Love Over All

We have the idea, particularly in America, that Romantic Love trumps everything, that when you fall in love all else becomes subservient to this single great power. This is perhaps unique in the history of the world; even in other ages when Romantic Love was held in high regard (the late medieval, for example, with the tradition of courtly love) it was considered to be under the constraints of God and Country (Lancelot’s great sin was not loving Guenevere, but in pursuing that love to the detriment of Arthur’s court. It is only today that we have elevated Eros to the ruinous position of most high Love.

Eros’ high position can be clearly seen in any foray into discussion of couple’s in love. In many cases, the be-all-to-end-all of the discussion is “They love each other.” To deny a couple the chance to display or, more exactly, live out, their love is anathema. I remember a discussion in my Health and Human Development class about the relationship of love and religious faith (discussion may be the wrong word, as the class had nearly 150 students so there was little chance for real dialogue) where the last statement was that, if they loved each other, why should religion even factor into a relationship? (The total misunderstanding of religion/God in this comment deserves its own post).

This can also be seen in any argument about Homosexual relationships. What is, for most people, the best (and often the only) point in favor is that the two men or two women really love each other; who are we to deny them the fullest display of that love? (It should be noted that the fullest display of that love is not, in fact, marriage, but procreation which is denied of them by a power significantly higher than earthly courts.) Most people are unwilling to fight here because they are unwilling to heretics in the church of Eros.

The knowledgeable Christian is aware, at least implicitly, that while love is called “the greatest,” the love spoken of there is agape (that is, a sacrificial, universal love fundamentally born out of the will) not eros (a particular love of a highly physical character which tends to draw the lovers in its wake). This distinction is, however, lost on most of the world.

Further, because, as Christians, we live in the world and imbibe the culture, this distinction is lost on many of use who, on the academic level, know better. To be in love, we think, properly involves sacrificing other goods for the beloved. In the case of the above mentioned student (who, for all my knowing, may well have been a ‘good’ Christian), this means that, while one may continue attending to one’s religion, it should have no effect on one’s choice of a spouse.

For many Christians, however, it is far more subtle. We who would never date a non-Christian sacrifice Christian principles in our romance. This contributes, for example, to the fairly sexual character of Christian dating (even if it falls far short of sex itself); making-out is a fundamental part of romance and thus any objection to it must be subjected. Likewise, the significant other gains a position of priority over almost anything else (with the partial exception of family). It is not uncommon to see someone, for example, go to daily Mass or join in common prayer less, even though both of the couple are committed to Christ and his Church.

In many ways, a common faith in today’s romantic culture can actually harm one’s faith life in the short term. The fact that the criticals remain firm (Sunday, chastity, etc.) means that the supplementals (which actually form the heart of spiritual growth) are often left by the wayside. (It should be noted that, in every instance I am aware of, they come strongly after a few years.) Simply put, we buy into the divinity of love.

There is, I think, a rather simple solution to this, at least in concept (practice is, of course, always harder): one simply needs to let Romantic Love be subsumed Love of God. What I mean by this is not that one should date in overly Christian ways (i.e. only go the explicitly Christian concerts, movies, restaurants, etc.) but that in every date God must remain in the fore. A simple example would be to go together to daily Mass. If both already go to daily Mass the key change is that they go together. This may be invisible to the outside observer, but it provides a deep romantic connection to an external theistic one. (I would argue that the Nuptial Mass is the couple going to Mass together in the deepest way possible.)

The heart of overcoming this cultural position is to be aware of it, and therein to reassert the dominance of the Lord in ways that do not harm Romantic Love (an example of the opposite: I know someone who, during part of his life, refused to date anyone because “God was calling him to marry a prostitute like Hosea.” One can assume that, even if he should date, there would be no romance). This is not easy to do, but the result will undoubtedly be a holier and, really, more romantic/erotic relationship in all the best ways.

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