Monday, February 21, 2011

Non Credo

Because I'm afraid, I start to write by saying “I don't believe” -- oh, there are so many things I don't believe! -- but the point is, I don't want to construct an identity out of a laundry list of things I don't believe, it's just the reverse of the medal, it's no different than pounding your chest and bellowing “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!” and thinking that's going to get you a little Jesus juju to curse your enemies with, and finally get the girls to eye you with a bit of respect. No, sir. Bellowing believers, bellowing unbelievers alike, you hurry by them on the sidewalk and avoid their eyes. Subadult orangutans, that's what they are, and everybody knows it. Nobody wants to mate with them.

Which brings me neatly to the first thing I don't believe, which is anybody's story about love. The other day a Facebook Friend (not someone I know at all well), the mother of a one year old, announced in a single sentence that she was now a single mother, because she'd found out her husband was cheating on her. People responded with a bit of shock and jaw-dropping, but mostly by furious imprecations and extravagant personal denunciations of her husband. This was from a wide enough collection of people that you could be reasonably sure that some among their number were adulterers. What stories had they made up for themselves? How did justify themselves? How might they have responded to being pilloried? And then a bit later my Friend posted a semi-retraction saying maybe this was only a flirtation after all. Which made for a somewhat awkward pause.

An odd thing to post about, surely, and I don't think I'd handle it that way myself -- not out of goodness, but out of vanity -- but I don't blame anyone for doing anything, really, under the stress of that sort of revelation. That's not my point. My point is that, for a large circle round about, everyone went nuts. I'm interested in when, and how, people go nuts like that. It signals cracks in the structure, weaknesses, places where people aren't really sure that what they purport to believe is in fact what they believe, or else places where they're determined to believe something no matter what evidence may arise: the weaker the shriller.

Now, when I say I don't believe anybody, that's exactly what I mean. I have never heard a story about sex and love that appears to me to “save the appearances,” to account for the variety of phenomena it produces. It's an absorbing topic to me, so I've read a great deal “about it and about,” as Omar says, and every book I've read seems to run inevitably to some central point at which I find myself bristling, shaking my head, muttering, “that's just not the way it is, though. That's just not the way it is.” There's that swerve where people start talking about what love should be, and they describe some wholly admirable frame of mind, some exquisitely laudable kind of relationship, something that makes deep and perfect sense, which is very nice, except that the question you come to after that is, why don't any of these relationships exist? And why is it that, if you're a betting man, you'd lay odds on precisely the people who present as if they were in these ideal relationships to be posting on Facebook next week that they've achieved single parenthood?

And then there are the various reducers: love is really only this, or only that, it's not so important, our culture magnifies it absurdly, erotic love was regarded as simply a joke among (whatever culture the speaker is not very well-versed in), it's actually friendship that matters, or Buddhist compassion, or Christian agape, and I bristle even more, because it doesn't really work that way, either. Not here and now in this culture, not in my heart. Love is the only thing that's real, to me. If I have a path to God, it runs exactly as Dante's did, right through Eros. Nothing else matters, not really.

I'm not saying this is good. I don't think it is. I think the Buddhist compassion and Christian agape people have the right of it, we should value that love most highly, and all the other loves should be subservient to that, which is, really, the love of God. I think the arguments are knockdown, water tight. That's how it should be.

But it's not how it is. I can't cram my heart into that jar. And I'm not sure how useful a theory is, if it accounts for everything but the facts. Useful if you need to trot out mottoes and slogans, yes. But what if you want to live a human life?

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