The Reckless Curiosity of Spiritual Friendship

The Reckless Curiosity of Spiritual Friendship May 11, 2022

No you don’t, I’m just kidding.

I don’t have a lot of time to blog this morning, and of course, am horribly tempted by Hillary Duff’s “I too struggle to make peace with being unfathomably hot” (to quote someone named Kat Rosenfield) self-bragging (skip the humble) pictures of herself in Women’s Health. First of all, I love that a lot of people, glancing at “Women’s Health” thought it said “White House” and wondered why that auspicious institution needed to know about her personal struggle. I do that all the time. I think it is because I am a tiny bit dyslexic. And also not patient. Second of all, I can’t link it because you shouldn’t go looking at naked pictures of Hillary Duff, no matter how perfectly airbrushed they are, no matter how many very funny replies there are.

So anyway, I’m not going to blog about that. This leaves me in a sad state because I have been reading books more than the internet. I have been plowing through various books on a variety of subjects, as I think I said last week, and have been vaguely feeling like (just to be allowed to join in a trend) it would be fun to start a substack where I laboriously fisk books that I have to read. I could say all the stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into a review or a regular blog post. Wouldn’t that be fun? But then it occurred to me that no one would be that interested. Still, I might, just because a lot of the books I read are pretty exasperating, and full of one-liners that need to be at the very least “discussed” if not actually refuted.

For example, I am slowly working through Nate Collins’ All But Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions At the Intersection Of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality. Here is something that strikes me as darkly funny. It’s a long two paragraphs culminating in an unwitting punchline, so hold tight:

When admiration becomes passionate admiration, it’s not merely a sign that the intensity of my appreciation of someone has increased. Instead, it signals the additional reality that my admiration has acquired a forward-looking orientation. When I passionately admire someone, I perceive the future as potential rather than simply as that which has yet to take place. The prospect of future encounters with the personhood of the one I admire excites me.

So, here’s the million-dollar question that we’ve been preparing to ask. Is it possible for a gay man to passionately admire another man–or even another gay man, for that matter–without sinning? I think the answer to this question has to be yes, it is certainly possible. One reason we experience passionate admiration of others is because people are hardwired for relationship. It’s natural to passionately admire individuals we relate to personally when we experience some aspect of their personhood as good and virtuous. As a gay man, when I admire a same-gender friend of mine, I’m not merely admiring his gender, although that is necessarily part of the experience. I’m also admiring who he is as a person. If I can’t do that with both passion and chastity, then yes, there’s something wrong with me. [emphasis his]

Ok here’s the punchline:

But I also think there’s something wrong with a Christianity that can’t support me in my efforts to try. [emphasis mine]

Wish I could paste in a picture of myself falling on the floor laughing out loud but no one took one. If you’re missing the joke, it’s that you haven’t been reveling in Don Quixote and his wonderful side-novella in chapter XXXIII (is that 33?). The note says: “Which recounts the novel of The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious.” The story starts out this way:

In Florence, a rich and famous Italian city in the province called Tuscany, lived two wealthy, eminent gentlemen who were such good friends that they were known by everyone as the two friends. They were bachelors, young men who were of the same age and habits, all of which was sufficient cause for both of them to feel a mutual, reciprocal friendship.

After a bit, one of the friends, Anselmo, falls in love and marries a beautiful and virtuous woman named Camila. Camila was so happy to be married to Anselmo that “she unceasingly gave her thanks to heaven, and to Lotario, through whose intervention so much contentment had come to her.” But Anselmo is an absolute fool (which is the point of the story) and decides to embroil them all in misery, ruin, and pain. Not to spoil it (but I will because it’s been published for hundreds of years) in the end they all die. To cut to the chase, Anselmo wants his friend Lotario to seduce Camila to see how long she will hold out and how chaste she really is. It goes exactly as well and as foolishly as Collins’ desire to “try” to have passionate admiration for men without ever giving way to unchastity.

I’m sorry to say it, but the church, and Christians, have always known and warned against these kinds of obvious dangers. It’s why marriage between one man and one woman exists. Anselmo should have not tested his wife and his friend, but let go of his friend to work on “passionate admiration” for his wife. He could have been friends with his wife. That is a thing that can happen, no matter how often the Spiritual Friendship party tries to say it is a myth. It is not a myth. It is hard, but it is not a myth. Becoming friends with a woman over the course of a marriage is one of the main reasons a man should get married to a woman. But Anselmo didn’t want, really, to be “friends” with anyone but himself. That is the deep, unacknowledged, unwise subtext to Collins’ two paragraphs. The person you are drawn to–if that person is fundamentally like you in gender, in sex, in personality, in looks, in temperament–is too often the doorway to idolatry. It’s not about him, it’s about how he makes you feel when you are with him. This is one of the reasons that the friendship of marriage, which, on the surface, is so contrary to both people because they are so unlike each other, is the remedy to idolatry. The unlikeness pulls you out of yourself.

Oh gosh, my blogging time is up and I haven’t finished my thought. I didn’t get to the “helper fit” bit! See! I totally need a substack. Or is this the kind of blogging that anyone can endure here? If you have any opinion on the matter, let me know!

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