September 2, 2008

Love Is In The Air

By: Matthew Lickona

Well, maybe not exactly love. Maybe lovin’ would be better.1 Something a little more active, something that moves. But then again, maybe love doesn’t have all that much to do with it. Maybe calling that particular motion “making love” is like calling every lump of coal a diamond, just because they share the same chemistry.2 Maybe it’s fucking that’s in the air, and we just call it “love” because, under ideal circumstances, fucking ends up identified with love, the way coal may become a diamond if conditions are just so.3 At any rate, it’s in the air, and like the air, it can be tricky to observe and analyze. But however tricky, however ethereal and undefined, you still know it’s there, don’t you?

On April 14 of this year, New York magazine’s Vulture blog featured a post entitled “Relax: Ben Silverman knows what’s best for your children.” A couple of weeks earlier, Silverman, NBC’s programming chief, had reinstated the network’s 8-9 p.m. “Family Hour.” “Then, hilariously, last Thursday at 8:30,” Vulture reported, “30 Rock debuted a new episode featuring a fictional reality show titled MILF Island.” The New York Times got huffy at the “coy reference to a vulgarity,” but Vulture took a more relaxed view, except not really: “[I]n what desolate corners of America are kids not already familiar with the term ‘MILF’?…If Ben Silverman says NBC’s prime-time lineup is family-friendly, we think it’s best to take him at his word…If children are denied the pleasures of vulgar, sexually explicit television, they run the dangerous risk of growing up to be nothing like Ben Silverman. Parents, take note.” (See, if you wrap your moralizing in a satiric jab, you don’t sound as stuffy.)

Over at the Onion’s Hater blog, however, Amelie Gillette was less sanguine. She argued that the term “MILF” is “both tame and completely socially acceptable. There are a lot of things that ‘MILF’ is—irritating, ubiquitous, tiresome—but ‘jarring in its vulgarity’ isn’t one of them…It’s part of the general lexicon now, so let’s all stop pretending that it’s somehow edgy.”

MILF, of course, stands for Mother I’d Like to Fuck. I had my first opportunity to explain the term to my son a couple of years ago (he was nine at the time), when he found a book in the kids’ section of the library: Tales from Beneath Your Mom, by the band Blink-182. You see, son, there is currently a popular fascination with the MILF, the Mother I’d Like to Fuck. “From beneath your Mom” here implies that your mother is just such a MILF, and the boys in the band are having sex with her, and she’s in the mother superior position. I’m glad we had this little chat. I probably don’t need to mention that I didn’t actually say any of that, but then again, maybe I do. If Ms. Gillette is right, such a conversation would be tame and socially acceptable. The fact that my son doesn’t know about MILFs is a dead giveaway about my family’s relation to the “general lexicon,” a sign that we’re probably a bunch of countercultural oddballs. Guilty as charged. Still—Mother I’d Like to Fuck?

“Fuck You” or Sex and Violence in Just Four Letters

I’ve heard it said that expletives draw their power from the taboos of the day. When Shakespeare had his characters cry, “Odds Bodkin!” he was pushing the limits—references to God’s body were a lot edgier back then, because Christianity was a much bigger deal. People lost their heads over points of doctrine. Today, race is a touchy subject, so racial slurs are the real shockers.

“Fuck,” on the other hand, seems to be an expletive whose time has come and gone. Today, it’s almost commonplace; Bill O’Reilly says it on YouTube, and everybody chuckles. If the whole “power-from-taboos” theory is true, then this makes some degree of sense. Sex isn’t all that taboo any more, so the sexual reference loses its shock value—and even a measure of its meaning. These days, “fuck” seems to be used most often as an emphatic: “Fuck yeah, this pizza is fucking awesome!” (Why should it be an emphatic? My take: However common “fucking” and the action it names may be, they both still retain something of their essential, extraordinary character.4)

The fucking awesome pizza is a really, really good pizza. But “fuck” isn’t only an emphatic, not by a long shot. And in more than a few of its other applications, the connotations are not nearly so positive. “I’m fucked” means that something really, really bad has happened to me. Calling someone “You fucker” is not a compliment, even if you think fucking is good. And the simple “Fuck you” takes sex to violence in just two words—even if the violence isn’t as physical as that implied by, say, “I’m going to fuck you up.” It places sex in the service of hostility.

