Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Consolations of the Flesh.

One of the things which moved me in Augustina's comment is the realisation that despite the good moral polarity of the woman, her life was a emotional struggle against her fleshy instincts. Whilst she may have had joy through her children, her joy as a woman--as someone who was loved by a man--was destined to elude her.  Caritas and the grace of God may have given her peace but her ultimate psychic deficiency remained. To quote;
I don’t get much out of my marriage. For all intents and purposes I am like a single mother, and I often wish I had romance in my life. I have never had romantic love, and doubt that I will ever experience it in my life. 

Perhaps I am devoted to a higher cause: my family. I have devotion to him, and fondness for him. I recognize now what a struggle it was for him and that he is not at fault for his ‘failings.’ But it is not based on ‘tingles’, attraction, previous romantic feelings or any other such thing. I took vows to love and honor him, in good times and bad and in sickness and in health. So be it.
Some commentators are wont to disparage the legitimacy of the "tingles", but it is the "tingles" which provide for the natural attraction in marriage and which give it, and life, some of its felicity. The rush of love--and lust--is one of life's joy's, and a life absent of these things is a life deficient. Procreation out of duty is a different beast to procreation out of desire and dutiful marriage, devoid of the pleasures of the flesh--and here I mean more than just actual physical pleasures--is dry and barren. Augustina describes a marriage in which Caritas is present but is devoid of Eros.

Caritas perfects all things, including Eros but perhaps due to historical circumstances or inappropriate theological developments Christianity has put the two in opposition.  Nietzsche's comment, "Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice" has some legitimate traction in my opinion.  Benedict tried to the defend the Church in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, but I felt that his defence was weak, dismissive of the accusation more than a tackling of it. To his credit, Benedict put out the encyclical as a discussion document more than a definitive statement of things. These musings are my two cents on the matter.

Spiritual writers on the topic of marriage tend to emphasise the spiritual nature of it. It's all Caritas and zero Eros.  John Paul II--in his theology of the body--in my opinion, tried to "mystify a carnal act" in order to justify it. It was as if sex couldn't just be sex, rather, it had to be a reflection of some kind of divine relationship in order to be legitimate.  The Church asserts that the created world is good but when it comes to sex it needs added justification.

One of the consequences of the "All Caritas zero Eros" approach to marriage is that our traditional cultural understanding of it has tended to downplay--in fact disparage-- its carnal dimension. Wives are meant to have sex with unattractive husbands out of Caritas, without any reference to whether Eros is satisfied. Husbands who stray when their wives have become sexually repulsive for whatever reason, bear all the guilt for their act. Never is there a consideration of the legitimacy of Eros in a marriage or the recognition that one can sin against it.  

Morever, what Eros is divinely ordered to desire is no given no consideration whatsoever; it's as if we are all spirit and no flesh. Christian writers have always emphasised the war of the Spirit against the flesh but this does not imply that the Spirit is meant to kill the flesh, rather, it is to overcome it and control it, not pretend that it is not there.  Caritas perfects, it cannot destroy. It can reign in our sexual desires but cannot eliminate them.  Caritas does not turn a man into a eunuch. 

Wives submit to your husbands, is always quoted by traditionalists without any reference to a woman's biology. A good Christian wife may choose to submit to her husband but there is no way of guaranteeing that she will enjoy the subsequent relationship because the flesh controls the underlying neurobiology. Augustina lays the case out better than I can,
Flash forward fifteen years or so. I had finally had it. I wanted to be the good Christian wife, and be submissive to my husband. But there was nothing to submit to. [ED] He didn’t lead. He drifted. It was like being on a ship, but with no captain to guide it. And the waters are full of icebergs, rocky shoals, submerged reefs, and vast stretches of the doldrums. It was terrifying to have my now large family on a ship with no one to navigate these waters.

He was passive, hesitant, didn’t lead as a father should, couldn’t discipline the children, and still couldn’t support his family. I was forced to make every decision, to consider our options with no input from him. I would wait for his input, request his input, but never got it. 
This was clearly a victory of the spirit over the flesh, Augustina stayed with her man--despite the promptings of the flesh--but how much easier would it have been for Augustina if Eros was not in rebellion? This spiritual victory is still a human tragedy since the joy of a happy marriage eluded Augustina.  Don't get me wrong, the type of love Augustina gave her husband is the type of Divine love that really matters, what she missed out on, though, was human fleshy love.

Adultery and fornication are ever present realities of the human condition and are perpetuated by the pleasures achieved in their execution. Desire, lust, anticipation, the feeling of being "in love" all feel so damn good that men are willing to burn in Hell just to experience them. But the problem with Eros is that eventually leaves one unsatisfied. Chasing poon becomes boring. One girl is just like the other. The repetitive high that women get from bedding hot men gets boring as well. Even girls who have only slept with only18 guys want something more permanent.

The central theme in the novels of Michel Houellebecq is love in a world without caritas.  There is plenty of sex in his books but each of the characters ultimately ends up alone and fending for themselves. It's an atomised existance and profoundly depressing. Caritas means that we are never alone and that there is always someone who cares for us. Deeply happy marriages can exist on Cartias alone, but the blessed ones have a healthy dose of Eros as well.

 *I not criticising Augustina's husband here. He is suffering from a medical condition. It just that Augustina's comment illustrates how much hard work a good woman must put in to a marriage without Eros, and how such a state of affairs can tempt one to divorce.