For those overseas who might not be aware, Australians are being invited to express their opinion on the legalisation of same sex marriage. While it is not really a referendum, the Government have declared that they will base their policy on the result of what is, in fact, a giant opinion poll.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the whole question and what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this moment in our countries history. More people have read that reflection than anything else I have written in the last seven years, which gives an idea how hot the topic is in Australia right now.
I’m not so much going to talk about Same-Sex marriage in this reflection, but rather the catchcry of the same-sex marriage campaign, which seems to have boiled down to “Love is Love.” This little slogan seems to be appearing everywhere. Even the power-poles near my house have been plastered with rainbow coloured posters that proudly proclaim it.
The implicit logic of the statement is that if heterosexual relationships are founded on “love” and can lead to marriage, why shouldn’t homosexual relationships which are founded on the same thing also lead to marriage?
For those of us who have grown up in the Western World, the logic seems very sound. The idea that a relationship should be based on being “in love” seems so obvious that it almost goes without question.
When most of us talk about feeling in love, or falling out of love, what we mean by “love” is intimately connected to our feeling worlds.
I enjoyed chatting to my friend Raj, who has been in Australia for four years and was discussing the difference between what he called “love marriages” and “arranged marriages.” Where he comes from, most marriages are arranged by families and are not based on the attraction we call “love” at all. A challenging fact is that arranged marriages are exponentially less likelly to end in divorce than “love” ones.
Could it be that what we call “love”, isn’t actually a good foundation for a lifelong commitment?
Harville Hendrix believes the experience of falling in love is a psychological process that comes from the unresolved issues of our history:
The ultimate reason you fell in love with your mate, I am suggesting, is not that your mate was young and beautiful, had an impressive job, had a ?point value? equal to yours, or had a kind disposition. You fell in love because your old brain had your partner confused with your
parents! Your old brain believed that it had finally found the ideal candidate to make up for you psychological and emotional damage you experienced in childhood.
That powerful experience of being “in love” isn’t always the best guide to our future, because it is sometimes a projection of our past.
Part of the challenge that English speakers have is that we only have one word for love, and the powerful cocktail of emotions that we label being “in love” is quite different to the other relationships we also call “love” such as our friends or family or even our football team.
Classical Greek had more words for love. The word they use for what we call “in love” was the word “Eros.” They used that term to capture the intense mixture of desire and attraction that we are all so familiar with.
One of the parts of the discussion that we all seem to avoid, is that we all know that these feelings come and go, and yet we go along with the idea that these feelings should be the basis on which we build long term relationships.
The Father of Psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, was under no illusion about how temporary and changeable our desires actually are:
?The sexual instincts are remarkable for their plasticity, for the facility with which they can change their aims, for their interchangeability – for the ease with which they can substitute one form of gratification for another, and for the way in which they can be held in suspense.?
It is probably not a surprise that we don’t hear a lot of people quoting this idea… because none of us want it to be true. We want to believe that the intense feelings we have when we are attracted to someone are solid and permanent.
The Greeks had a few other words for love, but there was one that the Apostle Paul commandeered to introduce what most of us would recongnse as real love. It was a love that he summarised in 1 Corinthians 13 by a list of self-giving choices rather than a list of feelings. It is an idea captured by M. Scott Peck when he defines love as:
The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
Later he points out:
?Since it requires the extension of ourselves, love is always either work or courage. If an act is not one of work or courage, then it is not an act of love. There are no exceptions.
The Christian idea of marriage is one that is not driven by attraction, but rather one in which both partners actively work to meet the needs of the other. One of the most counter-cultural, yet healthiest pictures I’ve ever read about marriage actually comes from 1 Corinthians 7:4:
The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.
The core ethic at the heart of a Christian view of marriage is the idea that you give up the your own physical desires and intentionally choose to order your life around your partner. As Scott Peck said, it is both an act of courage and an act of work.
In an arranged marriage both parties go into the partnership knowing it will take both the work and courage that Peck talks about. I believe that this is why arrange marriages are so much more successful than those built on attraction.
I’m not mounting a case for arranged marriage, but simply wanting to suggest that what we have come to call love, really isn’t love. .
We need to rediscover the self-giving generosity that actually is love, and stop settling for cheap imitations.