Why “fuck you”? Why not something more clearly unpleasant? I mean, the minor variant “I want to fuck you” could be the cry of an ardent lover. Why not, “Piss on you”? But no—“fuck you” remains the favorite. Why? I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that there’s something in the popular psyche that understands the way sex can take on an aggressive, even violent character. The way that sex, outside of a certain context, is violence—a mistreatment of the other.5

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss me as hypersensitive. I’m a youngish Catholic male, committed to a life of chastity, with sex serving as a true and licit expression of love only when enjoyed in its proper context: with my lifelong partner in a sacramental Christian marriage, in a manner open to the transmission of life.6 (Gad, just typing it makes me weary, sort of the way the word “relationship” clings to the roof of my mouth, like molasses. “Honey, let’s talk about our relaassshhunnshiiiip.”)7 Of course, I’m going to notice everybody having a good time doing the stuff I’m committed to avoiding. And if I gripe —jealous much?8 There’s no real way to answer such a charge, so I’ll just acknowledge it and plunge ahead.

“So does that mean Alito is sloppy seconds, or what?”

On Halloween morning of 2005, CBS White House correspondent John Roberts was attending a “gaggle,” a media event which Roberts later described as “an informal, free-wheeling and often irreverent forum.” Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers had withdrawn; Samuel Alito was the new pick. Roberts asked White House press secretary Scott McClellan, “The president said, repeatedly, that Harriet Miers was the best person for the job. So does that mean Alito is sloppy seconds, or what?”

“Sloppy seconds:” boldly going where another man has gone before, or rather, come and gone before, about 30 seconds earlier. Of course, Roberts apologized, and made it clear that “there was no pejorative intent to my question.” I believe him. I’d also believe him if he said he didn’t know about the term’s original meaning—just like a lot of people who use “goofy” probably aren’t thinking, “insane because of goofing off—i.e., masturbating.” These things have a way of slipping free of their etymological moorings. But doesn’t it serve as a sort of cultural marker when a term like that, denoting a practice like that, bleeds far enough into the common parlance for a veteran reporter to use it in relation to a Supreme Court nominee?

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise, but I’m gonna go ahead and suggest that porn helped “sloppy seconds” break out of the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times and into the spotlight of mainstream political media. Why? Because sloppy seconds strikes me as a sort of sexual novelty, something that becomes interesting after “regular” sex has lost a bit of its savor.9 And when it comes to sexual novelty, porn is there to help. It’s not that porn invented sloppy seconds—far from it. What I’m suggesting is that porn has helped proliferate the notion of it, the depiction of it. And that the pornographic depiction contributes mightily to the attraction of it.

In and of itself, I don’t think it’s all that attractive a thing. Again, maybe it’s the repression talking, but while I certainly get the appeal of naked women and even anonymous coupling, the aesthetics and psychology of sloppy seconds strike me as more of an acquired taste. (Dude. Ew.) I first encountered the notion, if not the term, in Whit Stillman’s film Metropolitan. There, it was referred to as “pulling a train,” and presented as the sort of thing that can really damage a girl. (In the film, the recipient is drunk, and allows it because the bastard she’s in love with talks her into it.)

But if you don’t care for Metropolitan’s quietly moral take on the matter, let’s head out to the woods outside La Honda, California, and let a ’60s-era Tom Wolfe wax eloquent in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test about the time when the Pranksters partied with the Hell’s Angels:

[A]t big routs like these the Angels often had a second feature going entitled Who Gets Fucked?…Pretty soon all the Angels knew about the “new mamma” out in the backhouse, and a lot of them piled in there, hooking down beers, laughing, taking their turns, making various critiques. The girl had her red and white dress pushed up around her chest, and two or three would be on her at once…until she had been fenestrated in various places at least fifty times.

