The Death of Eros

November 21, 2017 Ian White Maher 1 comment

I have been thinking a lot about our collective eroticism; our eroticism as a nation, as a people, as we wrestle with the meaning of this watershed moment where powerful men are being held accountable for their predatory behavior. I believe the erotic is one of the faces of God and I am curious how we can connect to longing of God when, as a people, we feel so shut down, angry and timid, hungry and frightened.

Charlie rose photo
Photo by Financial Times photos

I don’t believe this watershed moment happen randomly. We live nested in a larger context of meaning. Everything is derivative and dependent on something else. And I wonder if the decision for women to name these predators comes not from just a moment of courage, but also as a spiritual rebellion against the death of eroticism in our nation

The shift of presidential couples from Michelle and Barack to Donald and Melania is more than just a shift in political party, policy, or something even as abstract as values. Whether we chose them or not, the First Family is a symbol for a collection of beliefs. All leaders occupy a role in their communities that is larger than just their individual identities. Through our leaders we envision who we are as people, we understand our meaning, and, in some cases, the meaning of God. And I what miss most in the First Family, a symbol of the meaning of family, is affection.

Donald Melania Trump photo
Photo by Boss Tweed

I don’t pretend that Michelle and Barack had a fantasy marriage. I know they fought and felt ignored and misunderstood at times. But I also believe their love for one another was genuine; that they truly desired one another. And that in their marriage we saw partnership, we witnessed what it is like to be adored, we saw in them possibility and a model for the sacred relationship. In striking contrast, we now gaze upon Donald and Melania who do not exhibit partnership or adoration or possibility. The model of the sacred relationship is now scary, it is predatory, it is coercive. And while I recognize that I am projecting, I feel fairly confident in saying what we witness in their relationship is not love but obedience. He is the type of man who purchases his affection and punishes those who refuse him. Sex and power are traded commodities rather than tenderly held portals into the eroticism of God. And as a nation we are revolting.

Eros psyche photo
Photo by The Man in Blue

The Greek myth of Eros (Love) and Psyche (Soul) was first recorded in the 4th century BCE. It is a volatile affair for sure, one that lives in the shadows, one that scars and violates trust, but, ultimately, one that weathers challenges to bring more beauty into the world. The co-mingling of love and soul is not easy and many of us would prefer to leave eroticism in the shadows. We are often so ashamed to speak of our sacred longing, but this is one of the faces of God, one of the thresholds into God, and when it is denied we lose access to God.

The state of affection in the First Family impacts our relationship to our own eroticism. Like it or not, we find ourselves in the grip of mimesis, of imitation, of expression through the symbol they create. The inspiration we draw from our First Family subconsciously impacts our own relationship to the erotic. 

I believe the outrage at these men, these predators, is more than just a rebellion against the powerful. I believe it is also a cry, a crying out, over the death of Eros in our culture. It is not only that we have a predator as Father of our nation. His crimes are not longer his alone. They have become ours. And we have lost the feeling we had under the Obama’s—the affection, the love that was made possible. And now we sit with our legs and arms crossed, afraid to touch and to be touched.

The psychologist and author Esther Perel while interviewing people for her research asked them to name a loving couple that inspired them. A few could name one couple, most could name none. She contrasted this with war heroes, athletes, musicians, and business people. All of those she interviewed could name multiple sources of inspiration from these areas, people to look to, to learn from. And she was shocked. The most difficult and the most important thing we do with our lives—be in love—and we have so few models.

Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama talk backstage photo
Photo by U.S. Embassy New Delhi

There are some things I loved about Obama as president. There are some things I really did not like. But the transition from Michelle and Barack to Donald and Melania has been more than just a change of individuals. I miss the affection they modeled for us so well. As lovers they inspired me. For eight years we lived with a couple who loved each other, completed each other, desired each other, and now we have something very different, something very ugly.

Why did this watershed moment appear? Why are so many predators being called out? Why have so many women lost their fear of repercussion and retaliation? There are many secular answers to these questions. Most of them are probably very good.

And we often understand God through the process of mimesis , through mimicry, through symbol. The First Family models for us a way of being in relationship with each other and also, perhaps, with something more transcendent, with God. We have shifted from an affectionate, playful model to a coercive, commodity model. We have watched Eros die. And we are angry about it.

[featured image “Michelle and Barack” by Baratunde Thurston is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

1 Comment on “The Death of Eros

  1. The power of Eros is misplaced on our Self, which hungers for attention, to be built up, to be big, beautiful, and powerful. The passion for our Self is exhausting. It is never satisfied. It has to be constantly re-built because it has no foundation, no substance. I’ve been told I’m a “self-made individual” and wondered whether more than a compliment, I should be alarmed. I asked myself, “Does this mean I have no roots? No pedigree? No concern for the teachings of the past? No respect for what others wanted of me?” Applying the power of Eros this way guarantees separation–higher, farther, more! You ask, “how we can connect to longing of God when, as a people, we feel so shut down, angry and timid, hungry and frightened.” I say, it’s a simple fix, but at the same time as difficult as lifting a mountain: look up. Just look up and place Eros upon another’s eyes. Sometimes illness, disability, catastrophe and death do force us to look up. Breathtaking nature and art also do the job. The question is how to look up in between these extremes.

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