I wrote a piece on Friendship as the Forgotten Love

Here’s a taste:

I submit that robbing the world of Friendship in this way is deeply impoverishing and has led to the forgetting of Friendship as a real and unique form of human love. I submit further that human beings require the dimension of Friendship in their lives.  They require this relationship of love that is not about one another directly but is mediated to them through a mutual love of something else.

For that is what Friendship is: love that is mediated through a common love of something else.  Eros looks the Beloved in the face and desires the Beloved.  Friendship is born when two people stand side by side looking at something else in admiration and then turn and say, “You too?  I thought I was the only one!”  Because of this, Friendship is not limited, as Eros is, to a dyad of Lover and Beloved.  It welcomes into its circle of warmth a broad and diverse group of people, all of whom are bonded by their common love of something else.

What that something else may be can be virtually anything.  Circles of friends can form around anything from quilting to watching sports to chess clubs to shared experience of trauma in war to philosophy to gaming to hiking to books to the rest of the infinitude of human pursuits.  The commonality is that the love they share is about something else.  Groups of friends can be large and small, but though Friendship can be a pair of BFFs, Friendship tends to be richer and happier when it involves more than two people.

Friendship was so highly prized among the ancients that it was hailed by some as superior to Eros, precisely because it does not depend so much on the appetites of the body, which (non-Epicurean) philosophies tended to view with suspicion as prone to dragging the spirit down to earth.  These days we tend to view the ancient wariness of the body and its appetites (especially sexual appetites) as repressed.  But we still speak, even today, of our desire for relationships “without a lot of drama”.  It is this freedom from drama that the ancients appreciated about Friendship, because Friendship, unlike Eros, tends to lack the issues of jealousy that come with the exclusive demands of Eros.  Friends can be comfortable in the own skins around each other in ways that, while certainly not impossible with Eros, are often more difficult.  More than this, Friendship, because it can welcome a wide circle of people with a diversity of gifts, can be collaborative in rich and striking ways.

Accordingly, one of the remarkable aspects of Friendship is that it bears a curious analogous resemblance to Eros in this: it is fruitful.  Not (obviously) sexually fruitful as Eros is, but fruitful in many other ways.

Consider the Inklings, one of the great circles of friends of the 20th century.  As with all friendships, they were about something else, in this case, the shared love of language, myth, literature, and their sundry and diverse approaches to the Christian tradition.  One of the marks of Friendship is its appreciation for the real differences among friends.  Although there was much agreement among the different Inklings, there was also great diversity.  C.S. Lewis was, famously, a convert to Christianity and an Anglican.  J.R.R. Tolkien was a lifelong Catholic.  Charles Williams was Anglican with a taste for the esoteric Tolkien disliked.  Other members of the group who came and went disliked Tolkien’s work and would famously protest, “Oh no, not more [expletive] elves!”  Tolkien himself disliked Lewis’ Narnia books as too allegorical for his tastes.  Their meetings, held in the local pub in Oxford were raucous affairs in which no-holds-barred criticism was offered, arguments were cherished and savoured, and some of the greatest works of literature of the 20th century were midwifed to birth.  Without the encouragement of his friend Lewis, Tolkien might never have finished The Lord of the Rings.  Without the inspiration of Tolkien, the model of his hero Ransom, Lewis might never has written his Space Trilogy.

There’s much more here. And don’t forget to check out the rest of the Mere Christian Fellowship.


7 Responses

  1. Wow. Something is in the zeitgeist. I was just talking about this with someone a few days ago, how our culture has completely lost the concept of Friendship, especially in the stories we tell. It’s why you see so many creepy websites or fan art fantasizing about Frodo and Sam or Legolas and Gimli or Fox and Scully being lovers. The idea that two people can have a deep and abiding love for one another without wanting to have sex with each other is completely beyond the thinking of our culture. It’s like asking them to picture salty green. The concept is beyond them.

    There are still occasional exceptions in the oddest places. I always appreciated that CORNER GAS always kept Karen and Davis as co-workers and friends. They obviously care deeply about each other, but as friends.

    1. When I was barely an adult, and fully an activist in the pro-life movement (all it took was my first son’s ultrasound when I was 20), I was raging about abortion, with my friend, a phd in engineering. (The man is as Catholic as you can make them. Oh my gosh, I bet his Spanish parents loved Franco) Anyway, to cut to the chase he very gently remonstrated me about my rebel yell to make abortion illegal “round up all of the criminals!”

      Honestly, I can laugh a bit about it now because he not only disagreed with me, but became very animated, and started drawing engineering diagrams in the sand (we were sitting on the beach). I had no idea what the diagrams actually represented, but I understood what he was saying. Essentially it was something like: to arrive at point “D” you must get to that point via point “B” and “C”, otherwise there will be a complete breakdown in the system. Anyway, it was food for thought.

      My second great shock in life was finding out that the angelic doctor advocated for legal prostitution. You should have seen my face.

      1. Unless my memory completely fails me, St. Thomas Aquinas did not think prostitution should be illegal. Don’t get me wrong. He DEFINITELY thought it was immoral and sinful. But he didn’t think that every sin need necessarily be illegal. Was he right?

        About not every sin needing a law against it? Yes. He was absolutely right. Lying and avarice are sins. Are we going to lock up every CEO in the USA? If we were to follow Catholic Teaching on usury, most Western economies would collapse. We have built a society whose foundation is greed.

        About prostitution? I don’t know. I think there is a case to be made that laws need to be in place to protect people from being sexually exploited. Many prostitutes are no better off than slaves. Law enforcement ought to have legislation available to help such people, with force if necessary.

      2. Many Euro nations, plus the US state of Nevada, have spent many decades now proving to the world that legal prostitution is fully compatible with a civil and well-ordered society. Brothels are far less likely to abuse their girls when they are being visited in a professional capacity by doctors, sheriffs, and county health inspectors on a regular basis. The problems associated with that business don’t vanish when it is legal, but they are greatly reduced.

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