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Pope says Make Love, Not Politics

Religion, sex and politics. All the things you're not supposed to talk about at the dinner table.
 
 
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The Pope has written a love letter about love. In his first encyclical letter -- a public letter to all bishops released today -- Pope Benedict XVI touched on two of the most hotly debated issues in religion: sex and politics.

First, let's address the more fun topic -- sex. The Pope recognizes the three types of love, eros (romantic or sexual love), philia (the love of friendship), and agape (spiritual and selfless love) and publicly wonders if Christianity has ruined sex:

"According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros , which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice. Here the German philosopher was expressing a widely-held perception: doesn't the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn't she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator's gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?... But is this the case? Did Christianity really destroy eros?"

His answer is no, Christianity has not destroyed eros, but taken correctly, it has helped introduced a refined version of it.

"Today, the term "love" has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings... we speak of love of country, love of one's profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love between family members, love of neighbour and love of God. Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness.

...man is a being made up of body and soul. Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness… Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love -- eros -- able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.

To me, this is notable because it is radically different from so many religious leaders' messages about sex. He not only rejects a negative and shameful view of sex, he actually condones sex as an expression of love and says that man is not whole if he denies himself (or herself) the joys of eros.

My first thought upon reading all this was joy that Catholics everywhere may enjoy themselves more in bed. After all, the Pope is essentially saying sex and sexuality are good, we should enjoy it, and we should stop feeling so damn guilty about it. Of course, this is in the context of a loving relationship and sex is meant as something that is part of -- or will lead to -- a selfless love and spiritual connection between two people.

My second, more rational half reacted to this with wonderment -- is this treatise on the importance of eros and romantic love as essential part of being "whole," an entrance into allowing priests to marry? Is the Catholic Church so desperate for priests that they might change the rules?

Well, I guess we'll have to wait and see on that one. Now on to politics.

Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.