Monday, July 14, 2008

More Than a Feeling . . .

When most of you saw the title of this post, your first thought was probably this:

Last weekend, I was playing RockBand with a group of friends, and this song began playing. As I used the bass guitar in a rather futile effort to fend off the endless descent of the various colored bars, I began to reflect, nay, drift away, into a sea of ruminations spurred by the lyrical stylings of Boston. In keeping with the Church's long tradition of taking the profane and using it for religious purposes, I offer the following post.

Modernity has attempted to define love as a spontaneous emotional response, often lustful in nature. In other words, merely a feeling. This is most ably illustrated by the memorable exchange between Harry and Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber:

Lloyd: The first time I set eyes on Mary Swanson, I just got that old fashioned romantic feeling where I'd do anything to bone her.
Harry: That's a special feeling, Lloyd.

Of course, this view of love is absolutely incompatible with Catholic thought. As Tom Scholz tells us as he remembers Mary Ann, it is more than a feeling. What do we mean by this? We'll just assume that Tom agrees with the Church and regards love as an act of the will, specifically the act of willing the good of another. Consider the words of Aquinas in his discussion of the love of God:

An act of love always tends towards two things; to the good that one wills, and to the person for whom one wills it: since to love a person is to wish that person good. Hence, inasmuch as we love ourselves, we wish ourselves good; and, so far as possible, union with that good. So love is called the unitive force, even in God, yet without implying composition; for the good that He wills for Himself, is no other than Himself, Who is good by His essence, as above shown. And by the fact that anyone loves another, he wills good to that other. Thus he puts the other, as it were, in the place of himself; and regards the good done to him as done to himself. So far love is a binding force, since it aggregates another to ourselves, and refers his good to our own. And then again the divine love is a binding force, inasmuch as God wills good to others; yet it implies no composition in God.

Summa Theologica, 1st Part, Question 20, Article 1, Response to Objection 3.

There are all sorts of goodies that can be unpacked from this (and Aquinas does so for the most part). There's this idea of love as something that is willed, rather than as the sort of purely emotional/anatomical response mentioned by Lloyd. Emotions are fleeting and transient. One feels good then bad, happy then melancholy, excited then bored. Love is more than that. It is conscious and has in mind for the other only what is best for them.

This is why concern for another's soul is the highest mark of love, because you are not only willing good for that person, but the highest good possible, namely, God Himself. Lloyd is merely concerned with himself as he is really only concerned about acquiring pleasure (in a rather distorted and debased view of that good) for himself.

He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first”, love can also blossom as a response within us.

In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly revealed that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvellous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love. Earlier we spoke of the process of purification and maturation by which eros comes fully into its own, becomes love in the full meaning of the word.

Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Ah, the purification of eros. This is the movement from Lloyd to Tom Scholz. In Lloyd's world, "(E)ros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness."

One arrives in the world of Tom Scholz by acknowledging that "(E)ven if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature."

This isn't to say that such a movement is inevitable. Far from it. One may choose to remain enslaved in Lloyd-ish debasement. This is worse than simply choosing a lesser good over a higher one. It is actually a sin against the other by maintaining them as an object of erotic satisfaction rather than as a person. It can be even worse than that. Consider:

Fundamentally, “love” is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.

Pope Benedict doesn't make the connection, but it has always seemed to me that wallowing in this sort of caricature of love is almost a form of blasphemy against the God Who is Love. At the very least, it pushes into idolatry by exalting a false love above that love which God wills for us and through us.

Anyways, read the rest of the encyclical, and you'll see what I (and Tom Scholz) mean. And thus ends my RockBand-spawned ramblings.

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