No. They’re the same. Well, erotica is one expression of one kind of love.
love & erotica: an introduction
When we talk about love in the context of coupling (i.e., companionship, dating, marriage, etc.), as we are in this blog series, we typically characterize it in idealistic, mushy, feel-good – even pristine terms. Love in this way has to meet certain standards or we determine that it’s not love. This substandard love is deemed lust or ulterior motives or objectification (i.e., a series of booty-calls). Perhaps it’s time for a fresh perspective and a reconfigured working definition of love in our lives because keeping love in a box also keeps some of us in one and the rest of us thirsting for it because we don’t think whatever we’ve experienced is actually love.
A stereotypical depiction of acceptable love – dinner and surprise flowers. An erotic love captured in visual art. Images from the MS Office image gallery and an online website, respectively.
In Christianity we generally view love from three definitions derived from Greek philosophy – agape, philia, and eros. Agape is deemed to be the highest form of love – selfless, unconditional, and perpetually forgiving. (1 Corinthians 13) Christians believe that this is the kind of love that G~d has for us and that we should strive to have it as well for ourselves, G~d, and others. Philia is also highly regarded, the love of friendship. This is the love that compels us to be our “sibling’s keeper,” to care for and go the extra mile for a friend. Eros, in the context of faith, generally is preached or taught rarely (if at all), certainly not to the extent of agape or philia? What is the cause for its absence among sermon and lesson topics? Some scholars believe that eros simply isn’t regarded as a high-enough, if elevated at all, form of love for a spirit-minded person to ascribe.
But if G~d is love, especially in an incarnational faith like Christianity, then would G~d not also be all forms of love – agape, philia, AND eros?
So, what is love – a feeling, an expression, a decision?
In her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, Margaret Farley defines love as an emotional response, an emotional way of connecting to another, and an emotional “affirmation of what is loved” all at the same time. She contends that this definition applies to all beings and inanimate objects/ideas. We can love our children, our significant others, the trees in our yard, our favorite meal, that song that takes us way back, and our Deity. Whatever the context, it’s all the same response, connection, and affirmation. (Farley, 168)
What strikes me is this sense of emotion, connection and affirmation. Because I have this feeling for the beloved I want to connect. Because of this feeling and connection, I then affix a stamp of approval on my beloved. Is this why we all persistently seek love from others, so that we may be approved, affirmed? I know. I know. All of our psychological, self-help coaching loudly and firmly warns against pursuing external love to achieve affirmation. The healthiest approach is to have that affirmation within ourselves first. I agree with that, but love – self-love – is still the source. And as human beings who are designed to be in relationship with others, it’s natural to need also the affirmation of others. It’s not weak or unhealthy. It just is.
No matter how much she enjoyed the affections and connections with her elusive lover, the Shulammite, at the end of the day, still needed his permanent affirmation:
“Set me as a seal upon your heart,as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.” ~Song of Songs 8:6-7
So, what ignites this initial sense of emotion? Where does this feeling come from – as sudden, overwhelming, and unpredictably present as coupling love can be?
Its origin is part of the mystery of being. Some people in certain times in our lives “somehow awaken a response” in us. “Love, therefore, is in the first instance receptive – of the lovableness of the other.” (Farley, p. 169) To love fully, outside of any box, we must release the notion that lovableness somehow translates into some version of perfection, without flaws of real consequence. ‘Cause, see, we lack that affirmation that we seek if our beloved is so flawed. When the perfect one loves us, then we become perfect. What actually happens is that we attract to us whoever we are. “I see you in me.” (I cannot remember the source of this quote at the time of writing.) Whether we can see the other person’s challenging qualities at the time we meet her/him does not change this law of love. Spend enough time with your beloved, the qualities will emerge, usually sooner than we prefer. You’ve heard the sayings, right? We keep meeting the same person over and over, just in a different package. Or from long-time couples, they often report that they are still quibbling about the same issues from the beginning of their relationships. That’s because we’re the same persons. Yes, we may make some improvements to our personality and behavioral patterns, but I’m not sure that the essence of who we are changes in our physical lifetimes. Furthermore, I believe that our challenging qualities are what make us most lovable, not the easy stuff. The easy stuff is just too easy to be worthy of what love truly is.
Now, let’s move on to erotica.
Who Told You That You Were Naked? by dr. candi dugas
Dictionary.com defines erotica as “literature or art dealing with sexual love.” Therefore, it is not synonymous with pornography. Pornography, I suppose, may be considered a form of erotica, but there are other forms. (Please see Who Told You That You Were Naked? Black Women Reclaiming Sexual and Spiritual Goodness for a section on erotica.) Those of us who consider ourselves to be spiritual also need to release our aversion – or admitted, public aversion – to erotica. In his essay, “Relationships: Blessed and Blessing,” Rev. Dr. James B. Nelson writes:
“We desperately need more embodied, more erotic, more incarnational, more sexually-positive spiritualities. That realization still escapes many in the church, . . . Eros is that love born of our hungers, our passions, and our desires for one another. Eros has often been contrasted with self-giving love, agape, and, to our impoverishment, the straight-white-male tradition has embraced an agape reductionism. So, we’ve been taught that agape is good and eros is cheap and sub-Christian. Most of us were reared on that kind of theology. Many religious people still learn to fear, despise, trivialize, and be ashamed of their erotic bodies. I surely was. I got the idea that if you just sat real still and didn’t wiggle, eros would go away. (It didn’t.)” (Nelson)
Now is a good time to let our bodies wiggle, if you will. Allow them enough safe space to be all of who we were created to be – in goodness, no less. Whatever that thing is that ignites response in us from another is part of the universal energy that flows from G~d and through every created being and thing. Sometimes we experience this energy, that which we call love, through a desire to couple with another. Sometimes that coupling involves sex. Sometimes it does not.
With this understanding of love and erotica we embark on our journey through 10 of my favorite films that inspire (re)consideration of these themes. Thank you for joining me; I look forward to hearing from you! (What will be the first film? We find out tomorrow! ;-))
“[A] relationship with little erotic hunger and little passion gives little blessing. A relationship that fears the ecstasy of shared pleasure dries up. Alice Walker reminds us [via Shug], in The Color Purple of the importance of sexual pleasure: ‘God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff that God did. And when you know God loves ‘em, you enjoys ‘em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God liking what you like.’” (Nelson)
About this blog series: The “love & erotica” blog series supports the development of the fundraising campaign for Desire’s Kiss – The Short Film. Desire’s Kiss celebrates feminine sexuality and spirituality, based on candi’s book, Who Told You That You Were Naked? Black Women Reclaiming Sexual and Spiritual Goodness and the Judeo-Christian sacred text, Song of Songs. Desire is a nontraditional Christian woman who asserts her independence from conservative views on sex and G~d. The 10 films we will explore over the next five weeks or so come to mind as we produce Desire’s Kiss. We will highlight the love themes (including erotica) in each film.
To learn more about Desire’s Kiss
To purchase your copy of the book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?
To learn more about candi and her work
(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc