Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Garden

That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks. Let us note straight away that the Greek Old Testament uses the word eros only twice, while the New Testament does not use it at all: of the three Greek words for love, eros, philia (the love of friendship) and agape, New Testament writers prefer the last, which occurs rather infrequently in Greek usage… The tendency to avoid the word eros, together with the new vision of love expressed through the word agape, clearly point to something new and distinct about the Christian understanding of love. In the critique of Christianity which began with the Enlightenment and grew progressively more radical, this new element was seen as something thoroughly negative. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros, which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice. Here the German philosopher was expressing a widely-held perception: doesn't the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn't she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator's gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?
Deus Caritas Est 3

Reflection – Pope Benedict of course will go on in this passage to answer the challenge of Nietzsche et al. But isn’t this such a typical criticism of the Catholic Church! The Church, the killjoy! The Church, bestower of Catholic guilt upon the world! The Church, who ruins everything with Her silly little rules and proscriptions and finger-wagging shame-inflicting poisonous so-called moral ‘law’. Bah!
Away with Her! Ecclesia delenda est – the Church must be destroyed! She is all that stands in the way of human happiness, expressed in boundless sexual activity. We've got to get ourselves back to the garden, Joni Mitchell sang in 'Woodstock'. Once we're there, it'll all be all right. It'll be just grand.
Except… as Mary Eberstadt points out wryly in her wonderful Loser Letters, at this stage in the game, it’s getting a little hard to pretend about that anymore, isn’t it? It’s not like the whole world is still in the grip of Catholic morality, and so we can speculate what it would be like to be free of it all. Large swaths of the world have decidedly shrugged off Catholic morality with √©lan, haven’t they? And of course it has generated untold human happiness and joy, right? Walk down the streets of Toronto, New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Montreal, Los Angeles, and people are literally dancing for joy, hugging each other, tears of happiness streaming down their faces now that the Wicked Witch is dead (ding dong)!
No? Looking a little grim out there? The broken marriages, STDs, abortions, betrayals, meaningless hook-ups, serial relationships, using one another for pleasure, etc. etc., somehow don’t all end up in a net increase of human happiness? Humph. Fancy.
Must be something wrong with unbridled eros. It will be interesting to see what Pope Benedict says about it next!

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