I am part of a community of students in theology (http://www.theologysalon.org) exploring the question: Why theology? No doubt, we all have different answers to this question. I, myself, have more than one answer.
The largest and simplest answer (for me) is: Because I want to make the world a better place. It is not always clear – even to me – how theology can make the world a better place. Conversely, it is, unfortunately, often clear how theology has made the world a more divisive, a more hostile, and even a more violent place to live. Too often, theologies have marginalized human persons or even entire communities of persons. I suppose, then, that one way that theology can improve society is simply by deconstructing some of these “bad” theologies. I would like to think, though, that theology can also (re)construct the world in which we live in positive, life-affirming, diversity-affirming, and justice-affirming ways.
These days, as I prepare for my comprehensive exams, I am (re)reading the ancient theologies and philosophies of Plato, Plotinus, Proclus, Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius the Areopagite, Eckhart, and others. As I read, it is not merely the agape-love of the Bible that is affirmed, but also the intellectual philos-love and passionate eros-love of Greek philosophy, which these theologians also find throughout the Biblical corpus – certainly in the Song of Songs, but also in the writings of Paul and others.
Few would debate that theology is concerned with love – but debates enflame when we begin to discuss the nature, quality, and content of love. Are we speaking only about love of god (objective genitive), god’s love (subjective genitive), the agape-love between husband and wife, agape-love among our fellow human persons, the intellectual love (philos) of god (subjective and objective)… or might we also be speaking of the erotic love between husband and wife, or even the erotic love between two men or two women?
What has theology to do with bodies? With sex? Are we to be ashamed of our bodies – to escape the ‘prison of the body’ and ascend to the realm of pure soul, of pure spirit, of pure immateriality? Or are we to affirm our bodies? Are we not created in god’s image – the imago dei of Genesis 1:26?
Suppose that we were to take this seriously. Suppose that we consider humans – mind, soul, and body – to be divine, as Genesis 1:26 attests and as the ancient Christian theologians affirmed. Suppose that we acknowledge that agape-love can lead us to do wonderful things, such as laying our life down for those we love, but also horrific things, like taking the life of another in defense of those we love. Suppose also that we acknowledge that erotic passion can lead us to do horrific things, such as rape, or wonderful things, such as the physical manifestation of human sexual union. Suppose, also, that what constitute the imago dei are not simply those qualities/traits that make us all the same – but also human diversity itself. In other words, it is not that there is some quality within us that makes each of us divine despite our diversity… rather, what makes each of us unique is precisely what makes us divine. Perhaps we might even read Genesis 1:26 literally – “And the gods (elohim is plural, as are all the verbs and pronouns in this verse) said, ‘Let us make humanity in our image after our likeness’.”
If, then, a human person is mind, soul, and body – and if what makes a person a person is one’s uniqueness, then one is the imago dei – the image of god – not in spite of, but because of one’s unique mind, unique soul, and unique body. To love another person – to truly love them – is to love what makes that person unique in mind, soul, and body. It follows that this would include intellectual love (philos), spiritual/soulful love (agape), and erotic love (eros).
This month, we at SoF come together – not in spite of but because of our diversity – to discuss the rampant hostility and marginalization of homosexual and transgendered persons in our communities and to speak out against it. For my part, I have taken a step back, to consider more broadly the issues of human diversity and physical sex in relation to Genesis 1:26 and the notion that we are made in the image of god. When we love another person for who they are – for what makes them unique in mind, soul, and body – then we love the very thing that makes them divine – their uniqueness. If that love is genuine and true – if it is intellectual love (philos), agape-love and erotic-love shared by two unique persons, each made in the image of god – then how can it be other than divine?
Note: The image above derives from the cover of Toward a Theology of Eros: Transfiguring Passion at the Limits of D..., edited by Virginia Burrus and Catherine Keller, which explores love and theologies of the body.