Now here’s where it gets interesting, where it stops being about sensual gratification and gets genuinely personal—if not quite human.10

Some of the Angels went out and got her ex-husband. He was weaving and veering around, bombed, they led him in there under glare and leer and lust musk suffocate the rut hut they told him to go to it. All silent—shit, this is going too far—but the girl rises up in a blear and asks him to kiss her, which he does, glistening secretions, then he lurches and mounts her and slides it in, and the Angels cheer Haw Haw…

So that was my introduction to sloppy seconds—or rather, filthy fifty-firsts. In both cases, there was an unsavory component to the proceedings: the manipulative bastard in Metropolitan and the nightmarish reunion of husband and wife in Wolfe. But I’m guessing that Houston 500, in which porn star Houston allegedly engages in 620 sex acts, didn’t present the sloppiness as particularly nasty. I’m guessing that it did its darnedest to make the spectacle attractive. (The idea of porn is usually to turn people on, not to horrify them.11) And it’s once a thing becomes attractive that it has a shot at becoming popular. And if popular, common—common enough to use in casual speech, even in a professional context. “So does that mean Alito is sloppy seconds, or what?”

Further, it seems to me to be a two-way street: If porn helps to popularize certain sexual novelties and so render them common, I’m thinking the common references to (and proliferation of) those novelties turn around and help to bring porn into the mainstream. Into the public square, as a thing ordinary and expected—the sort of thing to which only a fanatic would object. There are still (for now) practices that raise a quizzical brow—a bit in News of the Weird about guys asking girls to get their anuses bleached so that they look as pale as porn stars back there, or this from a Houston Press piece on vaginoplasty: “Doctors who perform the surgery say their patients frequently carry pictures of nubile porn stars and Penthouse centerfolds.”12 But boob jobs? Totally mainstream. The Brazilian wax, which used to get associated with porn back in its early days in the media spotlight, is commonplace now. Even back in 2006, Gawker was asking, “Who the hell still has pubic hair?” And they’re right, sort of—one waxer in my town of San Diego told an interviewer, “Five years ago, it was just strippers. Now, I get a lot more moms.”

The novelty has gone mainstream, thanks, at least in part, to porn. The process seems to be this: Women like guys to like looking at them. Guys like to look at porn stars. Women look to porn stars for beauty tips. And if Mom wants to look like a Playmate, can there really be anything wrong, or even out of the ordinary, about porn? Bring on the sloppy seconds!13

“Please, Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?”

But seriously, what’s my problem? Nobody’s forcing me to look, right? Why am I worried that some housewife wants her ladyparts sculpted? For that matter, why should I imagine that Ben Silverman is going to be a reliable guide about “family friendly” content? Why would I even want to watch 30 Rock with my kids? See, son, Frank has a beard because he hasn’t left his office in three months. That’s how good Tracy Jordan’s porn-based video game is. Shut up and be a better parent, Matthew.

Um, no—not just yet, anyway. Because it ain’t just 30 Rock or White House press conferences. It’s baseball, dammit. Do the folks running Victoria’s Secret ads during the World Series really think that the seventh-inning stretch is a good time for Dad to chat with Junior about What Is Sexy? But forget about television; you can always turn it off. I’m not shutting up because something has gotten into the atmosphere, such that it’s all but impossible to avoid. Something has convinced people that it’s a good idea to market thongs to pre-teens. So let’s talk about shopping. Let’s talk about the great American town square—the mall.

