Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Theology of Desire

One of my parishioners recently pointed out this essay by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Coakley on the theology of desire. Coakley identifies several cultural contradictions regarding human sexual desire, contradictions with which the Roman Catholic and Anglican Communions are struggling:

1. Celibacy is impossible (hence the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the RC Church), but some people must be celibate (priests, queer folk).

2. Homo-eroticism is necessarily wanton and destructive (despite the evidence of long-term committed same-sex relationships), and hetero-eroticism is necessarily healthy and holy (despite the evidence of divorce, domestic violence, etc.).

3. Celibacy and marriage are opposites: the former is asexual and the later is omnisexual - as much sex as often as you like; these are fantasies that ignore the arduous ascetical practice required by both types of commitment.

Drawing on St. Gregory of Nyssa and Freud, Coakley seeks to find a way beyond these contradictions to a renewed appreciation for eros as desire for union with God, a desire which can be "rightly ordered" through celibacy or marriage, regardless of one's sexual orientation. Both celibacy and marriage are possible, both are legitimate ways of ordering our desire Godward, and both homo-eroticism (David learning the steadfast love of YWYH (and vice-versa?) through his steadfast love of Saul and Jonathan) and hetero-eroticism (the Song of Songs) are avenues of mystical union. Ted Jenning's Jacob's Wound is helpful on this point.

I would want to push Coakley a bit further, in line with an insight of Rowan Williams in "The Body's Grace," that there is a trajectory of eros that moves from isolation and self-centeredness through a variety of (erotic) relationships of increasing intensity, duration, and sanctity toward celibacy or marriage. If the opposition of marriage and celibacy is a false binary construction of eros, so too is that of marriage (gay and straight) or celibacy, and everything else.

I already can feel the horses getting nervous.

1 comment:

vinnie said...

This is just more claptrap in a long line of nonsense from people that can't accept their own sexuality. Not surprising from a priest. Even less stunning is the fact that the article tries to create a tie between sex and a spiritual union with god.

The plain and simple truth of the matter is that in God's good wisdom he made the most powerful urge in a human being the sex drive. Why, because if the sex drive of human beings was not the most powerful urge, his lovely creations: man and woman, would perish from the face of the earth. God understands this, why can't we? To deny this primal force is to live in la la land. Welcome to the Catholic Church and its notion of sexuality and celibacy.

Once accepting the tremendous power of sex in the human life, it is a small step to accept the well known standards of the Bell Curve. There will be deviations at both ends of the spectrum which will range from sexless to oversexed with most people falling within two standard deviations of the center.

There is no reason an entity such as a church should want to control the sexuality of people other than to control the people.