I have what I suppose is the distinct honor of writing to you on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the great C. S. Lewis. He is a man of such broad strokes that I cannot do his life justice here (he is, for example, still considered a must read for students of medieval literature). But I likewise feel this day should not pass wholly without comment.
In my life Lewis has had a significant impact on my understanding of love, particularly that love we call friendship. The book of Sirach (ch. 6), Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics (books 8 and 9) and Lewis’ Four Loves have formed the core of this study. But why am I interested in friendship? Because it is dying.
You may think me melodramatic or grandiose, but I am in all the senses serious. Social media wants us to believe we are more connected than ever before, yet this falls well short of any classical friendship. We know more people (in every sense of that word) yet what do we know about these people? Do we even see that they are people?
There are many fingers that can be pointed here and I’d like to only spend a moment with one: the reductio ad cupidem. everything is reduced to the romantic (and all romance is sexual). There is a specific friendship example that came from a Catholic source: a female friend of mine was reading a book about being single (perhaps uniquely on how it was not something to be content with if you are called to marriage). One section of this book was on guy friends, specifically married ones. It laid out a simple rule: you must be closer friends with the guy’s spouse than him. A male friend was always a potential romantic partner.
For much of my life (both Protestant and Catholic) this position was somewhat normative for me. No longer. Permit a practical example: imagine a man (or woman) with same-sex attraction. This doctrine of friendship would forbid them any close friends of the same sex (the individual attracted to both sexes would be allowed no friends).
The heart of the problem is simple: desire. If I want you to be my friend, I desire you. Under the reductio this desire is erotic (we don’t even have room for romantic desire anymore). Culturally it is hard to imagine telling someone you desire them without it being sexual. But the friend desires the other, sees the good of the existence of the other and does not want to be without it. We must relearn how to desire another beyond the bounds of sexuality.
Where does this leave us as friends? Contra the world friendship is not passive; it is not something that you simply let happen, that takes you along for the ride. Christians are good at seeing this fact in romance but miss it in friendship. To be a good friend I must be intentional about it. I must pursue my desire for you, which is always also a desire for your betterment. Thus I am intentional about being a friend who does not excite or pursue sexual interest, nor do I let such energy sit there. I choose to pass on those desires and cultivate others, desires proper to the wonder of friendship. I, as a friend, pour myself out for you. The friend is a lover, for that is what he does.
Justin Burgard is a friend to all, be a plant or fish or tiny mole. Yes, he knows that doesn’t rhyme. He is also aware that this is at least three posts worth of material. And that will almost certainly continue to be the case.