Actually, before we get to the mall, let’s talk about the drive there. My daughter, age five: “I just saw a devil and an angel on a car, and they were both ladies.” That’s right, honey. Please don’t ask why the angel is wearing five-inch heels, okay? Don’t ask me to explain bumper stickers like “Cumming soon! In your mouth!” or “Balls Deep.” Thanks, pal; can’t wait to share with the kids. I know, I know: It’s my own fault. If I didn’t want them to be exposed to that sort of thing, what was I doing driving with them in the car?14

Truth be told, I don’t take my kids to the mall all that often. My son can live without Abercrombie & Fitch’s barely submerged homoeroticism. My daughter can go a while longer before she starts paying attention to a lipstick lesbian domination tableau in the window of Saks or even the more straight-up displays of T&A at Victoria’s Secret. (Victoria’s Secret is in every mall in America, and nothing says innocuous mass culture like a mall, so it must not be worth bothering about, right? Except that they still do manage to surprise a body sometimes. Gosh, I didn’t know they made mannequins bent over at the waist… And except that it puts sexuality in front of kids without regard for their ability to give it context.15)

Oh, for pity’s sake. Listen to me. I sound like Maude Flanders on The Simpsons, forever crying out, “Please, won’t somebody think of the children?” But there it is. Kids—much more than even marriage—serve as a permanent reminder that you are not your own, that you inhabit a community, and that you have responsibilities to that community. When you make MILFs mainstream, you’re helping to form my kids. Why is it beyond the pale to ask for a little consideration?

This is, of course, a silly question, or at least, a rhetorical one. I know that. Who wants to be responsible for someone else’s decision to have kids? Who wants to limit their own behavior because of the way I want to raise my children? It’s not your fault I decided to breed.16

No, it isn’t. And I won’t annoy you with any more talk about how no man is an island, about civilization being larger than oneself, or about manners as a kind of baseline expression of charity. Instead, I’ll end this total buzzkill of an essay with something approaching a lighter note. A little anecdote about the way the atmosphere influenced one young man’s life, and by extension, mine.

“Always Open…”

This was back before children, before I had started dating the woman I would eventually marry.17 I was a sophomore in college; I was dating Sarah. I was, at the time, obsessed with nobility and chivalry—with living, God help me, like a gentleman. I had taken Sarah up to Santa Barbara, there to wander the Paseo along State Street, poke around in the shops, and dream about someday dining at Downey’s restaurant. Our wanderings took us up the stairs above the Paseo and the crowds of beautiful people and the scads of tasteful things. It was quieter up there, and hotter. We walked around a bit, then found a door.

I will protest that it was innocent curiosity that got me through the door. I don’t think I quite realized it was even a museum. You see, there was this clock in the front window, the sort you might see in a ‘50s-style diner, with neon letters surrounding its round face. Across the bottom—and here memory gets stubborn—it read either “Always Open” or “Open 24 Hours” —just like a restaurant. And across the top? “Furburger.”

Furburger? I do remember thinking that the glass doors were awfully fancy for a burger joint, and the interior looked rather stark and minimalist for a diner. So I was curious. As it happened, admission was free that day, so it wasn’t until we had opened the doors and ventured in that I really registered the museumness of the place, and after that, the precise meaning of “Furburger.”

A sculpture of a ten-foot-long pair of labia ran along the floor. Or were they fifteen-foot? Twenty? After a certain degree of exaggeration, the precise measure becomes unimportant. They were big, big labia. They were so big that I still wasn’t immediately sure what was going on. Giant genitals have a way of discombobulating a person. Then I read the oh-so-clever inscription on the wall behind the labia: “One man’s meat is another man’s poisson.” Meat? Not poison, but fish? OH. GOOD GRIEF, THEY’RE LABIA. FURBURGER—NOW I GET IT.

I should have apologized to Sarah for leading her into the place, even unwittingly, and then offered to leave. But I didn’t apologize, and I didn’t offer. I was fascinated. “I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this” fascinated. Car-wreck fascinated. But also sexually fascinated. I wanted to see more. (What more could I possibly see? Good question. But the appetite has no point of satiety.)

So there I was, leading my girlfriend by the hand through an exhibit devoted to vaginas. I remember only one other installation: a lovely old leather trunk, beaten and worn, the sort you might find in an attic. Beside it, a generous stack of vintage Playboys, with a few issues scattered here and there for effect. The artist had posted a story by the exhibit to help explain things. It told of a day when he, just pubescent but already aware (and ashamed) of his homosexuality, had been roped into ogling a bunch of Playboys with his friends (they belonged to an older relation of one of the boys). He had been asked to pick out his favorite. Miserable, desperate to appear normal, he chose a girl wearing a pair of high red leather boots. He liked the boots.

