Romance Has No Reason

I don’t believe the cultural attack on marriage is an accident.

While we are making progress as a culture in some areas like respect for unborn life, there is little question that we are losing the importance of marriage.  There is a reason why fewer couples are getting married.  There is a reason it looks like “gay marriage” will soon be legal in all 50 states.  There is a reason divorce rates have skyrocketed since the 1960’s.  

Have you ever tried to explain to a loved one why their significant other is completely wrong for them?  If so, you know that the reaction was probably not pretty.  They become insulted, incensed, and irritated.  This is the case even if all of your reasons are legitimate.  

This is especially worrisome when this relationship draws them away from God.  I remember I had a former student who returned to school once to tell me about her life.  She left the Catholic Church and moved in with her boyfriend.  I even found out later that her boyfriend had such control over her life that he began picking out her college classes so that her schedule made her more available to him.  While she was a student in my class we got along very well.  But when I tried to explain how her romantic relationship was problematic, a wall was raised between us.  Nothing I said, none of the legitimate and logical arguments I made, seemed to get through.

This is, of course, very common.  Very few of us like to be told our decisions are wrong.  But when we are told that there is something wrong with our relationship, especially when we are “in love,” a fiery indignation arises that sees every argument against it as a bristling attack.

And that is because romance has no reason.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote about the four different types of love.  There is agape, which means absolute charity and unconditional love.  There is phileo, which is the love of friends.  There is storge, which is simple affection.  And then there is eros, which is romance.

Romance is a powerful fire that ignites in the heart of a person.  There are few things more wondrous and torturous as a heart that is “in love.”  And there are few things that make us feel more alive than the agony and ecstasy of eros.  

But eros is purely about the passions.  It is utterly a product of emotion.  And as with all emotions, I don’t think that we have any control over it.  Remember back to high school and how often you were captivated by someone who wasn’t available.  

Back then I entered into a relationship of sorts with a girl who was cheating on her boyfriend with me.  When my friends confronted me about it (as only really good friends would), I was angry with them.  Like many teens, I thought very little of myself.  But I had finally found someone who thought I was desirable and my friends were trying to take that away from me.  How could they?

Mind you, it didn’t matter to me whether I was in the right or in the wrong.  All that mattered was the passion stirring inside of me.  

C.S. Lewis points out that all eros wants is union with the other person at any cost.  Even if it could be explained how either morally wrong or irrational the relationship is, eros will not listen.  Even the destruction of family or the pains of Hell seem a detriment.  

How many powerful people have been the instruments of their own ruin by giving in to illicit romance?  As Lewis puts it in The Four Loves, eros says, “Let our hearts break, so long as they break together.”

This is why so many of the attacks on marriage fall on deaf ears.  Right and wrong don’t matter to romance.  The heart wants what the heart wants, whether it is in marriage, out of marriage, opposite sex, same sex, single, multiple, or (and I’m sure we are heading this way) familial.  

And we are a society that seems to glorify romance above all other loves.  The vast majority of popular music on the radio is about eros (either romantic or literally erotic).  I recently saw the movie The Theory of Everything, which I found incredibly distasteful because it unapologetically played romantic love over fidelity and charity.

That isn’t to say eros is bad.  It is neither good nor bad.  It is an emotion.  The question of eros regarding human morality is not how we feel, but what we do.

So what should we do?

First, we must remember patience for those who are caught up in illicit romance.  Not only will passion often trump reason, but it gets even more confusing because often romance is caught up in the other loves.  For example, someone in a homosexual relationship may, in addition to eros, feel genuine affection, friendship, and charity towards their partner.  When you point out that the eros is not ordered to God’s plan, it can feel to that person that you are also delegitimizing their genuine affection, friendship, and charity.  The wall may go up, but do not give up.  It was a long time before I came to realize my friends were right and I was wrong about that high school relationship. 

Second, we must not compromise truth.  For the sake of “everyone getting along” or “being with the times,” we are asked to accept things like cohabitation, “gay marriage,” contraception and the like.  Truth is not something decided by popular attribution.  The temptation for us as Catholics is to tolerate that which is intolerable: sin.  

We are told that the old adage, “Love the sinner but hate the sin,” is antiquated.  When we reject their illicit behavior we are told we are rejecting the person (something to this effect was shown on a recent episode of Glee).  But as C.S. Lewis points out that I always hate the sin and love the sinner in regards to one person: me.  

We love ourselves even as we struggle with our vices.  We must love others with unconditional agape but never to compromise truth.  Doing so does not make the problems go away, but leads to more confusion and a continual push to break cultural boundaries.

Third, enkindle a fiery love for Christ in the other.  As a philosopher and teacher, I try to emulate Thomas Aquinas and only assent to arguments if they are rational and not emotional.  But it is a mistake to reduce the human person to a Vulcan-like logic machine.  The passions are a very real and intense part of the person that can have a powerful positive impact if they are directed towards the good.

Fourth, don’t stop making the good arguments.  I don’t mean that you should hector and lecture the person.  But just because your logical argument does not seem to penetrate at the time, that doesn’t mean that it won’t percolate in the person’s brain.  Eros, like every other passion, ebbs and flows.  When an illicit passion is on the wane, that bit of reason you offered may be seen in a new light.

Finally, we must never stop praying.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?”  It is a mistake to think that we, on our own, can change something as mysterious and powerful as the human heart.  Only the maker of our hearts and fix them when they are broken.

Copyright 2015, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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