Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western Psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness and ecstasy….Romantic love doesn’t just mean loving someone; it means being “in love.” This is a psychological phenomenon that is very specific. When we are “in love” we believe we have found the ultimate meaning of life, revealed in another human being. We feel we are finally completed, that we have found the missing parts of ourselves. Life suddenly seems to have a wholeness, a superhuman intensity that lifts us high above the ordinary plain of existence….This psychological package includes an unconscious demand that our lover or spouse always provide us with this feeling of ecstasy and intensity….Despite our ecstasy when we are “in love,” we spend much of our time with a deep sense of loneliness, alienation and frustration over our inability to make genuinely loving and committed relationships. Usually we blame other people for failing us; it doesn’t occur to us that perhaps it is we who need to change our own unconscious attitudes—the expectations and demands we impose on our5 relationships and on other people…This is the great wound in the Western culture. It is the primary psychological problem of our Western culture. Carl Jung said that if you find the psychic would in an individual or a people, there you also find their path to consciousness. For it is in the healing of our psychic wounds that we come to know ourselves. (Robert A. Johnson, We, Understanding the psychology of Romantic Love, p. vii, xii)
Greeks, ever the professional parsers of definitions, discerned and expounded four different types of love: eros, storge, philia, and agape, whose respective realms are:
Romantic and sexual (Eros), family (Storge), friendships (Philia), divine love that comes from God (Agape).
The Christian tradition of carving out the Eros, romantic love, as the problem because of what they considered rampant promiscuity in the time of the Apostle Paul, poured the concrete footings of a theological belief and practice of ministry that precludes sexual relationships outside of their “sacred” and exclusive access to marriage (and that between a man and a woman only). For the most part of western history and cultural development, storge, philia and agape have been sidelined at best or ignored/denied at worst. Occasionally, some cleric will use the word “agape” as an ideal modelled on the gift of God’s love that we might emulate in our relationships with others. Nevertheless, the western culture is fundamentally unfamiliar (ignorant, “ignosco,” I do not know) with the three various forms of love, different from eros, romantic love. The Christian church’s claim on how individuals should (must, in order to avoid excommunication, and must in order to please God) engage in Eros, has unfortunately resulted in some of the major chasms of ethics and morality both within and outside the institution. Celibacy, for both men and women “of God” is only one of such divisions of “holiness” and spiritual “status” inside the church, as possibly in the secular community as well. The complications of annulment, divorce, separation, also flow from this tradition.
Also, the attribution of “red letter” social exclusion, alienation and character defamation for those “caught” in the conundrum of an unexpected/unwanted pregnancy, is a direct consequence of the church’s exclusive appropriation of human sexual behaviour. Flowing out of this tradition, too, is the violent, and vehement culture “war” against abortion, regardless of the specific “term” designated in a specific legal framework. So, from the paradoxical “ministry” focus of the Christian church, to give voice to the voiceless, to comfort the infirm and to provide discomfort for the “comfortable,” this laser focus on sex sabotages the ministry attempts needed and expected by imperfect and non-compliant adherents. This microscopic (and it says here, anal) focus on an attempt to manage, control, manipulate and ironically and paradoxically sacralise sexual activity among parishoners, also puts the church outside the legitimate attempts to integrate the human psyche, and outside the natural world’s hard wiring.
Especially if biology (the sexual ‘shiver’) and human ethical behaviour imprinted in our gregariousness are inextricably linked, the Christian tradition needs a re-think, and not a merely superficial, public relations re-boot.
Lionel Tiger’s The Manufacture of Evil, is cogent here:
It is possible we have been systematically misled about our morality from the very beginning. Why should God have interfered eith Eden as he did, evidently for the dual offences of sexual awareness…and empirical skepticism, that forbidden fruit. And why blame poor Adam, whom after all God made? And why was what happened in Eden the “Fall”? And why were Adam and Eve so harshly and disproportionately ridiculed for their sexual frisson? Were not those perplexingly pleasureable nerve endings in their genitals there for a purpose? Was orgasm an accidental spasm, which happened to be so mightily pleasing that (later on when churches got going) its occurrence or not could be held up as a measure of obedience to God?...This is mad. No wonder practitioners of the morality trades have so enthusiastically separated man from animal, culture from nature, devotion from innocence. If morality is natural, then you don’t need priests as much as you’re likely to enjoy being informed by scientists. If morality is a biological phenomenon, then it is merely insulting to harass mankind for its current condition because of an historic Fall in the past and an putative Heaven in the future. When spirituality became as special flavor and ceased being fun, when mystical congregation and speculation became instead a matter of bare knees on cold stone and varying renunciations; when involvement with the seasons and the other subtle rhythms of nature became formalized into arbitrary rituals governed by functionaries, then the classical impulse for moral affiliation became translated into something else: into a calculation of ethical profit and loss supervised by an accountant Church and a demanding God. A new tax was born, The Tithe. Ten percent for the first agents. (Lionel Tiger, op. cit. p.32-33)
Regardless of whether one considers the Genesis story a “literal history” or a mythical representation of a “beginning story of humankind” written by inspired humans, one is compelled to take note of the different interpretations and implications. Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, recently reminded us (see ‘Suffocating on the altar of logos,’ previously in this space) of the significant difference between logos (rationality) and mythos, a story that underlies the human condition, repeated throughout the centuries in various cultures, a kind of psychology of religion and faith.