Memory coughs up the image of a string of barbed wire around the tableau, but that may just be conscience editorializing. At any rate, I know the barbed wire wasn’t any real hindrance. I know because I was thinking, as my girlfriend and I pondered the artist’s explanation for the piece, “Gosh, a whole stack of Playboys. And there’s nothing stopping me from just picking one up and taking a look inside.” Actually, there was something stopping me—whatever shred of decency that was still clinging to my will. I would never have picked up that magazine in front of my girlfriend. But I wanted to. The artist had sought to convey something of his suffering, his thwarted desires; I was busy with my own.

Pig, pig, pig.18 I wasn’t being cruel the way Ben was cruel to Elaine in The Graduate, when he took her on a date to a strip club. I wasn’t deliberately ignoring Sarah or her discomfort; she didn’t ask to leave. I was just being selfish.19 How she felt was not as important as gorging my eyes. The exhibition was not porn by any stretch—though the proximity to porn was memorable—but sex was trumping love. The atmosphere was, in some small way, poisoned. Love is in the air…20

Matthew Lickona is a staff writer for the San Diego Reader, and author of the memoir Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic.

1 “…where body and soul are inseparably united and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness.” —Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, 2. It’s all been said before, of course, and by persons much more thoughtful than myself. So, just for piety’s sake—and maybe, just a little, to take the curse off it—I thought I’d see how this little screed of mine tracked with certain passages from Benedict XVI’s first encyclical. God is in the details, and the pope is in the footnotes.

2 “So we need to ask: are all these forms of love basically one…or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities?” (ibid, 2)

3 “Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love—eros—able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.” (ibid, 5)

4 “First, there is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity—a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence.” (ibid, 5) But there I go again, identifying sex with love…

5 “Indeed, the prostitutes in the temple, who had to bestow this divine intoxication, were not treated as human beings and persons, but simply used as a means of arousing ‘divine madness’: far from being goddesses, they were human persons being exploited.” (ibid, 4)

6 “It is part of love’s growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in its sense of being ‘for ever’…love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed ‘ecstasy,’ not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed, inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: ‘Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it’ (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels.” (ibid, 6)

7 “…we questioned whether the message of love proclaimed to us by the Bible and the Church’s Tradition had some points of contact with the common human experience of love, or whether it is opposed to that experience.” (ibid, 7)

8 “According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros…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?” (ibid, 3)

9 I’d like to take a moment to wonder how hot sex came to be equated with kinky/naughty/illicit sex. Remember that B-picture delight Devil’s Advocate? Al Pacino as the Devil, boasting to Keanu Reeves about having his way with Reeves’s wife? “Well, on a scale of one to ten, ten being the most depraved act of sexual theater known to man, one being your average Friday night run-through at the Lomaxes’ household, I’d say, not to be immodest, Mary Ann and I got it on at about…a seven.” I’m firmly in the “even bad sex is good” camp; however, I’m still willing to grant the possibility of dissatisfaction creeping into the “average Friday night run-through.” But why is its opposite “the most depraved act of sexual theater known to man?” Why isn’t its opposite the fulfillment of a desperate desire to unite with the beloved? Is it gross naïveté on my part to suppose that really hot sex is born more from a delight in your partner than from what extreme thing she lets you do to her? That the stage for really hot sex, perhaps especially after years of familiarity, is set outside the bedroom, in the love shown over the course of a common life? Of course, it is the Devil talking, so maybe it’s a bad example.

10 “…this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it.” (ibid, 4) “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.” (ibid, 5)

11 Of course, what’s horrifying to one man may prove thrilling to the next. A friend of mine is fond of quoting the following: “A pervert is a person who is willing to go one step further than you are.”

