When it comes to sex, 'holy eros' is virtue
June - July 2005
June 1, 2005

Robin Meyers

A monthly feature about spirituality

If the church has a greater, or more urgent challenge than to reconcile body and soul, I don't know what it is.

We are the product of centuries of paranoia and sexual dualism (the spirit is good, the body is bad). We are also the sad heirs of sexuality as a form of power, exploitation, and mass marketing. About nothing, it seems, are we quite so conflicted, estranged or fearful. We use sex to buy and sell everything, even if the mortgage requires our soul for collateral.

Our sexual compulsions are not unlike our addiction to fast food - more of it never really satisfies, and it can be more than just unhealthy. Freud may have been right about this at least: we display outrageously and obsessively that which we do not fully possess or have deeply at our disposal.

When the church called lust a deadly sin, she was not being prudish, but truthful. The unrestrained and unethical expression of the sexual impulse is a destroyer of worlds. Whether it's rampant divorce, child abuse by the clergy or psycho-sexual violence that ends up killing the object of desire, lust betrays every good thing - especially trust.

What the church failed to do, unfortunately, was to give us a positive and healthy view of human sexuality. All we got were warnings, and the "opposing" virtue of chastity. But truth be known, the virtue of life-affirming sexual desire and the vice of amoral lust lie tangled up together like lovers on the same bed. Let's say it plainly: if sex wasn't so good it wouldn't be so dangerous.

May I suggest, instead of chastity, the virtue of holy eros? This is the virtue of unblushing eroticism that is preserved in the biblical love poem called The Song of Songs, and stands in stark contrast to the tale of lust that is David's adultery with Bathsheba, and the rape of his daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon.

Granted, the word "eros" is a fallen angel in our time, but in classical literature, it was the magnetism that held the universe together, and human love merely drew from this ocean of cosmic desire. Jung said it best. "People think that eros is sex, but not at all. Eros is relatedness."

To put the word "holy" together with the word "eros" is to attempt to marry what is obviously an animal instinct with what can be a transcendent spiritual experience. As we learn from Aphrodite, the soul is always in search of whatever will complete its desire. For this reason, the true enemy of spiritual sex is the ego.

Holy eros is the virtue which transforms selfishness into sharing, and knows the bed on which lovers lie is a holy as the ground upon which Moses stood. Holy Eros is possessed of both a divine playfulness and a wholesome discipline. It thrives on honesty, vulnerability and forgiveness. Preach it. Teach it. Live it. Holy eros could not only save marriages and restore integrity to human relationships, but it could heal a festering wound in the body of Christ.

The Rev. Robin Meyers is senior minister of Mayflower UCC in Oklahoma Cityand is professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University. His latest book, The Virtue in the Vice: Finding Seven Lively Virtues in the Seven Deadly Sins is available at HCIbooks.com.

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Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
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