The relationship between faith and culture, both positively and negatively, have rarely been able to be segregated. They impinge on each other often imperceptibly, yet rarely without significance. Early religions teachings, dogma, tradition and ultimately foundations were necessarily and inevitably linked to the available best knowledge from the best thinkers, poets, shamans and prophets. And one of the existential points of discernment among religious thinkers is the question of whether “revelation” (from God) is a once or a continual, ever-present dynamic. For us, the latter is the only reasonable, relevant and credible response.
And, contemporary consciousness has to include thinkers and prophets like Carl Jung, whose insights can and would afford a small flicker of a candle of hope, light and new life through the coming to consciousness of how humans have become entrapped in the distortion between romantic love and the fullness of love. The imposition of our expectations on others, including our intimate partners, that would more appropriately be assigned to, attributed to and acknowledged by each of us, as a core energy of our spiritual growth and development, including our relationship to God, offers what Jung considers an optimum opportunity for healing our shared psychic wound and finding our path to consciousness. By potentially learning about the limits of romantic love, we might thereby encounter a new level of consciousness, having shed what had previously remained in our unconscious.
Johnson (op. cit.) posits: As a society we have not yet learned to handle the tremendous power of romantic love. We turn it into tragedy and alienation more often than into enduring human relationships. ( p. xiv)
And, so long as romantic love is encased in the Christian church’s intellectual, moral, ethical and “sacred” vault, humans living in what is commonly called a Christian culture are both metaphorically and literally excluded (even forbidden) from a consideration of their sexual lives as an integral and primary component of their spiritual lives. From a common sense perspective, a ‘natural law’ perspective, a legal perspective, and an ethical/moral perspective, this separation makes no sense. Whether it is a precipitate left over from multiple Manicheanisms, or not, seems less relevant than consideration of the potential paths to a renewal of Christian theology, emblematic of the original Resurrection, to New Life.
This space has persistently clung to the potential incarnated in the word mystery, in matters linked to faith, to spirituality and to divinity. Here, mystery seems to apply to the spark of the divine that is an integral “part” of each of us. At this time in our pilgrimage through history and meta-history, we can legitimately link our unconscious to the unknown, accessible through new patience, new insights, new experiences and new openings in our closed, anxious apprehensions and anxieties.
“Things” or “notions” that persist in separating things from each other, while perhaps appropriate for intellectual and academic inspection, tend to elevate the empirical above the mystical. Power attached to one or the other “notion” generates inevitably a “power-imbalance” for all. Maleness, for example, cannot any longer be considered more important than femaleness. The power structures, including the narrow and limiting theologies that emanate from masculine lltheologies and academic disciplines, themselves are also no longer applicable and relevant. Andrognyny, the healthy balance of masculinity (sword) and femininity (harp) is a psychic, as well as a spiritual state to which we can all aspire, about which we can dream, and toward which we can begin to walk. Organizations that are built on premises that emerge from masculine parameters, by definition, limit the scope, appreciation and promise of the feminine. Similarly, relationships that are built on masculine power myths, focussing on the conscious as more important than the unconscious, also limit the potential for the enhanced androgyny to which both men and women are “hard-wired” if Jung is even partially credible. So long as we enmesh ourselves in stereotypical injunctions, definitions, expectations and rules that render as permanent and nature, the perceived inequality between men and women (another of those “warm fuzzies”) that attend and attempt to address what appears to be a permanent power imbalance, we risk the denial of the complementarity of each gender to the other.
Men, as exemplified by Johnson by the sword (the use of power) are different from women (represented by the harp) who innately comport to compassion, community, nurture, poetry and harmony and these differences need each other for the kind of balance to which all healthy, mature and integrated persons aspire. And what else would any God worthy of the name and the appropriate honour and praise want?
If the Christian church can and will begin to shed the mouldy skins of the self-and-other-sabotaging premises around human sexuality that both inhibit and even prelude the full development of both clergy and laity to a state of the integration of what up to now has been the segregated unconscious from the conscious, perhaps then our so-called Christian culture can come out of the cave of human denial, avoidance, alienation and life-defying constrictions.
Barring human intimate relationships, of any kind, including between clergy and parishioner, or between men and men, or women and women, for the purpose of serving the immediate power-equalization needs of any group, for example, only digs these stereotypes further into the unconscious of both individuals and the culture generally. It is the premise of natural inequality, including the power imbalance that favours the male hegemony, that needs to be re-thought, re-examined and over-turned. And only through a revisiting of the innate equality and moral goodness of both genders can this process even begin.
Is such a “Resurrection” of the ecclesial body, mind and spirit even conceivable? Can we put a harp in those clinging to their swords and a sword in the hands of those clinging to their harps?