12 Remember the bit in L.A. Confidential about the ring of prostitutes “cut” to look like movie stars? Plus ça change…

13 Kidding. Mostly.

14 “The parable of the Good Samaritan offers two particularly important clarifications. Until that time, the concept of ‘neighbor’ was understood as referring essentially to one’s countrymen…to the closely-knit community of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished…The concept of ‘neighbor’ is now universalized, yet it remains concrete.” (ibid, 15) It’s almost like Benedict is saying that a person ought to ask himself, “How will my ‘Balls Deep’ bumper sticker affect the larger community of which I am a part, a community which includes others whose values and understanding differ from my own?”

15 And even if a kid could give it context, would that be such a great thing? Let me tell you about one of the creepiest moments of my life (one which didn’t involve porn at all): I was sitting in an airport, bored, scanning the crowd. A girl caught my eye—or rather, her outfit caught my eye. Or rather, alarmed my eye. Snug tank top with spaghetti straps, paired with a flouncy royal blue miniskirt, the kind short enough to require matching biker shorts. Especially when you’re eight or nine years old. I was looking at her, thinking, Good gravy, but that’s inappropriate—and that’s when she noticed me noticing her. Suddenly, her whole posture changed. Before, she had been slouched, leaning—the posture of a bored, perfectly unselfconscious child. Now, she straightened. Shoulders back, weight on one foot, so that one prepubescent hip pushed out to the side. She was posing. I wanted to disappear.

16 As long as I’ve mentioned Gawker, it’s worth noting that the site recently sold a T-shirt sporting the slogan, “I Hate Your Kids.” Like the man says, it’s funny because it’s true.

17 In “the biblical narrative…the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete.’” (ibid, 11)

18 “An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent into ‘ecstasy’ towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man.” (ibid, 4)

19 “…self-seeking, a sinking into the intoxication of happiness…” (ibid, 6)

20 Well, if you’re going to rip off David Foster Wallace with the whole footnote thing, you may as well go whole hog and end with a footnote regarding what’s in the footnotes.

So: a brief look back at Benedict’s attempt to unite the biblical notion of love with “the common human experience” of it—which attempt was the occasion for all these bits I’ve quoted. Context, people. (This is also where things get even more Catholic than they have been already. You’ve been warned.)

That “common human experience” included, of course, eros, “at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness…” (ibid, 7) The Bible, on the other hand, spends much more time lauding agape, the love which “seeks the good of the beloved” and “involves a real discovery of the other.” (ibid, 6) How to marry the two notions?

Benedict turns to marriage. “From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose…Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vise versa.” (ibid, 11) In marriage, the seeker who rejoiced at finally possessing the bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh enters into communion with her—they become “one flesh (Gen 2:24).” (ibid, 11)

Good times, but iconic? Benedict cites the Song of Songs, a book “meant to exalt conjugal love.” (ibid, 6) “The reception of the Song of Songs into the canon of sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe God’s relation to man and man’s relation to God…that man can enter into union with God, his primordial aspiration. But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking into the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. As Saint Paul says, ‘He who is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with him’ (1 Cor 6:17).” (ibid, 10)

This union has an erotic character: “The prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God’s relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus adultery and prostitution.” (ibid, 9) But not simply erotic: “We have seen that God’s eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives…God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death…” (ibid, 10)

Okay, so God’s love is simultaneously eros (seeking union) and agape (self-giving)—a love which finds its ultimate expression in Jesus’ self-gift of the Eucharist. But Benedict is pushing further than that: “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation…we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” (ibid, 13) “[T]his sacramental ‘mysticism’ is social in character, for in sacramental communion I become one with the Lord, like all the other communicants…Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself…Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians…Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself…God’s own agape comes to us bodily, in order to continue his work in us and through us.” (ibid, 14)

Once again, it’s all about Jesus. Because of his Incarnation, because of the Eucharist, the love which seeks and the love which gives are “a single reality, but with different dimensions”—for both God and man. Or at least, that’s how I’m reading Benedict here. (You could always check out the source; Deus Caritas Est is available on the Vatican’s website.) This is only a thumbnail sketch, I know. But I thought it worth including, at the end of a rumination on eros unmoored, one man’s account of the Christian proposal for an alternative.