The Feast Day of St. Eros

Kent Stater 2/14/19

Reading today’s copy of the Kent Stater was an educational experience for me. I learned that 56 percent of people believe in love at first sight (though I’m one of the 44 percent of others on this one)… I learned that I, a “vanilla” pastor and family man, whole-heartedly agree with some of the central tenets of Kent State’s K.I.N.K. chapter: namely, the strong need for communication in relationships and in sexual activity… I learned about the pantheon of apps designed to help college students hook up: Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, Hinge… And I learned that Kent State University is #6 in the United States of America for “Sugar Babies,” which are defined as, “young people of any gender who get paid by older adults (sugar daddies and mommies) to provide a companionship.”

At the same time, this newspaper edition — and the general atmosphere of a place like Kent State University on Valentine’s Day — also reminded me of a piece I wrote a long time ago, which delved into some dynamics that have been around for decades, and even thousands of years. It seemed like it might be worth republishing today, so I’m copying it (with a few minor edits) here below:

It seems that most Christians who raise objections to the increasing sexualization of our culture (including issues ranging from teenage pregnancy to gay marriage) do so on the basis of the Seventh Commandment (“thou shalt not commit adultery”) and the Tenth Commandment (“thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife”) of the Mosaic Law. I believe that a focus on the Ten Commandments bypasses the fundamental issue that every human stands condemned under Mosaic Law… However — if we’re going to be talking about the Ten Commandments anyway — I think we would actually do better to focus on the First and Second Commandments instead…

Without the awareness of almost all the parties in the discussion, a large part of the ideological conflict surrounding sexuality and spirituality comes down to who or what is worshiped in our lives. Is it God? Or is it something else (an idol)? Even though most people in our culture would not be able to articulate it in this way, it seems to me that the God of our culture is Eros.

Eros was the Greek God of lust, love, and intercourse. In addition, Eros was one of four Greek verbs distinguishing various emotions that are roughly equivalent to different uses of the English word “Love.”  As opposed to Phileos (φιλßα = friendship love), Agape (ἀγαπη = divine love), and Storge (στοργÞ = parental love) — Eros (ἔρως) indicates passionate love, with sensual desire and longing… Romantic love, sexual love, the love of dating relationships and marriage.

And frankly, I can’t think of any bigger idol in our culture today than Eros.

I don’t know exact figures, but it seems that the vast majority of films and television series today are centered around (or at least include a significant sub-plot of) some kind of love story (which is basically a form of Eros). It’s difficult to think of any popular songs on the radio that don’t essentially function as worship songs for Eros. I’ve heard that something like 80 percent of cyperspace has been developed and is being used for pornographic content (yet another form of Eros). Popular psychologists suggest that people think about sex on a virtually constant basis (Freudian psychology will even tie issues that we would typically consider to be asexual back in with some kind of repressed sexual desire). Eros is everywhere.

It’s interesting to note that our idolatry of Eros assumes different forms in different people. For men, the obsession is more typically related to sex and lust. For women, the obsession is more typically related to romance and relationships. But in any event, it all comes back to the questions of: Who or what do we trust to bring us salvation? Rescue? Hope? Meaning? Significance? Identity? Belonging? Acceptance? If we’re having a bad day, what is the drug that helps us cope (fantasy, masturbation, boyfriends / girlfriends, romantic comedies)?

This is where our culture creates a tension between sexuality and spirituality. Even though they were created by God for our good — love and sexuality have become distorted and elevated above their Creator! This phenomenon of idolatry seems to be well-described in the Bible. Romans 1:19-27, and 32, in particular, reads like a page out of this morning’s newspaper; it’s astonishing, really, to realize how accurately this section of the ancient Christian scriptures describes today’s idolatry of Eros.

Thus, in a good way (I guess), a lot of the conversation among Christians about sexuality is meant to deal with this blatantly obvious idol in our culture. Nevertheless, Christians also seem to often overdo it, in their attempts to point out the idol in our culture. It seems that perhaps we’ve come too far (though, admittedly, a good balance is very difficult to achieve). For many Christians, sexual sin is made out to be bigger or worse than other sin (like lying or gossip). Furthermore, we often fail to separate the sin (the behavior) from the sinner (the person). And because sexuality is so personal and so often tied up in a sense of identity, arguments about the issues surrounding sexuality and spirituality can become quickly elevated and emotional. Disagreements about viewpoints can feel like personal attacks and harsh, judgmental attitudes. And unfortunately, Christians don’t often do much to diffuse this tension…

For now, I would encourage us all to take a look at the world around us — and take a look at our own lives… Do you see the influence of Eros? Can you smell the burnt offerings smoldering on the embers of a thousand altars in our society? And can you confirm that we’ve got a problem that may be pointing us back to God?

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