Monday, February 10, 2014

Eros: A Valentine's Day Gift

For most of my believing life, probably the #1 reason I believed in God was that I thought I felt him. That was my "proof." But what had really happened, of course, was that I felt feelings that I was told came from God. Once I realized that God was not necessarily the source of these special feelings, I was eventually able to drop him... and still have the feelings, of course.

Now, think of when you've felt romantic love: maybe especially as a very young person feeling it for the first time or (especially especially) as a teenager. Then imagine your parents or priests or whoever swooping in and telling you, "That's Eros you're feeling. He has hit you with one of his gold-tipped arrows, and now you are uncontrollably in love with this person until the poison wears off." This authority figure might even follow up with, "And I'm sorry if the person you love doesn't return the affection. It probably just means that Eros has hit that person with one of his lead-tipped arrows."

We can all see the ridiculousness of these statements, since we're now taught Greek mythology in high school (mythology here meaning, of course -- as Joseph Campbell quipped -- "other people's religion") and can easily recognize the allegorical nature of the mythological characters. It's especially easy to see metaphor in Greek mythology when the gods have names like Ocean, Night, Sleep, and Death or when they're gods "of" something (of war, of wisdom, etc.). It's a little more difficult in the Abrahamic system when all of these nicely-divided deities become lumped into one male figure who eventually becomes so powerful that not only is he "a god," but his name actually becomes God.

So, back when I was feeling "God feelings," those feelings could have been anything since God is everything. God is love, after all, but he's also a jealous god, an angry god, a god of mercy, a god of righteousness, and whatever else. He's a shepherd and a king and a rock and a father and even a mother hen. No matter what I did or felt or experienced, God could be blamed for it.

But let's go back to Eros (known as Cupid by the Romans). With him, we have a simple explanation for romantic love. A god shoots you with arrows. The end.

Anyone would think you were nuts if you took this image literally, and yet it's no more odd than thinking the problems of the world were brought about when a couple ate a piece of fruit or that somehow these problems were alleviated when a man was executed on a cross or that when we die we live in the clouds or in a fiery underworld. The reason no one believes in Eros (anymore) and many believe in God is because the early followers of the Abrahamic religions utterly destroyed the heathen "pagans" who believed in Eros and his family, so now that stuff seems like nonsense while God is just everyday life. If the followers of the Greek gods had been more militant, magic arrows would be as normal as a magic tree.

Love, we'll all admit, is confusing. I asked you earlier to think of falling in love for the first time or as a teen, because that's often when love is the most passionate, awkward, dramatic, and heartbreaking (since Eros is first beginning to re-tool our body for his purposes), but love is just as powerful in rational adults as well.

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, says this about romantic love: "Eros does not aim at happiness... Everyone knows that it is useless to try to separate lovers by proving to them that their marriage will be an unhappy one. This is not only because they will disbelieve you. They usually will, no doubt. But even if they believed, they would not be dissuaded. For it is the very mark of Eros that when he is in us we had rather share unhappiness with the Beloved than be happy on any other terms... Eros never hesitates to say 'Better this than parting. Better to be miserable with her than happy without her. Let our hearts break provided they break together.' If the voice within us does not say this, it is not the voice of Eros."

Right! We all, I imagine, have been in at least one romantic situation where every clear-thinking friend you have is screaming at you: "Get out!" (Or "Do not enter!") Why would we throw away years of close friendship and good advice in these situations? Why would we risk losing those friends just to have this one new, un-tested person? Why does it happen over and over, even when we know better? Why does it suddenly feel like Us vs. Them, where "Them" is the people who have provided support and stability (and real love) for years and years and "Us" is a couple with doom written all over yourselves? In these situations, have we gone fucking insane?

In short, we have. Parts of our brain simply quit working when we're in romantic love, "including areas linked with negative emotions, planning, critical social assessment, the evaluation of trustworthiness and fear." And, of course, the pleasure centers, meanwhile, get extra boosts, like the kind we get from certain drugs. (You can find out this stuff anywhere, but I'm grabbing it here.)

So what if we believed in Eros? What would be different about our lives? For one, we wouldn't be able to do scientific research like I just mentioned without stirring up false "debates." We'd have guys loudly declaring that "Eros's arrows" are the only answer we need. (It's right there in Hesiod's Theogony. What other evidence do we need?) If it were suggested that this kind of passion were in part the result of evolution, forcing us to mate whether we want to or not, then that would be a reason to stop teaching evolution. "My love don't come from no monkey love!"

Belief in the god Eros would squash scientific inquiry in all areas where love is concerned, and it would also cause us to stop questioning our own lives. "Eros shot me. What can I do?" As much as love may be difficult to conquer (conquering all as he does), realizing that we do have some choice in the matter could change things for us at least a little. Rather than feeling poisoned by the arrow, we could realize what is truly affecting us and attempt to act accordingly, difficult as it may be. If nothing else, we'll know that are lives aren't in the hands of some bow-and-arrowed god.

You'll notice that not believing in Eros doesn't take away from the majesty, the mystery, the beauty, or the (maybe most important) feeling of love. In fact, not believing that you're simply shot with an arrow increases all of those things. You can see the comparison to God here, I hope. Some feel that not believing in God reduces the mystery and purpose of life, but removing the God deity increases it in exactly the same way. "God did it" is as simple and useless of an answer as "Eros's arrows did it." And since Eros covers only romantic love and God encompasses everything, imagine how much grander things could be without him.

With this in mind, I take a cue from all of those (now old and mundane and often fully-answered) questions asked of atheists by believers, creationists, etc. and present a similar list of questions that might be asked of Eros-atheists by Eros-believers.

  • If Eros doesn't exist, then how do you explain love? What existed before? Did it "just happen"?

  • Doesn't the beauty of love and the feeling you get when you're in it prove that Eros exists?

  • How can you think you are in love without believing in Eros?

  • Why would you commit yourself to something as serious as marriage if you don't even believe in Eros?

  • How can you explain the heartbreak and suffering you feel because of love without Eros?

  • Doesn't the complexity of love prove that Eros exists?

  • How does your relationship have any meaning without believing in Eros?

  • Why do we find eyes, hair, breasts, behinds, lips, beards, legs, eyelashes, penises, etc. so attractive if Eros doesn't exist?

  • What sort of horrible romantic experience did you have that caused you to not believe in Eros?

  • Why are you so repelled by certain people? Doesn't Eros's lead-tipped arrows answer this question?

  • Instead of only teaching about biology, psychology, neuroscience, etc. in schools concerning sex and romance, why not "teach the controversy" and show the other side: that Eros exists and shoots us with arrows?

  • Why are you so angry at or afraid of Eros? Do you hate him?

  • Why are you so angry in general? Does it bother you that much that we believe in Eros? Why would you devote so much time to something you don't even believe in?

  • Can you prove that Eros doesn't exist?

  • Doesn't it take just as much blind faith to not believe in Eros as to believe in him?

  • If Eros didn't exist, wouldn't it mean that we could just fall in love with whomever we wanted?

  • Even other cultures believe in love gods (Ishtar, Kamadeva, etc.). Aren't these just versions of Eros (even if they're incorrect or prototypical) and proof that he exists?

  • Of course, Eros is the clearest, most specific version of love that exists -- more than the other love gods -- so why can't you believe in him when he shows himself to you?

  • What if you're wrong? Doesn't that scare you?

  • Even if Eros doesn't exist, don't you find it more comforting to believe that he does?

  • Isn't not believing in Eros really just its own religion?
Happy Valentine's Day!

Click here for a similar premise concerning the god Marduk.

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