Saturday, January 07, 2006

a voice from eden: "on perfect love and on 'Brokeback Mountain'"

Vox reflects "on perfect love and on 'Brokeback Mountain'" here.

He addresses the conflicting understandings of love that surround responses to the film--and the Faith:
So how does one address Sullivan’s contention that the Pope is on one side of this issue and truth and love on the other? And how does one explain those “schizophrenic” words from the bishops' review?

Well, since love is at the center of the chatter about this movie, then perhaps one should look at love. What does it mean to love? Does the Church say one kind of “love” is more “ordered” than another? Are there different degrees of love? Is there such a thing as perfect love?

Hmm. Perfect love. Let’s start there. To unpack this, let us turn to the thoughts of some of the people who have spent their lives contemplating about perfection, about goodness, about love—that’s right: some of the thinkers and philosophers in history.

Let’s take Plotinus (205-270 C.E.). Now he had something to say about perfection and goodness. He said, “Whenever anything [including love] reaches its own perfection, we see that it cannot bear to remain in itself, but generates and produces some other thing” (The Enneads).

Something is perfect when it is oriented outwards, generates, diffuses, moves from itself. It doesn’t stay within itself, unshared---but rather moves outward.

Now, let’s look at another thinker, Athanasius who took Plotinus’ words and “Christianized” them.

He said that God’s central attributes are goodness and perfection. And goodness by its nature diffuses, communicates itself, he said. Since God is good by nature, God therefore must be communicative, generative, out-going.

Is that indeed the case? Well, from the first pages of the Bible to the last, we have a story of how God has indeed generated life, has given God's self, moved outwards--there is God summoning creation to existence, God calling forth a special people (Israel), God coming down to give his own life for humanity, and God continuing to come to us to give us himself through the signs of bread and wine.

This is why John in his letter can proclaim “God is love” (1 John 4:16). This kind of love is expansive, life-giving, outward.

As an aside, compare that to the opposite of Love---Lucifer, who is wonderfully illustrated by Dante in the Inferno. He is depicted as dwelling in the very bottom of Hell, buried in ice from the chest down, his wings flapping, but going nowhere.

He has three faces. And he is chewing something in each of his three mouths. In one mouth he is chewing Judas Iscariot, Brutus in another, and Cassius in the third–-all traitors. So, there he is, encased, chewing on past resentments, turned inwards, imprisoned in himself.

So, the perfection of love and goodness is found in God, who is generative and who diffuses life and warmth.

And this is the kind of love humans are called to emulate: a love that shares in God’s own creative energy and will--a love that thrusts itself out there—-a love that gives life.

Now, ideally the best symbol we have in this material world for that kind of love is between a husband and a wife. Sure, in the beginning they may only have eyes for each other—-inward, exclusive, confined. Nobody else in the world exists but the other spouse.

But you see, as they express their love for each other physically, as they give themselves to one another bodily, something else is engendered----another life, another being who is capable of receiving and giving love.

And so this couple as they go through life begin to share in God’s creative, expansive, outward-oriented love. And you know, as that child grows up, the parents’ gaze which first focused on each other and then on their child, now begins to look upon the world—-the world in which their child is to live.

Yes, this may be the ideal and there may be many marriages out there that have fallen short of this, but there are many more that continue to journey to this ideal. And so to them, I say, keep at it.

And to those couples who can’t have children, the Church has always said that their union still reflects that self-donating, giving, outward divine love. Whatever physical limitations they may experience, they still share in reflecting that perfect love.
He also observes the following:
Can we say the same about gay love? Well, take the most ideal gay relationship out there---monogamous, loyal, loving: the partners are devoted to one another, devoted to their friends and family, they contribute to their community and society. We have many such couples here in the bay area and I number a few gay couples as friends.

But take that most ideal gay relationship and ask, as I have asked my own gay friends: can this love, in and of itself, when expressed in the most intimate way possible, share in the generative and creative love of God? Can it bring the gaze of those two lovers away from themselves and onto another?

I look at a film like “Brokeback Mountain” and observe the relationship between the two main male characters (Ennis and Jack) and I indeed observe a depiction of love...but it's a love that...well...a love that's turned in on itself. Yes, yes, because of their circumstances, they have to be clandestine. But suppose they don't have to be so secretive. Take their relationship and move it forward to the 21st century, and then move them to San Francisco: some things will be different, but not entirely, not with respect to having children.

At this point one of my gay friends would usually say, “well, there’s adoption.” That’s all well and good, but I am talking about the most loving, giving, ideal couple out there, creating a new being out of the physical expression of their love for each other. This is sharing in creation itself, sharing in God’s own work.
He concludes:
Now, shift from that gay relationship in the film and onto gay relationships in general and do you see what I mean? The most ideal and “perfect” gay relationship if compared with the most ideal and “perfect” marriage between a husband and a wife lacks something. It lacks that ingredient that makes for growth and perfection.

What is that key ingredient? As Plotinus, Athanasius, and the rest of the Christian teaching on love tell us: “Whenever anything [including love] reaches its own perfection, we see that it cannot bear to remain in itself, but generates and produces some other thing.”

And that other thing is another human being.
Vox's reflection implicitly asserts what Roman Catholicism has always affirmed: we are embodied souls. Our bodies matter. If the most perfect love is self-giving, and we're body-persons, then our self-giving must emmanate from more than just our emotions and spirit. It must come from our mutual giving of our very physicality. Hetereosexual activity between a husband and wife is the only way in which such holistic and self-giving love takes place.

Unlike the sad charactertures espoused by the Reasonable pursuers of the One Thing that Matters (2.0), the Catholic Church does not hate gays. She simply affirms the Truth about sex and love. The fullness of love is present in the fullness of self-giving. That happens when a husband and wife truly commit the best of themselves to one another in love. For from that self-giving comes forth new life--another human being made in the image and likeness of God.

The advocates of the gay lifestyle can't change this fundamental reality. They can only distort others' understanding of it by emphasizing a dualism that denies the importance of our bodies to our identities. They can only deny the significance of our genders in our lives. But these illusions will not satisfy hearts hungry for the truth. Sooner or later, Reality comes calling.

Vox serves as Reality's messenger today. More like him, please!