’s; I’ve been married for four years and have a child. I have a happy home and family. But I still have SSA. Jesus hasn’t “fixed me” and made me a straight guy the way some people seem to expect should be the case.
So I’m very thankful for what you covered and attempted to get into in the last 10 minutes of this episode. That was something that wasn’t totally maddening to me and made some sense personally. I wish it made more sense to more people. It takes a lot of work just to sort through this myself and then have to work to help fellow Christians around me understand what it’s like.
I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to actively work at undoing my own hypersexualization, rehabituating and disentangling specifically sexual desires and lusts that have been there making my friendships complicated. And there’s still something more there beyond that. I’ve had a hard time understanding where friendship (or various other loves) for my friends ends and where Eros enters into it and beyond that thinking Eros still isn’t just Venus (sexuality).
In the last year or so, I suppose it was mildly encouraging to see Aaron Taylor try to parse Eros similarly in two articles, one at Spiritual Friendship and one at First Things.
Matt, I was previously very impressed in your post “Can Christians be Gay? An Inquiry” with what you called empathetic imagination and what you captured in your illustration of the young man sitting in a coffee shop and reading David Copperfield. I think you hit on something really insightful there. You captured a taste of exactly what that otherwise unexplainable, intoxicating, intriguing something is.
So, to this day, I find that my most intense relationships are some of my male friendships. It’s where I sense that I find the most affection, passion, intimacy, freedom, yearning, delight, etc. And it matters to me that they are other males and also that they are the specific persons who they are. So, compared to most people around me, whether in the church or the culture, I have a tough time seeing if I’m doing something wrong or something right in my friendships, because there seems to be this thing in it for me that seems to be what is romance or whatever it is for straight people around me.
Since you presented it, I think I resonate with the idea of what might be Eros detached from sexuality. I’ve had about three or four friends in the course of my life, straight guys who are all married now, who after a while in friendship with me seemed to “fall in love” with me (for lack of any better way of putting it). They weren’t interested in sexual activity in our friendship but were otherwise intensely connected with me in a way that seemed symmetrical to so much of what I was experiencing. And when they’d attempt to explain their friendship with me to strangers, it always came across like me and my friends were dating or should be married. Our culture has no template for this other than dating and marriage. It’s frustrating to me.
I’ve had to resist the fears, thoughts, and accusations at worst that all my friendships are really “homoerotic” (i.e. sexual) and inherently corrupt and evil. Most of my good and true friends tell me that I’m better off to think that I’m pretty good at being a friend, which is the core reality, and sexual immorality is temptation or corruption that comes into but is not descriptive of it.
And I see how it may be dangerous, or at least, I know how I’ve been injured unfairly because of it along the way. In the most recent instance when my friend was pursuing marriage, his “significant other” who didn’t know me viewed me as a threat, even demanded that my friend “break up” with me and abandon me if he was going to pursue marriage with this girl. A stranger and her family treated my friendship as if I was my friend’s “ex-girlfriend” (that was the exact word used). He submitted to what they wanted. It was awful.
So, I don’t know if I have any questions to ask. I just want to hear more about this. I want to have more people to talk to that seem to begin to understand what this is and won’t just shoehorn me into a cultural template for acceptable American relationships rather than possible and permissible biblical relationships.
And yes, Matt, I would really appreciate it if you could find some way to make that ETS paper you presented last year available. :-)
I couldn’t follow Matt’s final observation about eros and the form of the male (Michelangelo’s David). Even in it’s most non-sexual moments my same-sex attraction has been open to a sexual ordering/framing of that attraction.
Then again – I have never fallen “in love” with a woman and maybe, heterosexual men and women do fall “in love” with members of the same sex without that experience ever stumbling over into the category of sexuality.
I now think Wes Hill’s attempt to rehabilitate a ‘purer’ form of same-sex attraction is dangerous and no part of that identity can serve a good function.
Other people misinterpreting genuine friendships as homoerotic is a separate issue (gossips and slanderers are also covered by Romans 1)
I’ve not read the book, but am largely on board with Lewis’s suggestion that it may benefit us to make less of sex than to make more of it. In that sense, evangelicals have almost one-upped the culture in in allowing venus (and the anxiety concerning it) to overshadow eros. I have two experiences in my life that lead me to conclude this.
First, I spent three years after college living and working in Japan. The Japanese just don’t have the anxieties concerning sex and the body that most Americans have. In Japan, there’s a much greater nonchalance around nudity and sex in comparison to the US. Forming one’s identity around one’s sexual desires–whether for the opposite sex, the same sex, or both–would seem remarkably strange to the Japanese. That likely explains why there’s stiff hostility to same-sex marriage, even while there’s little social stigma against same-sex sex. I’m not suggesting that the Japanese have it right. Even so, Japanese culture provides a counter-example to the notion that sexual desire is essential to the construction of a social identity.
Second, I would identify as asexual, meaning that I don’t generally experience sexual attraction to people of either sex. In my experience in evangelicalism, asexuality is generally treated as a form of homosexuality. Evangelicals obsess over sex more than any group of people I’ve ever witnessed. And having a robust desire for the opposite sex is generally seen as evidence of godliness, i.e., as possessing true “biblical masculinity.” Compulsory heterosexuality–and the restrictive social codes surround it–are so central to evangelical theology that it’s hard to conceive of evangelicalism apart from it. As we’ve seen in recent years, many evangelicals are even willing to dispense with Nicene formulations of the Trinity to keep compulsory heterosexuality intact.
So, I see Lewis’s approach as refreshing. Even so, I don’t see it working within an evangelical context. Compulsory heterosexuality has been absolutely central to evangelical identity for decades. Removing it from evangelical theology would be akin to removing the Eucharist from Catholic theology. As my RUF minister once proclaimed during a men’s retreat, “Dominating a women in bed is the godly man’s form of communion.” He pretty much summed up New Calvinism (and much of evangelicalism) in that one sentence.
Good observations. I sympathize.
hmmm….interesting convo, though a bit stodgy! both CSL and GKC would suggest approaching this topic with more humor! plus wouldn’t it be good to have an adult single believer participate – seeing as CSL was for most of his life? plus the commentators all “come from a place” 60+ years after CSL’s world, and so marinated in a far different cultural world than CSL and all three are rock-ribbed married guys? good topic, but the convo meanders…!