The two kinds of romantic love

8096547973_367546a4eb_zOne kind of romantic love leads to life–to marriage, fruitful sexuality, children, family, virtue.  The other kind of romantic love leads to death–to sin, sterile sexuality, abortion, family destruction, ruin.

These two kinds of romantic love are explored in one of the most morally illuminating books of literary criticism I have ever read:  Love in the Western World by the Swiss Christian scholar Denis de Rougement.

A romance novel will often set up a triangle in which a woman has to choose between two suitors:  One is a good guy who cares for her, whom her parents like, and who would make a good husband.  The other is nearly a villain, an “anti-hero” who sometimes mistreats her, is a social outcast from her circles, and who even seems dangerous.  Young adults novels are often built around the same pattern,  with the choice between an all-American popular boy and a troubled, misunderstood, passionate “bad boy.”  Many literary novels have been about a happily married man who is lured away from his angelic wife by an exotic, sensual, forbidden beauty.

Sometimes the characters make the right choice in committing themselves to the good person.  But, more often than not, they choose the one who is bad “in society’s eyes,” but who offers them excitement, passion, and the thrill of transgression.  Romance and young adult novels often stop when the choice is made, imposing a “happily ever after ending.”  But honest works of literature, like Anna Karenina, show what happens next, with the forbidden love resulting in ruin, despair, and even death.

More importantly, the pattern keeps asserting itself in real life.   [Read more…]

Why we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day

The influence of Christianity on our civilization is such that even secular-seeming holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day derive, if indirectly, from the church.  St. Valentine’s Day is a curious one, a celebration of romantic love.  I think this is a good thing to celebrate, but why do we do it, and what’s the connection with St. Valentine?

St. Valentine was a martyr for the faith, giving his life for his Christian convictions during the Roman persecutions.  (I hope someone is recording the names of the martyrs who are giving their lives for their Christian convictions during the current Islamic persecutions.  We should put their names on the Christian calendar too.)

But why is St. Valentine associated with romantic love?  You will hear stories that he secretly presided over weddings for Roman soldiers, despite the Emperor’s forbidding of marriage.  And that he gave a message–some say, shaped like a heart–to his jailer’s daughter, signing it, “your Valentine.”  You might hear other accounts of why he became the patron saint of lovers.

But those stories are late additions to the saint’s legend.  They were added after St. Valentine’s Day was already associated with love, the first time being in the 1380s.

I have an alternative explanation. [Read more…]

“Oppressive chocolate capitalists” from “the romantic industrial complex”

Japanese protesters will hold a march in Tokyo against St. Valentine’s Day, contending that it is a plot by “oppressive chocolate capitalists” from “the romantic industrial complex.”  The organizers are a group that calls itself the Revolutionary Alliance of Men that Women Find Unattractive.  The contention is that, following Marxist analysis, romantic attractiveness is a function of class oppression.

I know, I know, it sounds bogus, or at least tongue in cheek.  But the group is being covered as legitimate by the Washington Post and Japanese media. [Read more…]

Love songs

Roger Catlin interviews jazz singer Ann Hampton Callaway and country artist Rosanne Cash about love songs.  After the jump, I’ll give you what Ms. Callaway, a master of the form, says, including some real insights about the nature of love and her complaint that most of today’s pop songs, though about love, “don’t sound like love.”  And as a bonus Valentine’s Day present, I’ll add some samples of Ms. Callaway practicing what she’s preaching. [Read more…]

St. Valentine’s Day

Here is a good account of the history of St. Valentine’s Day, how it’s NOT related to the pagan festival of Lupercalia and how the death day of an early Christian martyr got connected with love and romance.  (Short answer:  Chaucer.)

So what can be said about the true meaning of St. Valentine’s Day in 2014?

Chaucer & St. Valentine’s Day

You must read Rev. Joseph Abrahamson’s post on the origins and history of St. Valentine’s Day.  It’s part of his series that we’ve often linked to on Christian holidays that are mistakenly claimed to have pagan origins.  He shows that St. Valentine’s Day is not based on Roman festivals but on a day commemorating the death of a Christian martyr, though which of many saints with that name is a matter of some confusion.  The question, though, is how this saint’s day became associated with love and romance.

It turns out that the connection comes from one of my favorite authors, Geoffrey Chaucer! [Read more…]