Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Quote of the Day: C.S. Lewis on Love, God, and Demons

The following is a long excerpt from C.S. Lewis' own Introduction to The Four Loves:
St. John's saying that God is love has long been balanced in my mind against the remark of a modern author (M. Denis de Rougemont) that 'love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god'; which of course can be re-stated in the form 'begins to be a demon he moment he begins to be a god.' This balance seems to me an indispensable safeguard. If we ignore it the truth that God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God.
I suppose that everyone who has through about the matter will see what M. De Rougemont meant. Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done 'for love's sake' is thereby lawful and even meritorious. That erotic love and love of one's country may thus attempt to 'become gods' is generally recognized. But family affection may do the same. So, in a different way, may friendship....
Now, it must be noticed that the natural loves make this blasphemous claim not when they are in their worst, but when they are in their best, natural condition; when they are what our grandfathers called 'pure' or 'noble.' This is especially obvious in the erotic sphere. A faithful and self-sacrificing passion will speak to us with what seems the voice of God. Merely animal or frivolous lust will not. It will corrupt its addict in a dozen ways, but not in that way; a man may act upon such feelings but he cannot revere them any more that a man who scratches reveres the itch. A silly woman's temporary indulgence, which is really self-indulgence, to a spoiled child—her living doll while the fit lasts—is much less likely to 'become a god' than the deep, narrow devotion of a woman who (quite really) 'lives for her son'....
And this of course is what we ought to expect. Our loves do not make their claim to divinity until the claim becomes plausible. It does not become plausible until there is in them a real resemblance to God, to Love Himself. Let us here make no mistake. Our Gift-loves are really God-like; and among our Gift-loves those are most God-like which are most boundless and unwearied in giving. All the things the poets say about them are true. Their joy, their energy, their patience, their readiness to forgive, their desire for the good of the beloved—all this is a real and all but adorable image of the Divine life. In its presence we are right to thank God 'who has given such power to men.' We may say, quite truly and in an intelligible sense, that those who love greatly are 'near' to God. But of course it is 'nearness by likeness.' It will not of itself produce 'nearness of approach.' The likeness has been given us. It has no necessary connection with that slow and painful approach which must be our own (though by no means our unaided) task. Meanwhile, however, the likeness is a splendour. That is why we may mistake Like for Same. We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. Then they become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.
I quote this passage by way of expanding a footnote on an upcoming post which I am on which I am working. There are a few things I would like to note about this passage.

First, it should be noted that in our society, we are steadily slouching towards the point where even the animal or frivolous lust is treated as love, and hence hold the power over us that once was held by "pure" or "noble" love. This, too, is treated as a god, and so this, too, can become a demon. I suspect that every member of society has at some point heard that love is not lust, and lust is not love. Nor do I suspect that there are many people who would claim that lust is love, or that love is only lust. I do suspect that many people treat lust as if it is a part of love, whether important or not, so that it enters into their conscious or subconscious description of love. If this is not broadly true for many people, I suspect that it would be if we asked about that specific love eros between a lover and a beloved (as opposed to between father and son, or brothers, or friends).

But this is not at all true. Lust has no part of love, even of eros. To love someone is to want their good for them, to want them to be happy in the older sense of the word (as opposed to content). Eros might be properly thought of as "desire," which is a desire to complete the other person, and to some extent to be completed by that person. The Christian understands that this really means to unite so that the two become one flesh, a union which is sealed (or perhaps finally completed) by God. It thus is the desire to make a gift of yourself, of your whole self, of your life and your body and your soul, to that person, and to receive his gift of himself or her gift of herself to you. Lust is, on the other hand, the desire to use the other person for your own satisfaction: it is the total inversion of the highest of all loves, agape, but it is even the negation of the more human love eros.

The second thing to note is that we increasingly "give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God," so that these merely human loves replace God, and then become demons. We do this, not only with the merely human loves which are at their noblest, as C.S. Lewis notes, but also now when they are not really loves at all. For if we mistake lust for love, then a strong sense of lust for which we would grant allegiance becomes our god, and thus becomes our demon. Since we may more easily (and frequently) experience lust than love, this means that we have many more demons to conquer.

No comments:

Post a Comment